David Carment, Patrick James, Zeynep Taydas. Who Intervenes? Ethnic Conflict and Interstate Crisis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006. 264 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8142-1013-0.
Reviewed by Emma Stewart (Department of European Studies and Modern Languages, University of Bath, UK)
Published on H-War (January, 2008)
Labyrinthine Lessons in Classifying Conflict
This book draws on a tradition of studies in crisis behavior and conflict resolution theory concerned primarily with developing a systematic approach to the study of international conflict. Carment, James, and Taydas's study is a worthy contribution to this genre; it attempts to understand why some domestic ethnic conflicts lead to interstate crises, and it examines factors impacting on the behavior and intervention strategies of neighboring or regional state actors in ethnic conflict. Contrary to the title, then, this is not an investigation into who intervenes in interstate ethnic conflict. Rather, it is primarily a study of state intervention, in contrast to Carment's other work on international organizations and conflict prevention.
The focus is the interstate dimension of international ethnic conflict. The authors' primary concern is why some ethnic conflicts lead to interstate crisis while others do not. Chapter 1 sets out a convincing case for the study of the neglected interstate dimension of ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflict with state-to-state interactions is increasingly internationalized, often more violent, can involve more coercive crisis management techniques, and can be more protracted (p. 2). The argument carefully debunks common myths about ethnic conflict. Interstate ethnic conflict is not inevitable; external states may intervene purposefully in ethnic conflict for a variety of political and material reasons (intervention is rarely, for example, triggered by historical ethnic hatred). Interstate ethnic conflict is not simply a post-Cold War phenomenon (in fact, an increase in ethnic conflict is discernible from the 1960s), and the end of the Cold War was not a significant trigger in the escalation of ethnic conflict. Wary of the limitations associated with labeling conflicts as "ethnic," the authors are careful to stress that "ethnic conflict refers to the form the conflict takes, not its causes" (p. 6).
The framework developed in chapter 2 classifies states intervening in ethnic conflicts as "types," with particular characteristics and strategic objectives, and then tests the propositions about each type against a series of case studies (chapters 3 to 7): the Indo-Sri Lankan crisis of 1983-96; Somalia's post-1960 quest for a "Greater Somalia"; the separatist ambitions of the Malay in southern Thailand; the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s; and the Cyprus conflict. The framework of analysis is outlined, including a typology of intervening states (four types are identified) and a series of propositions about interstate ethnic conflict and crisis to be tested in the case studies. This is a necessary exercise in a priori reasoning, but it is (at least for this reader), often overly complex and impenetrable. The approach and style puts it firmly in a specialist category; one wonders how much use readers outside the conflict resolution field can glean from it.
The five case studies are chosen as examples of complex irredentist or secessionist interstate crises. The study seeks to be comprehensive by its global choice of case studies and its inclusion of a variety of different cultures and religions. Many of the cases span several decades or more, and the authors draw broad conclusions rather than narrowly focusing on one interstate crisis in each case. Unfortunately, the case study chapters are not particularly accessible to the general reader interested in any of the cases. It is a pity that they struggle to stand alone as readable accounts of these crises, since some of the cases are not widely known or studied.
The concluding chapter assesses the framework, summarizes and reaches conclusions on the propositions tested in the case studies, and outlines the policy implications of the results. The authors find support in the case studies for the propositions set out earlier in the study. The theoretical approach taken limits the number of variables and, like all research, makes assumptions about the political world. One key (and problematic) assumption is that state actors and elites behave rationally when intervening in ethnic conflict. This allows the authors to create an ordered account of crisis behavior, and complete the jigsaw by neatly fitting each state into an a priori identified type. While the theoretical approach contributes to the understanding of interstate ethnic intervention, it contributes less to finding solutions to manage or prevent it. This role clearly falls to regional or international organizations, actors whose impact is conspicuously absent throughout the study. The authors admit this as a shortcoming, but the validity of the conclusions would have been greatly increased if the role of other key actors had been integrated into the framework. It is difficult to reconcile the claim to comprehensiveness with this oversight; surely this is a key variable impacting how government leaders behave (for example, in former Yugoslavia, where the decisions of the European Union had a huge effect on how the conflict developed, and the decisions made by leaders).
The concluding chapter, at less than ten pages, is short for a book covering five case studies. More conclusions, as well as detailed policy implications and recommendations, would have been welcome. Nevertheless, overall the book presents a well-constructed thesis on an underresearched topic. It is not, however, particularly accessible to a wide readership, and can be difficult to follow at times. It is debatable, in the end, whether the theoretical model adopted contributes to the comprehensive approach to ethnic conflict that the book advocates. While too many variables may muddy the water, the omission of key ones limits the validity of the conclusions. We come back to the problem faced by all political and social scientists: how do we make sense of, and create order, in the political world without misrepresenting its complexity?
. In particular the work of Ted Robert Gurr. See also C. F. Hermann, ed., International Crises: Insights from Behavioural Research (New York: The Free Press, 1972); and Graham T. Allison's classic study of crisis decision-making, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971).
. For example, David Carment and Albrecht Schnabel, eds., Conflict Prevention: Path to Peace or Grand Illusion (Tokyo and New York: United Nations University Press, 2003).
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