Ethno-National Conflict And International Relations: The Case Of The Kosovo/A Conflict


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Ethno-National Conflict And International Relations: The Case Of The Kosovo/A Conflict
By Enika Abazi — A Ph.D. Dissertation, The Department of International Relations, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey.

The end of the Cold War was followed by an increase in the influence of ethnonational conflicts in the world politics. International Relations theories have contributed to the study of inter-state war. The question raised in this dissertation is whether the same logic can be used to study ethno-national conflict. To answer the question this dissertation evaluates the contribution of traditional International Relations theories, post-Cold War approaches and Constructivism to our understanding of ethno-national conflict. It points to their strengths and weaknesses in explaining this conflict. The Kosovo/a conflict is used as a case study to illustrate to what extent different International Relations approaches help us to understand it.

This dissertation asserts that traditional theories and post-Cold War approaches help us to examine the context that would encourage conflict. Pointing to the limits of these approaches, this dissertation emphasizes the contribution of Constructivist approaches, which assist us to understand the constructive and relational processes which make the conflict and shape the participants. At the same time, this dissertation shows awareness of Constructivism weakness.

Since the end of World War II (WWII) and particularly in the post-Cold War era,ethno-national conflict has increasingly made an impact on world politics. Ethnonational conflict stands for the clash of national groups and their demand for nationhood. Yosef Lapid observes that “[t]he trends toward expanding levels of ethnic conflict was, for instance, solidly occurrence established by late 1960s”(1996: 4; see, also, Gurr, 1994; Gurr, 2001). As the occurrence of ethno-national conflict has proceeded at a rapid pace, so have the scholarly endeavours to explain them.

Since the late 1960s, what has emerged is a plethora of explanations, which treats ethno-national conflict within the approaches that focus on the historical processes of fragmentation and globalisation in world politics (Gaddis, 1992), de-colonisation (Fearon and Laitin, 2001; Gurr, 1994) and modernisation (Rejai and Enloe, 1960; Holsti, 1975; Horowitz, 1985). Yet, what is lacking in these explanations is a comprehensive understanding of the implications of ethno-national conflict on international relations. International Relations (IR) theories promise to offer such explanations. However, before the end of Cold War the explanations about ethno-national conflict has been found wanting in IR.

Ethno-national conflict defines a specific condition of war. The parties involved in an ethno-national conflict are the ethnic communities or “ethnics” (Smith, 1993: 49). In this dissertation the definition provided by Anthony Smith (1993) for ethnic communities is taken into consideration. Thus, ethnic community is to be understood as “a named human population with a myth of common ancestry, shared memories and cultural elements, a link with an historic territory or homeland and a measure of solidarity” (Smith, 1993: 47).

For the purpose of this dissertation ethno-national conflict is understood as a dispute about important political, economic, social, cultural and/or territorial issues between two or three ethnic communities. Hence, ethnonational conflict is to be seen as “the product of demands for political recognition” (Smith, 1993: 48). This conflict represents according to Stathis Kalyvas:

[P]rocesses of competition over sovereignty. At least two political actors exercise variable sovereignty over parts of a state. Control, as we may call the exercise of sovereignty, is strong in some places and weak in other places. Sovereignty is divided in some areas meaning that both actors claim control over the same territory. In this context…the role of civilians is crucial (2000: 15).

The main characteristic of ethno-national conflict is the breaking of domestic order and use of coercion in dealing with irreconcilable difference of interests over the sharing of the state. According to Alexis Heraclides (1991, 1997), ethno-national conflict is internationalised in four cases. First, conflict is transformed into a politico-military struggle when an ethnic group aims to separate one part of the communal state, posing, in turn, a credible threat to the state in question. Second, there is legitimacy and collective support for self-determination.

Third, there is a strong opposition from the state to the bid for independence, culminating with acts of punishment and extermination towards the regionally based movement. Fourth, there is a military mobilization and the state is in a status of war, facing mobilisation of state armed forces (including para-military and security forces) to face the activity of separatist guerrilla forces. Ethno-national conflict does not always involve the use of violence.

However, potentially it represents threats to state dismemberment and have the possibility of turning into violent conflict and being internationalised and, in turn, becoming a concern for International Relations. However, ethno-national conflict and nationalism “were not simply absent in the sense that classical studies did not care; they were radically absent because they could not be represented in the classical state-centric theory” of International Relations (Buzan and Wæver, 1997: 242). War in International Relations is considered as “somatic violence between states actors” (Evans and Newnham, 1998: 565).

The reason for this outlook of war in International Relations is explained by the fact that:

[t]he potential for organized violence has been highly concentrated in the hands of states for some time, a fact which states have helped bringing about by recognizing each other as the sole legitimate bearers of organized violence potential, in effect colluding to sustain an oligopoly (Wendt, 1999: 9).

Thus, the state in International Relations is treated as the primary units of analysis for “thinking about the global regulation of violence” (Wendt, 1999: 9). According to Hedley Bull, war is an inter-state practice “qualified by a sense of  the overriding need to contain war within tolerable bounds” in the society of states (Bull, 1977: 198). Consequently, in traditional International Relations theories, state-centrism is the locus for understanding war and peace in world politics. The state-centric outlook in International Relations neglects the importance of non-state actors in the understanding of war (Aron, 1981). Consequently, it can be concluded that ethno-national conflict is not dealt in its own right in International Relations.


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