Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts How to Think about Ethnic Conflict

How to Think about Ethnic Conflict

I have been asked to speak to the question of the challenge of ethnic conflict in U.S. foreign policy.’ The subject, of course, could not be more timely because of the Balkan wars. I do not intend to give you a remedy for the Balkan wars, but I do want to clarify one thing. We are not waging ethnic conflict, they are. Just in case there is doubt in anyone’s mind.

In point of fact, a number of different wars have been raging in the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. The first was a preventive war that did not really work. The second was a deterrent war. We are now at the phase of an extinguishing, or punitive war, meant to punish the perpetrators of the previous conflicts. Finally, we shall soon enter the phase of a war of reversal, undoing misdeeds or preparing to do so. And at the same time, we are fighting a war of alliance maintenance insofar as the health, if not life, of NATO has been called into question. If you are confused as I go down this list, I do not think you are alone. This is a rather feckless process. But it is a very important one with very important stakes. We must find a way to arrive at a definition of victory to which we can all subscribe before we are done with this chapter.

I would like to focus in my remarks on three points. First of all, some myths have arisen surrounding the idea of ethnic conflict in our foreign policy over the period of time since the Berlin Wall came down. As a result, there is a need for clearer public discourse about ethnic conflict, its place in our foreign policy, and how we might want to think about it as it impacts on our interests in the post-Cold War era.

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