Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution

Article excerpt

POLITICS, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, AND GLOBALIZATION Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy. Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2010. With a forward by George McGovern. xxxvii + 424 pp. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $49.95. Cloth.

Zunes and Mundy have written the definitive book on the Western Sahara. Long neglected by Anglo-American social science, the disputed territory in northwest Africa provides the terrain on which one can explore it all: colonialism, decolonization, sovereignty, territoriality, self-determination, nationalism, security, justice, the Global War on Terror, great power ambitions, negotiations and diplomacy, local kinship ties, natural resource exploitation, and forced displacement. In 1983 Tony Hodges and John Damis each published respected monographs on the Western Sahara. Since then, a few scholars such as Pablo San Martin, Toby Shelley, and Yahia Zoubir have devoted their energies to examining the conflict. Nevertheless, die Western Sahara has been relatively understudied and even ignored in recent decades. Unlike other contexts of decolonization or disputed territories - e.g., East Timor, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Israel/Palestine - the Western Sahara has attracted neither international media attention nor extensive scholarship.

Zunes and Mundy's Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution has come to fruition after a long period of gestation, and die wait was well worth it. Theirs is a contribution that prompts a wide array of adjectives: provocative, insightful, exhaustive, encyclopedic. The collaboration brings together their respective strengths as scholars, and their work displays a robust interdisciplinarity in its use of methods and insights from geography, cartography, diplomatic history, political science, antiiropology, and postcolonial studies. In many ways the book is an act of translation in that it provides etymological and definitional examinations of key concepts, places, and names. Indeed, the glossary is worthwhile in its own right. As in other cases of "conflict irresolution," a full understanding demands an appreciation of contexts, transliterations, and dynamic definitions. Sahrawi, for example, is ultimately defined as "the Hassaniyyah-speaking peoples who claim membership among at least one of the social groupings found in and around the area now known as Western Sahara" (93). Yet this is only part of a smart treatment of the term, its myriad transliterations and contexts, and its dynamism over the years.

The authors' fundamental argument is that the intractability of the dispute over the Western Sahara requires a full appreciation of different interests working at different levels. …