TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Conflict Resolution
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"...Where a significant minority movement is already
making collective political demands on a state dominated by another ethnic
or religious group, these demands will neither wither away nor be repressed,
once aired and organized. The nation-state ideal is too strongly entrenched
in the modern world for them to be simply repressed or ignored...... I predict
that Indonesia will be unable to assimilate or repress
Aceh or West Papuan
will be unable to assimilate or repress
Muslim Kashmiris or several of its
small border peoples;
Lanka will be unable to assimilate or repress Tamils..."
From the Preface - [see also
Chapter 1 in PDF]
"Since my previous work had neglected the extremes of
human behavior, I had not thought much about
good and evil. Like
most people, I had tended to keep them in entirely separate categories from each
other as well as from ordinary life. Having studied ethnic cleansing, I am now
not so sure. Though I am not attempting here to morally blur good and evil, in
the real world they are connected. Evil does not arrive from outside of our
civilization, from a separate realm we are tempted to call "primitive." Evil is
generated by civilization itself.
Consider the words of three prominent
historical figures. We tend to think of President Thomas Jefferson as
embodying Enlightened reason. Indeed, it was in the name of the advance of
civilization that he declared that the "barbarities" of the
native American Indians "justified extermination."
A century later,President
Theodore Roosevelt, a decent modern man, agreed, saying of the Indians,
"extermination was as ultimately beneficial as it was inevitable."
Forty years on, a third leader said, "It is the curse of greatness that it
must step over dead bodies to create new life." This was
SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, who is rightly considered as the personification
of evil. Yet he and his colleague Adolf Hitler said they were only following in
the Americans' footsteps.
As I will argue here, murderous ethnic cleansing has been a central problem
of our civilization, our modernity, our conceptions of progress, and our
attempts to introduce democracy. It is our dark side.
As we will see, perpetrators of ethnic cleansing do not descend among us as a
separate species of evildoers. They are created by conflicts central to
modernity that involve unexpected escalations and frustrations during which
individuals are forced into a series of more particular moral choices.
Some eventually choose paths that they know will produce terrible results. We
can denounce them, but it is just as important to understand why they did it.
And the rest of us (including myself) can breathe a sigh of relief that we
ourselves have not been forced into such choices, for many of us would also fail
them. The proposition underlying this book is that murderous ethnic cleansing
comes from our civilization and from people, most of whom have been not unlike
From the Conclusion...
achievable claims to political sovereignty that
spell difficulties, that is, some past history of sovereignty and some recent
continuity of claim. As I have emphasized, serious ethnic conflicts generally
occur between old, not newly constructed groups. This limits the claim to around
50 ethnic groups at present lacking their own collective political rights. These
will be difficult to stop.
"...Where a significant
minority movement is already making collective political demands on a state
dominated by another ethnic or religious group, these demands will neither
wither away nor be repressed, once aired and organized. The nation-state ideal
is too strongly entrenched in the modern world for them to be simply repressed
or ignored. Many governments, from Russia, to India, to Israel, to the United
States, still do not recognize this. They should. The less developed the
country, the more likely the demand will grow as the country moves into a world
that adores nation-states. The ideal will doubtless spread to some ethnic groups
at present largely uninfected by it.
But not to all ethnic groups. Most ethnic groups in the world are much too
small to achieve their own states. They are already assimilating into the
nation-states of others, mostly with relatively little violence. One index of
this is the continuing decline in the number of languages spoken in the world,
halved to around 5,000 over the past So years and likely to swiftly decline
further. Aspirations to collective political rights are not universal. As my
third thesis emphasizes, it is rival
Thus I predict that Indonesia will be unable to assimilate or repress Aceh or
West Papuan autonomy movements;
will be unable to assimilate or repress Muslim Kashmiris or several of its small
border peoples; Sri Lanka
will be unable to assimilate or repress Tamils; Macedonia will be unable to
assimilate or repress Albanians; Turkey, Iran, and Iraq will be unable to
assimilate or repress Kurdish movements; China will be unable to assimilate or
repress Tibetans or Central Asian Muslims; Russia will be unable to repress
Chechens; the Khartoum regime will be unable to contain South Sudanese
movements. Israel will be unable to repress Palestinians.
None of these regimes should draw much confidence from the fact that the
autonomy (or terrorist) movements confronting them may mobilize only a minority
among the ethnic out-group, most of whom would rather live quietly under their
dominance without causing any political trouble. Silent majorities remain
silent; they do not come to the aid of alien imperial regimes. The
Indonesian government made serious attempts to arm local clients among the
ethnic out-groups but failed to embed them deeply enough within local
populations. Nor should the regimes delude themselves that their next military
offensive will finally defeat the autonomy movements. It might repress them into
quietude for a time, but they will reemerge, supported by the nation-state
ideals, the arms trade, and the weapons of the weak of the modern world.
Only some minority movements demand states of their own. Most autonomy
aspirations could be satisfied within present state boundaries. This requires
that the regime make real concessions of either a confederal or a consociational
form: the minority would secure some regional self-government or new entrenched
collective rights at the center.
Consociational arrangements involve combinations of guaranteed quotas for
minorities in the cabinet, the parliament, the civil service, and the army, plus
veto powers over policy held by the dominant ethnic groups. In the extreme, a
consociational government might be a "Grand Coalition" of parties representing
all the main ethnic groups. Majority ethnic groups are rarely attracted by this
prospect, since they can win elections on their own; and even if the Grand
Coalition works, it tends to reduce the vitality of political opposition, which
is usually considered a precondition of democracy...
