Summary of "Ethnic Conflict and International Relations"

Summary of

Ethnic Conflict and International Relations

Stephan Ryan

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Stephan Ryan. Ethnic Conflict and International Relations. Brookfield, Vermont: Dartmouth Publishing, 1990, 200 pp.

Ethnic Conflict and International Relations explores the causes and processes of ethnic conflict, and describes the mechanisms for resolution of ethnic conflicts. Particular attention is given to the role of international politics in either promoting or resolving ethnic conflicts.

Ethnic Conflict and International Relations will be of interest to those who seek a better understanding of the sources of and potential solutions to ethnic conflicts. This work is divided into six chapters with an Introduction and Conclusion. This text focuses on the question "what can be done to reduce the dangers and the suffering associated with violent ethnic conflict, with particular attention being directed to the interface of domestic and international politics." [vii]

The author attempts to respond to this question by drawing upon cases of ethnic conflict, primarily upon the cases of Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka.

In his Introduction the author describes some of the factors which have led to the recent increase in violent ethnic conflicts, and explores the implications of such conflicts for international relations more generally. Chapter One describes and critiques various theoretical approaches to understanding ethnic conflict. Ryan critiques the theory of the plural society as a version of an incompatibility approach to understanding ethnic conflict. He then describes and analyses two alternative approaches: the consociational democracy approach, and the hegemonic exchange approach. Chapter Two explores the international dimension of ethnic conflict. Ryan argues that "certain features of the international political system can help determine whether a multiethnic state ends up as a consociational democracy or a plural society."[24] These features include the decentralized distribution of power in the present international political system, and the use of self-determination as a legitimizing principle in international politics. The chapter concludes with suggested changes to the international politics system which would improve its ability to respond to ethnic conflicts.

Chapters Three through Six focus on third party interventions in ethnic conflicts. Chapter Three presents a basic model of ethnic conflict resolution, drawing on the work of Galtung and Harbottle. Effective resolution of ethnic conflicts require the use of three strategies. Ryan describes the strategies of peace-keeping, peace-building and peace-making. Chapter Four explores the debate between those who take a management approach to conflict and those who seek resolution. The author describes the two approaches, and concludes that the approaches are not mutually exclusive, but may complement each other. Chapter Five examines the United Nations' (UN) involvement in ethnic conflicts. Ryan analyses previous UN actions in order to present a general assessment of its potential to effectively intervene in ethnic conflicts. He concludes that "international peace-keeping can do good work and that none of the alternatives to UN forces have proven to be any more successful than UN operations themselves in the area of ethnic conflict."[139] This chapter concludes with suggestions for further improving UN peace-keeping, and for increasing the UN role in peace- making and peace-building. Chapter Six examines the international mechanisms for protecting ethnic minorities. Ryan contrasts the approaches of the League of Nations, and its successor the UN. The UN acts to protect ethnic minorities primarily through its conventions on genocide, the Sub-committee for the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, and by UN recognition of a right to national self-determination. Ryan summarizes his findings in the Conclusion to the text.

Ethnic Conflict and International Relations provides a theory of ethnic conflict, a model of ethnic conflict resolution, and an assessment of the potential for effective third party intervention into ethnic conflict.