, Research Paper
The idea that inter-ethnic conflict has exploded since the end of the Cold War is somewhat of a misconception in my opinion. The idea that the number of ethnic conflicts has recently exploded, ushering us into a violent new era of ethnic “pandemonium,” is one of those optical illusions that round-the-clock and round-the-world television coverage has helped to create. Ethnic conflicts have consistently formed the vast majority of wars ever since the event of decolonization began to sweep the developing countries after 1945. However, it is apparent that the majority of all conflicts over the past 50 years, ethnic or political, have occurred in the developing world. The 3rd World seems much more subject to these insurrections than the democratized 1st World. Although the number of ethnic conflicts has continued to grow since the Cold War ended, it has done so at a slow and steady rate, remaining consistent with the overall trend of conflict over the last 50 years.
In 1990 and 1991, however, several new and highly visible ethnic conflicts erupted as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The clashes between the armies of Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia, and the agonizing battle that pitted Bosnia’s Croats, Muslims, and Serbs against each other, occurred on Europe’s fringes, within easy reach of television cameras. The wars in Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Georgia, and Tajikistan, while more distant, were still impressive in the way that they humbled the remnants of the former Soviet colossus. Many observers mistook these wars for the start of a new trend. Some were so impressed that they began to reclassify conflicts in Angola, Nicaragua, Peru, and Somalia – once seen as ideological or power struggles – as primarily ethnic conflicts.
The state-formation wars that accompanied the “Leninist extinction” now appear to have been a one-time event – a flash flood rather than a global deluge. Many of these battles have already been brought under control. Indeed, the most striking trend in warfare during the 1990s has been its decline: The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute documented just 27 major armed conflicts (only one of which, India and Pakistan’s slow-motion struggle over Kashmir, was an interstate war) in 1996, down from 33 such struggles in 1989. Once the Cold War ended, a long list of seemingly perennial struggles came to a halt: the Lebanese civil war, the Moro insurrection in the Philippines, regional clashes in Chad, the Eritrean secession and related battles in Ethiopia, the Sahrawi independence struggle, fratricide in South Africa, and the guerrilla wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The majority of the wars that survive today are ethnic conflicts, but they are mostly persistent battles that have been simmering for decades (i.e. Kosovo). They include the, now possibly defunct, IRA insurgency in the United Kingdom; the struggle for Kurdish autonomy in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey; the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy; the Sri Lankan civil war; and long-standing regional insurrections in Burma, India, and Indonesia. To make the assumption that inter-ethnic conflict is the new trend of emerging warfare following the end of the Cold War needs to be reevaluated. The great majority of struggles during the history of the world have been as a result of some type of intra-state conflict, rather than inter-state conflict. And when referring to intra-state conflict, it s most likely as a result of some type of ethnic dispute. Ethnic conflict has not exploded onto the scene since the Cold War, but instead has only continued, as it has in the past, and become the focal point of coverage by the media.