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Regional Conflict
Unit 5D: Issues in International Politics
Andrew Williams
Professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations at University of Kent writes for BBC Parliament

Ethnic tensions in Macedonia
Regional conflicts have replaced Cold War superpower tensions
There has been a marked rise in regional conflicts since the end of the Cold War.

Before 1990 or so most conflicts were linked to the ongoing Cold War, with both Superpowers using local warlords as their surrogates, whether that be in Latin America, Asia or Africa.

Since 1990 conflicts have returned to many of these areas but the reasons for them have changed.

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The main flashpoints have been in Central and Eastern Europe (Former Yugoslavia and parts of the former Soviet Union) and in Africa (The Great Lakes Region around the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as in the Horn of Africa.

The effect on regional stability has been very marked in all of these areas.

Causes of the conflicts

The reasons for these new conflicts have been to do with what can be termed identity issues, around religious, racial and national desires for self-determination within and across existing national boundaries.

In many case this has been exacerbated by the persistence of old colonial boundaries, ones that did not respect tribal or ethnic borders but rather respected the administrative convenience of the colonial powers.

In Central and Eastern Europe the immediate causes have been due to the break-up of the Soviet 'Empire' and the state of Yugoslavia.

In both these areas the uniting principle of communism has been replaced by the divisive principle of nationalism.

The Serb minority in Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina felt that its identity was being challenged by the setting up of new states where previously there had been one -Yugoslavia.

And the Chechen national group within the Russian Federal republic has been demanding its independence, often using very violent means.

In the Middle East and Pacific states regional conflicts have often been linked to the rise of Islamic 'fundamentalism', which has also served to mobilise those opposed to what they see as outside dominance.

The response to these demands has been equally violent and horrible wars have resulted, in many cases leading to massacres, 'ethnic cleansing' and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Looking for solutions

An important question is how these conflicts should be resolved in the short and long term.

In the short term resolution will require a multiple approach using military force, a willingness to bring the conflicting parties into discussion and, in some cases a pressing need to reconcile former enemies.

In the long term many point to the kinds of structure created in Western Europe since 1945 in what is now known as the European Union.

Many Central and Eastern European states see their long-term salvation in terms of integration into the EU.

This, it is argued, will bring about political, security and economic stability.

Whether the model is exportable to other parts of the world is a moot point although African states have just changed the name of their regional organization to that of the 'African Union'.

It might also be suggested that there is a need to replace both communism and nationalism with a more all-inclusive and tolerant form of democratic government

Prof Andrew Williams 2004
Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Kent


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