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87 Foreign Aff. 138 (2008)
Is Ethnic Conflict Inevitable - Parting Ways over Nationalism and Separatism

handle is hein.journals/fora87 and id is 722 raw text is: Responses

Is Ethnic Conflict Inevitable?
Parting Ways Over Nationalism and Separatism

Better Institutions,
Not Partition
Jerry Muller (Us and Them, March/
April 2008) tells a disconcerting story
about the potential for ethnic diversity to
generate violent conflict. He argues that
ethnic nationalism-which stems from a
deeply felt need for each people to have its
own state--will continue to shape the
world in the twenty-first century. When
state and ethnic-group boundaries do not
coincide, politics is apt to remain ugly.
Muller points to the peace and stability
in Europe today as evidence of the triumph
of the ethnonationalist project: it is only
because of a half century of violent sepa-
ration of peoples through expulsions,
the redrawing of state boundaries, and the
outright destruction of communities too
weak to claim territories of their own that
Europe today enjoys relative peace. Else-

where, the correspondence between
states and nations is much less neat, and
there Muller seems to agree with Winston
Churchill that the mixture of populations
[will] ... cause endless trouble. He
advocates partition as the best solution
to this difficult problem.
If correct, his conclusion has profound
implications both for the likelihood of
peace in the world and for what might
be done to promote it. But is it correct?
Do ethnic divisions inevitably generate
violence? And why does ethnic diversity
sometimes give rise to conflict?
In fact, ethnic differences are not
inevitably, or even commonly, linked to
violence on a grand scale. The assumption
that because conflicts are often ethnic,
ethnicity must breed conflict is an example
of a classical error sometimes called the
base-rate fallacy. In the area of ethnic
conflict and violence, this fallacy is com-
mon. To assess the extent to which
Muller falls prey to it, one needs some
sense of the base.
How frequently does ethnic conflict
occur, and how often does it occur in the
context of volatile mismatches between
ethnic groups and states? A few years


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