Confederal and consociational regime elements are no panaceas. They work
better in some places than others. Sometimes they actually strengthen minority
ethnic identity and even discontent. Giving a national minority power at the
regional level may make it oppress its own regional minorities - including the
local minority that is the majority in the central state. In practice, no
country will suddenly change its constitution wholesale to a design considered
confederally or consociationally ideal. When new constitutions are added to
traditional political practices, the mix may produce unintended consequences
(see Horowitz, 1999, for a skeptical view of recent attempts at
Regional autonomy may not assuage but encourage demands for independence - a
point often made by organic nationalists attached to the integral unity of the
state, from Indonesia to the United Kingdom. But mere liberal guarantees of
individual rights are inadequate to appease autonomy demands. In these
contexts most persons identify with their own ethnic community, so that free
first-past-the-post elections produce ethnic domination, since they are ethnic
censuses... Effective constitutions must vary case by case, and they must not be
set in stone. Any constitution has unintended consequences, some good, others
...In extreme cases, realism suggests that separation into two
nation-states may be the least bad immediate solution. This may be so where
past violence has created too much distrust for power sharing to emerge
That is so in Kosovo, and probably in Aceh and Tibet, but probably not yet in
the South Sudan, with little history of its own sovereignty and where the rival
identities are weaker.
Of course, separation brings its own problems. Now conflict might be warfare
between separate states, while it is difficult to protect those who are made
minorities within the new state. Collective guarantees of minority rights are
required, policed by international agencies.
In some eases it may be better to deflect hatreds onto milder stages of
cleansing achieved by mutual negotiation through agreed-upon population and
property exchanges, border alterations, and so on than to risk further cleansing
by force - as in Kosovo and perhaps Bosnia. This is not now the preferred policy
of the UN, NATO, or the United States. But how much longer must their forces
continue repressing Croats and Serbs who demand their own statelets and continue
harassing the few returning refugees? Might it not be preferable to assist
population exchanges and recognize those nation-statelets - even allow them to
merge with Croatia and Serbia if they wish (with minority rights guarantees, of
course)? After all, we have our nation-states. But solutions must vary according
to the type and level of threat. There are no general antidotes.
Can we in the North help the countries of the South avoid the worst
scenarios, which are, after all, those of our own past? ..... We should exercise
much greater control over our arms sales, both of the heavy weapons of
repression by state terrorism and the small-arms weapons of the weak on which
paramilitarism and terrorism thrives. We should seek an international regime
more sensitive to regional conflicts and to
our own imperialist
tendencies. We should help reduce inequality in the South; we should not
subordinate ethnic conflicts or dissidence against authoritarian regimes to our
geopolitical games; we should encourage the institutionalization of conflict of
both ethnicity and class. This would imply, for example, more sensitivity to
sub-Saharan African poverty, to Arab/Islamic fears of Israel, to indigenous
peoples being expropriated by big capital allied to incoming settlers, and so
This is pie in the sky, of course. Imperialists, international
capitalists, arms smugglers, religious warriors and ethnonationalists are
not motivated primarily by noble sentiments. Little of this is at
present on the international agenda.
One problem is the United States... international institutions seek to
free capital from the "dead hand" of regulation and economies are given the
"shock therapy" of market freedom, almost regardless of the consequences in
terms of unemployment, wage levels, worker protections, and political reactions.
Where inequalities acquire ethnic overtones, they encourage ethnic conflict
between proletarian and imperial ethnic groups... Moreover, the U.S. "war
against terrorism" is extremely unbalanced. It aims only at terrorists and not
at state terrorists
(except for the few rogue states otherwise opposing U.S. foreign policy).
This means the United States is currently intervening on the side of
dominant states against their ethnicreligious insurgents. From Palestine to
Georgia, to Chechnya, to Kashmir, to the southern Philippines, to Colombia,
U.S. policy favors state terrorists. It even gives most of them military aid
useful for suppression.
U.S. policy today might be thought of as farsighted...The United States seeks
to end cross-border aid to terrorists (i.e., rebels) by sympathizers abroad and
by aiding state terrorists. Thus it seeks to sap the will to resist of the
weaker party. Can it succeed, forcing rebels into submission or to agree to
paltry gains at the negotiating table?
In a few cases it might if a rebel movement is not well entrenched among a
dissident people. The Abu Sayyaf movement of the southern Philippines now seems
to have little support among the local Muslim minority. Perhaps the United
States can assist the Filipino government to suppress it. But it is doubtful
that this can work more generally where the demand for rule by the people is
Ethnonationalism has grown ever stronger in the world. It is now universally
regarded as legitimate for a people (in both senses) to rule itself.
Self-determination has become global since President Woodrow Wilson enunciated
it in 1917.
Even in the Philippines, the new policy has so far failed to weaken the more
deeply rooted Muslim insurgent group, the Moro Liberation Front; indeed, the
Filipino government has been forced to adopt a conciliation strategy. I have
argued elsewhere that U.S. biases actually increase the flow of terrorists - as
well as increasing their propensity to also attack the United States (Mann,
2003). The policy of supporting state terrorists against terrorists is doomed to
failure. The disastrous current state of Iraq and Afghanistan also confirm the
failure of such policies.
Ethnic and other civil wars are currently getting larger and more difficult
to solve. More peace agreements fail than succeed. Stedman et al. (2002) see
three obstacles thwarting them - local spoilers (power actors who do not want
the agreement to work), neighboring states also acting as spoilers, and local
valuable commodities that allow combatants to sustain themselves in the war.
Stedman and his coauthors suggest that the international community should
provide economic and military resources to counteract all three. The fighters
must be helped to find civilian employment, the economy must be jump-started,
the neighbors must be appeased, and so on.
But they also note that the international community is a very long way from
committing such resources... The United States pursues its own interests in
choosing when to consult multilateral agencies and when to bomb or invade. We
are a long way from an international regime capable of enforcing global