Caucasian Conflcts

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    Trustees of Princeton University

    Autonomy as a Source of Conflict: Caucasian Conflicts in Theoretical PerspectiveAuthor(s): Svante E. CornellReviewed work(s):Source: World Politics, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Jan., 2002), pp. 245-276Published by: Cambridge University Press

    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25054184 .Accessed: 16/03/2013 06:09

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    AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT

    Caucasian Conflicts inTheoretical Perspective

    By SVANTEE. CORNELL*

    SINCEthe 1950s, ethnopolitical conflict has grown as a source ofconcern in the international arena. It culminated after the cold war

    with the eruption of conflict in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. A number of conflicts also broke out between ethnically defined social groups inAfrica and south Asia, in the postcommuniststates of Eastern Europe and Eurasia, as well as inWestern Europe.1The reigning assumption that ethnic conflict was a vestige of the primitive past was revised and eventually abandoned, particularly in view ofthe spread of ethnic conflict to less developed regions. This led to increased media coverage and public awareness of ethnic issues; more importantly, academic research on ethnic conflict and its resolutionmushroomed.2

    Ethnic mobilization among minority populations in multiethnicstates has often led to demands for self-rule (territorial autonomy) orfor outright secession.3 Especially in defined geographical areas whereminorities are compacdy setded, the creation of a separate state is a feasible goal and territorial control becomes a chief issue of conflict. Insituations in which ethnic groups live in overlapping settlement patterns, such demands are less feasible and are made more infrequendy,

    making control over or influence in the central government the most*The author would like to thank Anna Jonsson, Regine Spector, Erik Melander, Magnus ?berg,and S. Frederick Starr for their valuable comments and suggestions. Research for this article was madepossible by a grant from the Swedish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Science.1Ted Robert Gurr, "Ethnic Warfare on theWane," Foreign Affairs 79 (May-June 2000), 53.2 Significant works on nationalism and ethnic conflict include Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread ofNationalism, 2d ed. (London: Verso, 1991); Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988); Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins ofNations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: Universityof California Press, 1985); Ted R. Gurr, Why Men Rebel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970);Gurr, Peoples versus States:Minorities at Risk in theNew Century (Washington, D.C.: USIP Press, 2000).3In other instances, however, ethnic demands are not for "exit"?autonomy or secession?but forgreater participation in the government of the central state, particularly when settlement patterns overlap.WorldPolitics 54 (January2002), 245-76

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    246 WORLD POLITICScontentious issue.4 Indeed, Fearon and Laitin find "regional concentrationofminority group (a)powerful and robust factor.. .farmore likely to seelarge-scale ethnic violence than urban or widely dispersed minorities."5

    Many theorists have found that solutions involving regional autonomy are effective in dealing with ethnic conflict. Ted Gurr, for example,has argued that "negotiated regional autonomy has proved to be an effective antidote for ethnopolitical wars of secession inWestern andThirdWorld States."6Likewise, Kjell-Ake Nordquist has observed thatcreating an autonomy?"a self-governing intra-state region?as a conflict-solving mechanism in an internal armed conflict is both a theoretical and, very often, a practical option

    for theparties

    in suchconflicts."7 Regional autonomy implies the introduction of ethnoterritoriality?territorial control linked to ethnicity. It occurs either when aregion is explicidy created as a homeland for an ethnic group or when a

    minority group constitutes a large majority of the population of an autonomous state structure and perceives it as its own.Central governments are nevertheless almost universally reluctant toaccede to demands for autonomy for several reasons. First and foremost, they fear that granting territorial autonomy to aminority groupwould be merely the first step toward the eventual secession of the region. Second, granting autonomy to one region may be perceived asdiscrimination against other inhabitants or groups.8 Third, autonomyincreases the risk of intervention by a foreign state affiliated with the

    4It must be noted, however, that ethnic conflict in such situations is possible, and when it doesoccur, it is likely to be significantly more severe than in cases of less intermingled settlement patterns.Conflict in intermingled states would tend not to be over a part of the state's territory and its affiliationbut over the control of the state apparatus, that is, the entire territory of the state. The emergence of violent conflict in such situations would be significantly more likely to lead to large-scale ethnic cleansing and/or genocide: a geographic partition line being much more difficult to draw, the conflict is likelyto take place not on awarfront between two organized military formations but in civilian-inhabitedareas over amuch larger tract of territory. Moreover, the knowledge that a clean territorial break is impossible or very difficult encourages the urge to displace or eliminate members of the other group andeven the perception that it is necessary. A political solution would also imply that one would continueto live intermingled with members of the other group. This is in turn interpreted as a security threat tothe own group and again increases the urge to expel or eliminate the other group, actions that are evenconceptualized as defensive and indispensable for the own group swell-being. This situation is referredto as the "security dilemma". See, for example, Barry Posen, "The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict," Survival 35, no. 1 (1993).5James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, "Weak States, Rough Terrain, and Large-Scale Ethnic Violence since 1945" (Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, Atlanta, September 2-5,1999), 16, emphasis in original.6Ted Robert Gurr, "Peoples against States: Ethnopolitical Conflict and the Changing World System," International Studies Quarterly 38 (Fall 1994), 366.7Kjell-Ake Nordquist, "Autonomy as a Conflict-Solving Mechanism: An Overview," inMarkkuSuksi, ta., Autonomy: Applications and Implications (The Hague: Kluwer, 1998), 59.8Interestingly, in certain instances the central government, in particular in states trying to build acivic national identity, argues that granting autonomy to aminority population would be tantamountto defining that population as second-class citizens. The Turkish government, for example, sticks to its

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    AUTONOMY AS A SOURCEOF CONFLICT 247specific minority population.9 In spite of such reservations, however, anincreasing number of ethnopolitical conflicts over territory have beensettled by compromises involving regional autonomy, such as the provision of autonomy to the Basques of Spain in 1980, theMiskitos of

    Nicaragua in 1990, the Nagas in India in 1972, and the Afars inEthiopia in 1977. The popularity of autonomy as a solution undoubtedly stems from its being one of the few conceivable compromise solutions in conflicts over the administrative control of a specific territory.Indeed, aswill be discussed further, autonomy represents a compromiseon the issue of state sovereignty itself.Advocates of ethnofederalism argue that autonomy solutions are effective conflict-resolv