The Dynamics of Ethnopolitical Conflict Management by International and Regional Organizations in Europe

Article excerpt


Ethnic tensions and conflicts are prominent political phenomena. For example, several states in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucasus have experienced such tensions and conflicts in recent years. The nature of these conflicts has ranged from violent wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, to less intense but nevertheless violent conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, to largely non-violent tensions in Serbia, the Baltics and Ukraine. The management and prevention of such conflicts, which have also occurred in other parts of the world1, have been among the main security challenges in the post-Cold War era. As a result, international organizations (IOs) such as the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have paid considerable attention to such conflicts, and have-to varying degrees-been involved in conflict intervention and post-conflict settlement and reconstruction.

The ultimate objective of IO involvement and intervention in ethnic conflict is usually clear, namely: to stop the violence (if violence is already occurring) and to help manage and regulate ethnic relations such that serious tensions, possibly leading to violent conflicts, will be avoided in the future. Much less clear, however, is how to do this. In particular, the second task-the establishment or reinforcement of mechanisms to accommodate ethnic conflict and reduce conflict potential-is inherently complex and open to interpretation, as demonstrated by the plethora of suggested 'solutions' to ethnic conflict in the academic literature. So, which mechanisms have been advocated by IOs involved in the regulation and management of ethnic conflicts? Do these vary over time and between organizations? Are there differences between these professed principles and the actions of IOs in particular cases? What can explain differences between organizations and between 'theory' and 'practice' for particular organizations? Most importantly, what are the effects on the society and ethnic relations that these principles and mechanisms are intended to regulate and manage? In other words, which mechanisms have - or have not - been successful, and why? Given the simultaneous involvement of several IOs in many conflict situations, possible differences and coordination deficits between them can be important, and are yet to be explored systematically in the literature on ethnic conflicts.

This article makes a preliminary step in addressing these questions for organizations involved in the regulation of ethnic conflicts in Europe. It focuses on four organizations involved in conflict management and the (re)construction of governance arrangements in conflict-affected societies: the UN, the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe (CoE) and the OSCE. It summarizes the general agendas and advocated conflict management mechanisms of these organizations and then discusses their actions and strategies in specific cases. The focus is primarily on three cases: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. These cases in the Western Balkans have seen extensive involvement of IOs, have been important 'test cases' for the agendas and principles of these IOs (and have, in turn, influenced these agendas) and provide considerable variation in proposed and implemented governance arrangements for ethnic minorities.

This analysis finds some significant differences in the agendas and case-specific recommendations of the different organizations, and considerable differences between the generally adopted principles for conflict settlement in an organization (if it has such general principles) and the proposed and endorsed mechanisms in the three cases. While some of these differences can be explained readily by the differences in the nature of the various IOs and straightforward state interests, some interesting questions on the sources and consequences of these differences remain. Answering these will require delving deeper into the organizational dynamics and relations with member states of these IOs. …


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