Book Review: Ethnic Conflict In World Politics

Ethnic Conflict In World Politics, by Barbara Harff and Ted Robert Gurr

As someone who has a fairly strong interest in the relationship between ethnic conflicts and geopolitics [1], this is the sort of book I enjoy reading from time to time, at least partly to see how much insight the authors have on the contemporary conflicts that rage through the world.  I must admit that I find this book to be a bit too optimistic in that the authors expect these sorts of problems to be resolved.  The book is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, incomplete.  To cover ethnic conflicts in world politics in the course of 200 pages is an ambitious goal, and this book certainly covers the ground rules, but when we are seeing violence and secession in Catalonia, it would be nice to think of this book mentioning it.  It doesn’t.  Nor are the Baluchi mentioned at all, nor a great many of the secession movements I have written about at great length like Somaliland, Taiwan, Western Sahara, and on and on.  Do the authors simply not know about the massive ethnic conflicts that exist, or are they just trying to ignore certain ones?

Even if the authors appear to be ignorant about a good many ethnic conflicts in the world, something that is pretty easy to manage given their ubiquity, the authors do at least manage to put ethnic conflicts in a context that allows the reader to apply their insights to other situations, and that is worth a good deal.  The authors first talk about ethnopolitical conflict and the changing world order, pointing out that ethnic conflicts became much worse immediately after the Cold War.  Then the authors discuss the world of ethnopolitical groups, dividing them into different categories based on their aims and their context.  The third chapter then allows the authors to make a case study of the Kurds and the Miskitos of coastal Nicaragua (and Honduras) and how they have managed their ethnic conflicts.  After this the authors turn to how the Chinese in Malaysia and the Turks in Germany have tried to protect their group rights in pluralistic societies.  The fifth chapter provides a framework for analyzing ethnopolitical mobilizations and conflict.  The next two chapters after this look at the internal processes and international dimensions of the four cases examined above.  The book then closes with a look at the tension between state sovereignty versus individual and group rights and the emerging principles of international doctrine to address ethnopolitical challenges.

While this book is probably not the most enjoyable or lighthearted book to read, it clearly has a purpose.  This is the sort of book that would not interest many readers, but it is informative and critical in looking at the context of conflicts between different ethnic groups in various nations.  If your interests are in international relations, therefore, or political science, there will likely be much to enjoy and appreciate here.  The authors do a good job at pointing out the difference between approaches that groups take depending on their own situation in a given country.  The authors, more ominously, also point out that the attempt to increase the rights of minorities has paradoxically increased the power of states because those states are held accountable, supposedly, for the way that they treat their minority populations.  And here we have a dilemma, because it is states that tend to fail their minority populations even where they are generally well-functioning democracies.  The presence of large ethnic minorities often provokes the fears and insecurities of a majority population that is concerned about demographic problems, and the authors do a good job at showing the tension between contemporary states and their minority ethnic groups, so that these conflicts may be better understood.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Middle East and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Ethnic Conflict In World Politics

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To International Relations | Edge Induced Cohesion

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