Research Topic and Question:
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of the Cold War have led to a variety of low intensity conflicts in the Balkan/Caucasus region of Europe. This conflicts have arisen from nationalism and the desire to express independence after centuries of oppression, “the emergence of open ethnic tensions in the central part of Europe and the Balkans has its origins in long-term structural issues that are latently present in most European countries 1) the dominant form of nationalism that emphasis centralization and homogeneity as the preferred model of a state and 2) the view of the state as largely a tool of the specific majority ethnic group.” (Szayna 1994, p. ix) Simply put the ongoing conflict in the Balkans is related to the breakdown of the Soviet Union that allowed for the intermixing of various ethnic groups that are vying for superiority in the region.
The question that this research report will attempt to answer is the impact that the collapse of the Soviet Union has had on ethnic tensions in Central Europe.
International relations as a discipline is designed to explain how the world works, as international relations is meant to explain how the world works there are a variety of different theoretical perspectives that are a part of the discipline, for example “Realism emphasizes the enduring propensity for conflict between states; liberalism identifies several ways to mitigate these conflictive tendencies; and the radical tradition describes how the entire system of state relations might be transformed. The boundaries between these traditions are somewhat fuzzy and a number of important works do not fit neatly into any of them, but debates within and among them have largely defined the discipline.” (Walt) All of these theories are valid when discussing how nation-states interact with each other; having said that, the realist theory of international relations focuses on the power and ability of the nation-state to orchestrate international policy. “Realism was the dominant theoretical tradition throughout the Cold War. It depicts international affairs as a struggle for power among self-interested states and is generally pessimistic about the prospects for eliminating conflict and war. Realism dominated in the Cold War years because it provided simple but powerful explanations for war, alliances, imperialism, obstacles to cooperation, and other international phenomena, and because its emphasis on competition was consistent with the central features of the American-Soviet rivalry.” (Walt)
The purpose of this research report is to use the realist theory of international relations to explain why nation-states engage in armed conflict more specifically to explain why armed conflict occurred in the Balkan/Caucasus area of Central Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Realism has been the dominant theory in international relations for centuries; the reason that realism has remained a dominant theory is the fact that realism views the nation-state and the most important actor on the international stage. In addition to this realist theory focuses around the idea that international relations is a struggle for power, a struggle for those that do not have power to obtain it and for those that are in power to retain it. Realism also takes into account human nature; both conflict and the desire for power are both basic aspects of human nature “The first and least controversial assumption of realism concerns the nature of basic social actors. Realism assumes the existence of a set of “conflict groups,” each organized as a unitary political actor that rationally pursues distinctive goals within an anarchic setting.” (Legro and Moravcsik 1999). These points come into play with regard to conflict that has erupted in the Balkan region of Central Europe since the end of the Cold War/collapse of the Soviet Union.
In a nutshell the Realist theory posits that the world exists in a perpetual period of anarchy where nation-states need to constantly be on guard so as to defend against other hostile nations. This along with the theory that those in power want to remain in power and those with no power seek to obtain power are excellent examples of why armed conflict occurred in the Balkan region of Central Europe during the 1990s.
At times nation-states can and do organize into economic, political, or security organizations to defend against the power of a larger nation(or group of nations) and also to allow for the nation-state to preserve power, examples of this include the Allies during World War II, NATO, the European Union(EU), and the United Nations(UN). In each of these cases like nations were willing to compromise a certain amount of sovereignty as favor of a larger goal that being defending the major powers of Europe. The Balkan region has had difficulty entering into security or economic organizations due to its geographic location. For example “the term Balkan Peninsula is modern, coined by the German geographer, Johann August Zeune in 1808. It arose from a long-standing misconception that the Balkan mountain range, the backbone of present-day Bulgaria did not taper out in eastern Serbia (as is the case) but stretched unbroken from the Black Sea to the Adriatic.” (Glenny 2012, p. xxii) This misconception of the geography is the Balkans has had a direct impact on how the international community views the geopolitics of the region. Instead of being accepted as part of the larger European community, the Balkan region is viewed as part of the Arab world, “as a synonym for the Balkans, Turkey-in-Europe, those regions of the Ottoman Empire which lay to the West of the Bosporus raised questions to the nature of the northern periphery parts of Hungary, Croatia and even Austrian had at one time been under the control of the Ottoman armies.” (Glenny 2012, p. xxiii) Historical membership in the Ottoman Empire meant that parts of the Balkan region have been relegated to the “Arab” world and/or focused upon “Arab Politics” and are therefore not really part of Europe and as such would never be considered part of the larger European Community.
The Balkan region was seeking to become a sovereign state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, however it found itself on the outside looking into European politics due to the fact that it is to “Arab” to be European and too “European” to be Arab leaving a potential nation-state in limbo and allowing for armed conflict to erupt in an attempt to gain power.
