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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict
Edited by David A. Lake and Donald Rothchild

(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998)
392pp. Index. Bibl. ISBN 0-691-01691-7.
Pb.: 0-691-01690-9, 14.95.


Since Barry Posen's seminal article in the journal Survival in 1993, many scholars have introduced concepts from neorealist international relations theory into the study of ethnic conflicts. Lake and Rothchild's edited volume serves as an important bridge between the two fields and a contribution to both. The contents center around (but are not beholden to) the editors' introductory chapter which posits that the underlying dynamic of ethnic conflicts is a collective fear of the future. These fears produce and are exacerbated by a number of strategic dilemmas which form between groups: information failures, commitment problems, and the security dilemma. At the same time, sincere nationalists and self-interested political entrepreneurs reinforce them. According to the editors: "these between-group and within-group strategic interactions produce a toxic brew of distrust and suspicion that can explode into murderous violence, even the systematic slaughter of one people by another." [4] The second theme of the book is the process by which ethnic conflicts spread across state borders either by sparking new ethnic conflicts or by bringing third parties into the conflict.

By framing the subsequent articles, the Lake and Rothchild piece provides a coherence often lacking in other edited volumes: for the most part they are debating and expanding upon the same issues, even if they do not agree with each other. The downside, however, is that there is some redundancy; though not enough to detract from the overall caliber of the book.

Lake and Rothchild begin with their argument and a useful review of the field. Part Two provides a largely quantitative examination of the spread of ethnic conflict. (Because of the emphasis on quantitative analysis, these chapters might be inappropriate for undergraduate students.) Part Three focuses on factors which limit the spread of ethnic conflict. Part Four searches for ways that transnational ethnic conflict can be managed. Finally, the editors summarize the findings of the book and identify practical suggestions for preventing ethnic conflicts in the future.

Although overall this is an excellent volume, the quality and readability of the articles is somewhat uneven; the Lake and Rothchild's articles, James Fearon's contribution on 'commitment problems', Paula Garb's examination of ethnic identities in the Caucasus, and Krasner and Froats' historical account of minority rights, standing out as among the best.

In short, this book is highly recommended for its attention to theory, its logical progression, and the quality of its articles.


Thomas Ambrosio, Virginia University



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