Challenges to Ending Ethnic Conflict

Why is ending ethnic conflict so difficult?

Currently there are more than forty armed active conflicts across the globe. Many, like the ongoing conflict in Syria, have roots in ethnicity and religion. Throughout history, ethnic conflicts have long been a key component of international politics and affairs. Even today, in the post-cold war era, stated by Francis Fukuyama to be the “end of history” ethnic wars proceed to be the most common form of conflict around the globe. Ethnic conflict is considered to be “any episode of sustained violent conflict in which national, ethnic, and religious or other communal minorities challenge governments to seek major changes in status” (Bates et. Al, 2003). This interpretation of ethnic conflict belongs to the instrumentalist tradition most often associated with the international theorist Bates.

Bates foremost point is that ethnic conflict is conflict among rational agents over scarce resources. He buttresses this claim by organising an astounding wealth of case-studies from Sub-Saharan Africa within his works. Additionally, there are two other mainstream causes accepted as the cause of conflict within international relations, these are the primordialist and constructivist accounts.

In the recent years there have been multiple examples of ethnic conflict occurring, including ethnic war in Somalia, the Kurdish struggle for autonomy across Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey and guerilla wars in El Salvador (Sadowski, 1998). The United Kingdom itself has faced its own ethnic conflict in the past century, namely in Northern Ireland. All parties involved in the Northern Ireland conflict eventually came to what can be considered one of the greatest peace negotiations in history (BBC History, n.d.). The conflict in NI was eventually settled after years of bloody fighting and terror on the streets. This was down to a successful negotiated settlement through years of conflict transformation. However, this is not always the case and such a settlement is rarely achievable. It is claimed by many critics that ending ethnic conflict is difficult

This essay will set to determine the factors which often prevent ethnic conflict from ending by; analysing various case studies, the individual context of which such conflicts may have occurred and thoroughly analysing the preventative measures and negotiated settlements which are frequently used and attempted to limit and end conflict (within the field of international relations). There are six key strategies to ending and transforming conflicts namely; state building, autonomy, power sharing, federation, suppression and negotiated settlements, all of which will be critically analysed in this essay.

The impact of negotiated settlements on ethnic conflict

Negotiated settlements can happen at three levels: national, international and regional.  The concept is defined as “negotiation is often a process of power-based dialogue intended to achieve certain goals or ends, and which may or may not thoroughly resolve a particular dispute or disputes to the satisfaction of all parties” (Gardner, 2011).

The impact of statebuilding on ethnic conflict

The first strategy of which will be discussed is state building. This strategy is described in the following, “the construction of a state apparatus defined by its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in a given territory” (Lottholz, and Lemay-Hébert, 2016).  Over the past two decades, state-building has become an integral part in the path to peacebuilding and ending ethnic conflict by the international community. State building is supposedly a method of institution building, creating socio-cultural cohesion and allowing economic viability of the state. However important political philosophers such as Leon Trotsky have always mainteded the view that a state comes about as a result of violence not peace. Observers across the political spectrum have come to see the state-building approach as the preferred, but arguably unsuccessful, strategy to peace building, evident in a number of recent high-profile conflicts, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Anders Perssons agrees, stating “More than two decades of Palestinian state-building have produced neither peace nor a state. In fact, the Palestinians are seemingly further away from statehood today than at any point since the state-building process began in the mid-90s”. This is all despite the fact Palestine institutions in the West Bank fully meeting the criteria of what makes a state by popular western institutions – “the West Bank’s institutions now perform, according to the UN, the EU, the World Bank and IMF, above the threshold for what is expected of a state” (Persson, 2017) . There are many reasons for this with critic Marina Ottaway arguing that the international community “has neither the will nor the way” (Ottaway, 2009) to build nations. In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict the lack of political will to recognise the Palestinian state, could arguably be down to geopolitics and Israel’s ongoing relationship with the West, in particular the United States. There are further examples of State Building failing, for example in Somali which has long been unstable since, and still to this day is embraced in conflict, the end of its civil war in 1991. Tobias Hagman states “extraversion has been a frequent cause and feature of failed inter-nationalized state building in Somalia” arguing that “state building that is more coercive has increased rather than reduced violent conflict”. (Hagman, 2016).

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