However, this view of the Balkans was not always the case, during the Cold War the Balkans held a strategic location, in example, “this is what happened during the Cold War, when the northern Balkans were lost in the cultural black hole of Soviet imperialism and socialist renegades, Yugoslavia and Albania, were placed under the rubric of the Eastern Adriatic and the Southern Balkans were transformed into the strategic NATO region of the Eastern Mediterranean.” (Glenny 2012, p. xxiv) During this period the Balkans were only viewed as being important as a buffer between mainland Europe and the Soviet Empire, without any real independence and/or political or cultural growth of its own. With this in mind the Balkan region was subjugated by the power of the Soviet Union and the great powers of Europe.
Taking all of this information into consideration, conflict can (and did) arise in the Balkan region due to the historical bias of the region. After being suppressed by the Soviets for so long and being used as a pawn by the major power players of Europe (NATO), The Balkan region was finally seeking independent power after the end of the Soviet Union. Instead centuries old discrimination carried over into the new world (a world without the Soviet Union).
Armed conflict remains an element of modern society due to the fact that the grievances that bring nations to war are rooted in the past. Ethnic violence or violence that is perpetrated by non-state actors is also rooted in the treatment of ethnic groups in the past.
In Man the State and War, Kenneth Waltz states that “Social scientists, realizing from their studies how firmly the present is tied to the past and how intimately the parts of the system depend upon each other, are inclined to be conservative in estimating the possibilities of achieving a radically better world.” (2001, p. 1) Here lies the basis of the reason for continued conflict in the Balkans, historical grievances are fueling the fire of conflict today and therefore it is unlikely that until this age old grievances are addressed and wounds are allowed to heal that this conflict will ever completely end.
In addition to historical reasons that lead to armed conflict, it would also appear that human nature may be the cause of continued levels of armed conflict; in a nutshell it would appear that armed conflict is a part of human nature.
In regard to continued armed conflict in the post-modern world and/or the world after the end of the Cold War Samuel P. Huntington stated “it is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” (Huntington 1993) This clash of civilizations in addition to historical grievances and the realist desire for power and/or acceptance in the international community appears to be the reason that conflict in the Balkans has and continues to take place. A vast majority of conflict in the Balkans is ethnic in that the Muslim community is seeking an independent homeland in Europe. This is desire for power is being expressed through armed conflict.
As the world enters the post-Cold War area it becomes important to study low intensity ethnic conflicts for the following reasons “few subjects have recently received more attention in political science than large-scale political violence and intra-state conflicts. It has been noted how these forms of conflict replaced analyses of nuclear deterrence and the conventional balance as the core subject of the studies on war following the end of the Cold War.” (Costalli 2011)
The end of the Cold War saw a rise in ethnic conflict among nation-states and among differing ethnic groups within the same nations. In addition to this the roots of ethnic strife and lack of economic growth have been a historical reality for the Balkan region for centuries. “During the second half of the 19th century the Balkans became an area of increasing nationalist restiveness directed mainly against the waning power of the Ottoman Empire, the sick man of Europe. During the mid-1870s revolts erupted in Bosnia and Bulgaria which challenged Ottoman authority. The following year the Russians intervened in the Balkans on the side of the Bulgarians. After victory over the Ottomans was achieved in 1878 the Russians imposed a settlement at San Stefano creating a large Bulgarian state that included Macedonia, through Austria-Hungary and Great Britain rejected the arrangement because it gave Russia too much influence in the region.” (Hall 2012) Geopolitically the Balkan region has always found itself pitted against the Soviet Union on the one side the Europe on the other. Based around this it became difficult for the Balkan region to even develop its own personal culture without the influence of a major world power. As this region has been disputed so often by such a large variety of world powers it should come as no surprise that ethnic conflicts that began to arise during the 19th century are still being fought today and that the region is now seeking to express an identity independent from the Soviet Union and from Europe.
As demonstrated there is an increased likelihood that armed conflict will occur in the Balkan region due to long standing ethnic strife in the region. However, this conflict will not occur in the traditional fashion of an all-out shooting war. If conflict continues in this region it is likely that it will take the shape of low intensity conflict. For example “with the end of the Cold War, armed conflicts accompanied by widespread atrocities namely war crimes, crimes against humanity or even genocide conducted in the name of social, religious and ethnic groups became a primary security issue for the international society.” (Future 2007) This is an important distinction to be made between future ethnic conflicts that will arise in the Balkans and traditional wars fought between major world powers. As previous theorized it is unlikely that major world powers such as the United States, China, India or member-nations of the EU will engage in armed conflict. However conflict is likely to continue to occur throughout regions that lack the ability to enter into international power structure. These conflicts will most likely be ethnic in nature will different cultures conflicting with one another; in addition it does appear that these conflicts will also take the shape of genocide which will make an international intervention even more problematic. This is due to the fact of when does a genocide stop being an international issue and become an international issue that will required international intervention. In addition to this, with ethnic conflict at the heart of future conflict it will be interesting to see on what side the great world powers will side.
