Reading Response: Partition as a Solution to Ethnic War

Disclaimer: Please disregard the format of this post. I am just sharing a reading response that I wrote for a course in case anybody who has interest in this topic would like more resources to explore.

In our reading for today, the author (Sambanis) proposed what I believe to be a very compelling hypothesis for future researchers to explore: “if border redefinition is in the cards after civil war (or before war), then the strategy of supporting ethnic diffusion by combining rather than partitioning large ethnic groups may be worth pursuing”. This assertion quickly took my mind back to our USAID reading on state-building in situations of fragility and conflict. From that reading, we learned that “the ultimate goal of state-building should be establishing government legitimacy and resilience, which then allows for sustainability of technical assistance and capacity-building efforts”. If we explore the possibility of combining large ethnic groups when redefining borders as a method for creating environments that are more conducive to reaching a political settlement, what would this entail? Further, if, as Sambanis suggests, “partitions are less likely to occur as the degree of ethnic heterogeneity increases”, could this situation be indicative of an inherently inclusive political settlement process? To answer these questions, it may be helpful to revisit civil society and the process of its formation in relation to the state. During our lecture on civil society, it was established that the state can influence civil society by being there, dealing with associations, inviting participation, and subsidizing activity. Within the context of the hypothesis provided by Sambanis, as well as the state-building objective provided by USAID, it could be argued that if the aforementioned influences of the state upon civil society are present, then the likelihood of war reemerging should be significantly lower and governmental legitimacy and resilience should be observed. This also has the potential to be indicative of an inherently inclusive political settlement process since in this case, the state would be resilient and far from fragile.

Another interesting point that was made in our reading for today, is that partitions are more likely in countries that fit into the above-average socio-economic category. I found this to be interesting because at first I felt that the finding was counter intuitive. However, when I recalled our discussion of the post-colonialism and neo-trusteeship dynamics that produced the juridical states and Westphalian borders that we see today, I was able to better understand the validity of the finding. Another potential source of support for this finding could also lie in the strength of the state to civil-society relationship. Italy’s weak civil-society associations in its southern region, coupled with the conception of extractive institutions that we previously discussed provide an example of how weaknesses in state to civil-society relationships can result in the socio-economic inequalities that tend to lead to conflict and supersedes socio-economic statuses.

Overall, I felt that the article provided a novel perspective from which we can assess state-building efforts. Though, I believe that the questions that I posed in this memo would not have been as easily answered without the background knowledge of the other readings that were cited throughout my memo.