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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


International Dispute Settlement
J. G. Merrills

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
369pp. Index. Hb.: 60.00; ISBN 0-521-63003-7. Pb.: 24.95; ISBN 0-521-63993-X.



International Dispute Settlement is doubtlessly a valuable survey of international organisations and tools for the settlement of conflict. While the author introduces the third edition as response to the changes in international relations since 1991, including the break-up of Yugoslavia (p. ix), the book, however, remains oddly out of touch with the increasing interest of international organisations in internal conflicts, ethnic conflict in particular.

In the first five chapters Merrills evaluates non-violent means to settle conflicts on the international arena, ranging from negotiation to arbitration. The focus remains with the legal tools available to end disputes, which is reflected even more so in the second half of the book where the author examines the different organisations and legal instruments available for dispute settlement. In consequence, the International Court receives more attention than the United Nations and Regional Organizations, such as the OSCE. Merrills also pays particular attention to Maritime and Trade disputes.

For any scholar researching the resolution of ethnic conflict, this book is of limited interest. His description of the different approaches for the settlement of disputes is, however, applicable for the study of the international instruments available (or unavailable) in the resolution of ethnic conflict and can thus serve as a helpful overview.

His evaluation of the United Nations takes the war in Yugoslavia and its various UN missions (i.e. UNPROFOR) only marginally into consideration. His conclusion that "it would be difficult to deny that through peace-keeping operations and in other ways, it has sometimes made a significant contribution to that end [terminating conflict]" (p.256) sounds surprisingly optimistic in the light of failed UN missions in the 1990s in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda; ethnic conflicts that demonstrated the limits of the organisation's effectiveness.

International Dispute Settlement reflects the inadequacies of international organisations in handling ethnic conflicts, which erupt primarily within countries and fail to fit into the classical concept of state supremacy in international relations. Nevertheless, Merrills is not overoptimistic in the role of International Organisations, especially the UN, reflecting a less up-beat approach than what one could observe in the early 1990s. He concludes his book with the assessment that the "tools are already at hand" (p.311) for settling conflicts, the only stumbling block is the leaders, who might be unwilling to use them. Any scholar working on ethnic conflict is aware that this judgement cannot be upheld, considering the inability of international organisations and legal frameworks to adequately approach such conflicts in recent years.


Florian Bieber,
Central European University, Budapest




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