TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012: The IR of Human Rights and Ethnic Conflict
Interstate wars still exist, but are more rare than they were in the time of the
World Wars. Conflict is still endemic, even when war does not break out (and as
a result, there are economic drawbacks, less resources to countries, etc.)
The UN and other laws have had a focus on inter-state relations and conflict (ex.
NPT), but intra-state wars are increasingly the greatest source of conflict.
Just as wars between states appear to have decreased, the amount of war within
states has increased a great deal (ex. Rwandan genocide, Sudanese genocide, the
former Yugoslavia, Serbians vs. Kosovars, Burma). Not all of these involve civil
war, but they are still extremely costly in terms of losses of life.
Recent civil wars have centered around authoritarian leaders trying to hold onto
power (ex. Egypt, Libya, Syria).
Norms of sovereignty, rules of war, etc. were built when inter-state conflict was
the biggest concern, but they are problematic in the world we live in that is now
characterized by increasing instances of intra-state war.
Ethnic conflicts are “disputes about “important political, economic, social,
cultural, or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities.”
Ethnic groups can be identified based on group name (easily identifiable to each
other and others), common ancestry, shared myths/histories, shared culture, or
their attachment to a specific territory.
Schools of thought on ethnic conflict:
Primordialism sees group conflict as inevitable. Conflict is a result of the fact
that differentiated groups exist in the first place. People are naturally born
ethno-centric and people automatically differentiate from others. The result is
conflict with groups they see as “the other.” For plural societies, conflict is
inevitable. They believe there is nothing you can do about ethnic conflict
because people believe so strongly in their ethnicity that living together
becomes impossible (ex. Hutus and Tutsis were destined to kill each other).
If this is true, all plural societies should be falling apart (ex. Canada should see as
much conflict as other parts of the world).
Instrumentalism believed Primordialism is insufficient and can’t explain variation
in why conflict occurs in some places and not others. Instrumentalists believe
we must look at politics and leaders, who are the ones who make ethnic conflict
possible by using ethnicity as a basis for mobilizing people. Others suggest that
there are very rational material grievances (political, institutional, social,
economic factors) that are picked up by leaders to mobilize along ethnic lines,
which causes the ethnic conflict. An example is when the minority has more
control than the majority (ex. Syria, Iraq), and it is institutionalized through
things like electoral rules.
"Ethnic Outbidding" is also an issue, whereby competition to attract popular support leads political actors to try appear the most supportive of ethnic claims,
which causes an almost inevitable spiral toward conflict with other ethnic
ex) In Sri Lanka, the ethnic war began based on linguistic issues, because the
British made English the official language, but the minority Tamils got better
English education than the majority Sinhalese. This meant that at independence,
the Tamils were put in charge and dominated economics. When the majority got
control, they created laws making their language official, putting the Tamils at a
ex) A minority province not getting their fair share of resources—in Indonesia
there is a resource rich province, Ache, but the central government in Jakarta
exploits this and does not reinvest the resources in Ache, which remains poor
and undeveloped. This led to a violent separatist movement.
Constructivism believes that ethnicity is not always the primary identity, and
identities can change. It is opposed to Primordialism. Identities can sometimes
be cooperative and not conflictive, and conflict would not be a result.
Constructivism is interested in how these identities become salient. They
emphasize that once they are concretized through practice and subjective
understandings, the identities can become internalized. But none of this is
permanent. Ethnic groups are not destined to hate and fight each other just
because their identities and understanding of the other are strong.
ex) The case of the Hutus and Tutsis—these groups did not exist and view each
other as different until the Belgian colonial rule. They were distinguished from
each other arbitrarily, and this distinction was eventually codified.
ex) Differences between Hindus and Muslims in India were not prominent until
the British created them.
These groups are in close proximity, and the state as an impartial authority often
keeps the groups form fighting with each other. The state could help them
resolve the dispute. In some cases, the state is unable to do anything about the
conflict because it is weak (without the material resources or the expertise).
More frequently, the problem is that the leaders of the state itself belong to one
ethnic group. If the state is too weak or a member of one group, it creates an
anarchic self-help system that mirrors the international level. It also creates the
security dilemma, and the security dilemma is a permissive condition for ethnic
conflict. The existence of a security dilemma creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How can ethnic conflict be dealt with and resolved?
Partition is the most controversial solution—if conflict is irresolvable, why try to
keep the people together? (ex. India-Pakistan, Cyprus, Israel-Palestine, Ireland).
They argue mutual fears and tensions are high, and when people are intermixed
this will create high levels of violence. The result will be the decimation of
minority population in areas, which is natural separation. The argument is that
instead of waiting until they natural separate through killing each other, you can
impose the separation and prevent the death. The problem with this argument is that it’s very simplistic, and it leaves very little room for any possibility of
reconciliation or political solutions. It disregards the possibility that separation
might raise a whole new set of problem—it could just convert the internal
conflict into an international one.
Instrumentalists are more optimistic about resolution—it is about the
distribution of resources. They see consociationalism as the best option. This is
an arrangement for a democratic system with broad power sharing between
ethnic groups (ex. autonomy, veto, proportional resources). This system works
on the assumption that given the right circumstances there is no reason why
ethnic groups cannot cooperate. The challenge with this form of government is
the design of such a system and getting various parties to agree to participate in
this system and adhere to their commitments. It may not work well in practice
unless the groups want to cooperate.
ex) Lebanon uses this system, but it often falls apart when a group doesn’t follow
through or backs out of