Toward Coexistence: Making Sense of Ethnic Conflict

Article excerpt

In many respects, the 1990s was the decade of ethnic conflict. Following the decline and fall of the Soviet Union, the world witnessed a rapid development of civil wars, secessionist movements, and genocidal conflicts that were all defined along ethnic lines. The Bosnian and Rwandan genocides sparked outrage and indignation from many members of the international community. Chechens in Russia initiated underground guerilla operations against their former Soviet oppressors. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil minority continued to fight for complete secession from the Sinhalese-controlled government. In addition, countless other conflicts in Africa, Asia, and the Balkans contributed to the perception that the 1990s was a decade defined by ethnic violence.

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The current decade has not seen significant improvement from the last. The US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 have led to the development and escalation of twin civil wars between ethnic groups in each country. International attention has also focused on the escalation of the decades-old conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, where a campaign of ethnic cleansing brings back sobering memories of the Rwandan genocide that took place only a decade ago.

One would assume that an effective strategy for diffusing these violent situations would have emerged. But it has not. Although a number of engagement strategies and intervention tactics have been utilized in various countries, there is still no comprehensive strategy for how international actors ought to approach an impending or ongoing ethnic conflict.

This issue's symposium seeks to address this deficiency. Each article presents a unique account of how ethnic conflicts are generated and which strategies are most effective for solving them. What are the root causes of ethnic violence in the first place, and why do internal conflicts tend to manifest themselves along ethnic lines? What is the best approach for preventing tensions from degenerating into violence? And, most importantly, once the conflicts are ignited, what can the international community do to stop them from continuing? …

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