The Ties That Divide: Ethnic Politics, Foreign Policy, and International Conflict

By Stephen M. Saideman | Go to book overview

1
The Problem: Why Do States Take Sides
in Ethnic Conflicts?

After the Cold War ended and the nearly unanimous effort to defeat Iraq during the Gulf War, scholars, policymakers and publics expected that countries would able to cooperate to manage crises and conflicts around the world. The European Community, as it transformed into the European Union, tried to develop a common foreign policy, hoping to play an important role in post—Cold War international relations. Yugoslavia's wars dashed these hopes because European states could not agree on how to handle them. Germany's efforts to recognize and support Slovenia and Croatia frustrated Britain and France. Russia's support of Serbia, and, by extension, the Bosnian Serbs, limited what the United States could do. Greece's policies toward Macedonia increased regional instability. Albania's support of the Kosovar Albanians increased the power and will of the Kosovo Liberation army, which, in part, caused Serbia to react violently, bringing NATO into a new war. Because the international community failed to cooperate effectively during the Bosnian conflict, analysts fear that unfortunate precedents have been set and that we need to develop new understandings of ethnic conflict so that we can manage future conflicts. 1

Previous efforts to understand the international relations of ethnic conflict failed to help predict the dynamics surrounding Yugoslavia's demise. Therefore, analysts have argued that things have changed, so that the various institutions and norms that constrained states before are no longer as relevant. 2 There are two problems with this argument: first, it assumes that the old conventional wisdom was correct in explaining the past; and, second, as a

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