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

By Stephen M. Saideman | Go to book overview

2
Explaining the International Relations of
Ethnic Conflict

Why do states support some ethnic groups but not others? Why do states support some states resisting secessionism, i.e., host states, but not all? The conventional wisdom is that states that are vulnerable to ethnic conflict are inhibited from supporting separatists in other states, and that this weakness will cause states to develop and then respect international organizations and norms. This argument has at least two significant flaws: it fails to explain why a state would support a secessionist movement and some do; and, many vulnerable states have supported separatist movements, as case studies in the subsequent chapters demonstrate. A likely alternative argument would be that the search for security motivates states, so a state will consider whether supporting a particular separatist movement is likely to improve its security. The neorealist focus on balancing behavior suggests that a state will support secessionist movements in those host states that threaten it, and oppose separatists in its allies. This book proposes a different argument, focusing on domestic politics. I develop a theory of ethnic politics and foreign policy, arguing that the interaction of ethnicity and domestic political competition produce incentives for politicians to support one side or another of ethnic conflicts in other states. According to this argument, the existence of ethnic ties between decisionmakers' supporters and the combatants in conflicts in other states will greatly determine the foreign policies of states. Consequently, this chapter presents competing explanations based on, respectively, international norms and organizations, security, and domestic politics. After discussing each approach, the last section of this chapter presents the book's research design.

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