Managing and settling ethnic conflict

Authored by: Asaf Siniver

Routledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  October  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415476256
eBook ISBN: 9780203845493
Adobe ISBN: 9781136927577


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The management of ethnic conflict, either by local elites or external actors such as individual states and international organisations, rarely results in the resolution of the conflict or the dissipation of rival ethnic claims and grievances. Conflicts characterised by ethnic and cultural rivalries are the most common types of conflict, most notably in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe (Bercovitch and Fretter 2004, 46; Wallensteen and Sollenberg 1999). The significance of a group’s ethno-cultural identity cannot be dismissed as a guise to power-seeking. Depending on their historical and geographical experiences, ethnic groups are highly diverse in their aspirations and claims. Minority groups within existing political communities may seek access to power and equal rights (for example, Israeli Arabs), indigenous groups such as the Mayans and the Chiapas may resist attempts by the state to assimilate them, whereas the Basque people can be described as ethnonationals who strive for self-determination and even independence (Gurr 2000). Most contemporary conflicts need external assistance in order to be brought under control, and accordingly such strategies of conflict management may involve diplomacy (for example, negotiation and mediation), legal methods (arbitration, adjudication) and even the use of military force. However, due to the intricate nature of some ethnically generated conflicts, we may at best hope to manage, or regulate them, rather than resolve them. Accordingly conflict management can be defined as the limitation, mitigation and containment of conflict without necessarily solving it. Importantly, conflict management is distinct from conflict resolution, where the emphasis is placed on resolving the underlying incompatibilities which have caused the conflict, rather than simply containing them. Conflict management and resolution are separate but related mechanisms which need to be used at different stages in the ‘conflict cycle’; managing a conflict may take a long time and must foster conditions which are amenable to the successful resolution of the conflict (Tanner 2000).

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