An example of this theory can be found in the history of the Armenian genocide. “The legacy of the Armenian genocide a century ago remains and haunts Turkey; especially as it seeks to gain membership of the EU where failure to acknowledge what happened became an increasingly salient issue as Turkey’s relationship with the Union moved forward.” (Futamura 2007) This fact is of particular importance when discussing the future of the Balkans as a potential member of the EU. Current and past conflicts within this region not only have the ability to destabilize the region, present and past conflicts very much have the ability to block membership in the EU completely. If this is the case and former nations that have engaged in ethnic conflict are barred from membership in IOs there will be no motivating factor to end conflict and attempt to modernize and eventually enter into the liberal power structure.
Some final worlds regarding the future of ethnic strife in the Balkan region, “the root cause of the ethnic strife that has emerged in parts of central Europe and the Balkans through by itself it is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for the strife.” (Szayna 1994) Of all the conditions that have been examined that may lead to conflict in the Balkans nationalism cannot be understated. It is nationalism that will drive civilizations toward independence; it is this same nationalism that will not allow nations to attempt to enter into existing power structures without feeling that their needs and desires are being addressed. It is also nationalism that will require nations to express its own independence before making any concessions even if this means that the nation will be excluded from entrance into an existing power structure.
Economic instability or economic inequality can also become a powerful motivator for armed conflict, for example with the end of the Cold War the balance of world power has shifted to having the United States being the only major world superpower (at this point) with several other nations developing to become a power balance to the United States. Two of these nations are China and India. Given this fact, it is potential that the balance of power will be spread among multiple nations instead of living in a former bipolar world (a balance between the United States and Soviet Union) the post-modern world will be governed by a multipolar world where there are a variety of world powers. These post-modern superpowers seek diplomatic solutions to potential conflict and have engaged in international organizations (IOs) to an attempt to settle disputes among members and allow for the positive economic growth of all member-nations. Member-nations are also likely to be willing to enter into an established liberal world view so as to advance economic growth leaving conflict between member-nations unlikely.
The potential for economic development can be a powerful motivator to engage in diplomatic conflict solutions and a reason to seek entrance into international economic organizations (IOs) such as the European Union. However, prevention from economic growth and potential membership in IOs can also be a powerful motivator for future conflict. “Income levels are negatively associated with violence. Here, though, it is the indicator (low income per capita is related to higher probability of conflict onset) rather than the variable, this is to be shared. According to some, income represents a measure of poverty thus pointing to the opportunity cost to join insurgencies. From this perspective, rebels are akin to bandits and the use of force is a direct way to improve economic conditions.” (Costalli 2011) Lack of access to economic growth can lead to conflict. Nations that feel that they are being blocked from entrance into the power elite will seek out other methods to demonstrate dominance and potentially force economic growth that will be through conflict.
The methodology of this research report was in the form of case studies. This type of research allowed a review of a vast number of opinions on the nature of conflict. To receive the best possible overview of conflict it was important to view both recent and historical documentations of conflict. To maintain the stated goals of this report it became important to limit research to one specific theoretical model of international relations. In this case the realist perspective was utilized to assist with the explanation of conflict.
According to the realist theory conflict will occur between nations that have power and are seeking to maintain it or among states that have little power and wish to gain it. However, it is unlikely that nations that are part of political or security organizations will go to war with one another (for example it is unlikely that EU member-states will go to war with one another). But in the case of the Balkans it is likely that conflict will continue in that region due to the fact that the Balkans are seeking to obtain power and the more powerful nation-states of Europe are attempting to prevent this from occurring.
In addition to this, conflict is occurring in the Balkans due to historical grievances that have occurred from past treatment of citizen of the Balkan region of Central Europe. This region has never been allowed to establish an independent identity outside of the influence of the Soviet Union of the power states of Europe. Conflict is occurring as the Balkan region attempts to form its own independent identity.
Analysis, findings, and conclusion:
Armed conflict among nations occurs for a variety of reasons, however in an attempt to explain why conflict exists the Realist theory of international relations seems as though it will be the most effective in explaining why nations still go to war. For example, the Realist theory takes into account human nature, part of human nature if to protect what is yours and attempt to take that which belongs to someone else. In the area of armed conflict a nation-state will seek to maintain their sovereignty and nation size (in terms of land) while attempting to keep other nations from taking anything from them. This also ties into the struggle for power. Nation-state that are in power seek to remain in power and nations that do not have power seek to gain power witch can eventually lead to armed conflict as the less powerful nations seek to balance the power of more powerful nations.
All of these varying forces can be seen in the case study of the Balkan region of Central Europe. Throughout the history of the Cold War the Balkans were under the hegemony of the Soviet Union and therefore not allowed to form any sort of independent identity. After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union the Balkan region still had difficulty in expressing an independent identity in international relations. They aren’t viewed as being completely European or completely Arab. This has led the Balkan region to attempt to express its individuality as both. This has led to conflict not only among European Powers (mostly Russia that continues to attempt to maintain control over the Balkan region) but also among differing ethnic groups that are attempting recognition as the dominant ethnic community in the region.
All of this information is interesting in that the Balkan conflict highlights a variety of reasons that armed conflict continues to occur. The methods that are used to eventually end the conflict may also assist the larger world community in the prevention of future armed conflict.
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