The author of this book sets himself the ambitious goal of exploring the link between ethno-national politics and international relations. He engages in an enterprise that is major departure from standard approaches to ethnic conflict, which have tended to ignore the international dimension. At the same time, it is a departure from the typical academic bias of scholars of international politics, who, in concentrating on the state - frequently (and incorrectly) defined as the 'nation-state' - as the primary unit of action, have ignored the ethnic dimension. In this study, a major focus is on conflict, not primarily between states but between the state and society, and more specifically, the 'ethnonation'.
The book is divided into two major parts: the examination of theory, or rather, of competing theories, about the security dilemma; and the application, from a neo-realist perspective, of theory to real life - specifically, the conflict between the Serbs in Krajina (Croatia) and the Hungarians in Transylvania (Romania). These two cases of ethnic minorities are analysed in impressive detail and in comparison.
The author defines the security dilemma as a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the threat to the territorial integrity of a state posed by the demands of an ethnic minority for the protection of its collective cultural-linguistic identity; and on the other hand, the challenge to that identity posed by an étatist policy that is culturally monolithic and exclusivist. These positions are perceived to be mutually incompatible - a perception that, in assuming a worst-case scenario, leads to negative reactions that can trigger violent conflict and, in so doing, produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can also provoke a reaction by a neighbour, which, in 'transnationalizing' the conflict, aggravates it and makes the threat to political unity and state security even greater.
A major contention of the author is that the security dilemma is often a false one. He argues that states may exaggerate an adversary's hostility and ignore the threatening nature of their own actions. The author points out that while societal interests (such as ethnic identity) and political imperatives (such as territorial integrity) are not always congruent, they are not necessarily incompatible.