Possible and Impossible Solutions to Ethnic Civil Wars by Kaufmann

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Ethnic civil wars are an increasingly widespread issue seeing violence not only between active participants but towards non-combatants. Kaufmann contends that there is a lack of action by the international community, whose responsibility it is to protect those endangered by ethnic civil wars. He uses this article to theorize the manner in which ethnic wars end and propose a method of intervention.

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Ethnic civil wars have fixed loyalties rooted in the respective party’s heritage. When these ethnicities are living in shared communities it creates offensive opportunities and vulnerabilities bilaterally. Kaufmann argues that war removes the possibility of cooperation, decreases the likelihood of de-escalation by intervention, and is ultimately likely to result in ethnic cleansing until control over the disputed territory is obtained. The only viable solution Kaufmann sees is one of ethnic separation.

Acts of mass violence in war serve to reinforce ethnic identities by summoning fear of genocide to either party. Perpetuated crimes, whether true or exaggerated, create a need for defense and protection, causing both ethnicities to identify their co-ethnics as friends and others as enemies. These attitudes and subsequent suspicion make appeals for cooperation highly unlikely.

As intermingled ethnic areas become more violent, state control decreases. This causes security concerns, leading to the mobilization of parties and making demobilization near impossible for fear of making oneself vulnerable. Re-enforcing the view that survival entails gaining total control over the territory.

Kaufmann reviews four existing strategies for ethnic civil wars.

Firstly, he puts forward that if ethnic separation is not pursued one side may overpower the other, subduing them. However, he argues this is unlikely to be ongoing as the weaker party may revolt at a given opportunity.

Secondly, he addresses the expansion of ethnic identities to more inclusive ones. Kaufmann does not believe this plausible as the violence experienced would enforce group identities, perpetuating an us and them rhetorically, undermining appeals for cooperation.

Thirdly, he puts forward a power-sharing agreement. This could be possible, however, ongoing violence is cause for distrust, and if there is an unequal balance of power it could leave one party vulnerable to overthrow.

Fourth and finally, Kaufmann addresses state-building, where the groups would delegate their government to the international community. He argues that parties are unlikely to agree as this would involve occupation and eventually power-sharing for which the shortfalls already discussed would apply.

Kaufmann suggests that ethnic separation and the creation of well-defined demographic fronts could end the violence. Separation would disempower local militias as well as remove the need for cleansing to gain territorial control. He argues that the goal of international intervention should be for ongoing safety and stability, and by separating ethnic groups, attempts at the opposition’s territorial control would have to conform to the structure of conventional warfare.

The separation needs to be carefully planned, considering geography to both aid defense and allow for trade and further military protection if necessary. Separated communities must be defensible, with sanctions to the stronger side and military aid to the weaker side to reach an equal balance of power. Finally, if the violence is too significant, he argues for immediate intervention to prevent genocide.

Lastly, Kaufmann addresses objections to his theory of partition. He begins disagreeing with the notion that partition encourages state splintering, instead of arguing that it allows for protection where the state is already unstable. Next, he objects to the stance that population transfers cause harm, citing research that shows the spontaneous fleeing of refugees risks high levels of loss, compared with minimal loss in planned movements. Moving on, he dispels the idea of separation leading to international rather than civil wars, using recent examples to demonstrate positive outcomes of separation and highlighting the potential for even more deaths if separation did not occur. Kaufmann then counters the argument that partitioned states will not be economically or militarily viable noting that intervenors can provide support financially and through the military in order to achieve power balance.

To conclude this section, he somewhat agrees with the notion that this intervention may not “resolve ethnic hatreds,” but he believes that separation and equal balance of power will reduce the security threat and consequently, though potentially slowly, reduce animosity.     

07 July 2022

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