Peace-prevention: Western conflict management as the continuation of power politics by other means

The Violent Dissolution and Its Underlying Conflicts

By Jan Oberg
June 2004

The breakdown of former Yugoslavia has been explained in dozens of books the last five years with reference to ethnic war, aggression, traumas, nationalism, the dissolution of Communist ideology and the Soviet Union, the impossibility of non-alignment when the blocs disappeared, by expansionist national myths (Greater Serbia) etc. In short, black and white images, reduction to two parties — one good and one bad — in conflict and a need for ”third” parties to intervene to judge and set things right.

My first observation is that there may well be an element of truth in each but that they are surface appearances or instrumental features of the war through which deeper lying, essentially political-economic root causes of the conflict were played out.

My second, perhaps to some provocative, argument is that the international so-called community (1) is fundamentally incapable of perceiving and diagnosing conflicts as conflicts but see events such as Croatia, Bosnia, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq in the perspective of foreign policy, security, alliance-building, world domination, national interests, or in the light of the division of labour among international organisations. [Read more…]

Former Yugoslavia in 1990: Why it had a bad prognosis

By Håkan Wiberg

Originally published here

Former Yugoslavia entered a process of dissolution many years ago, which may be far from completed yet. It took violent forms from 1991; events in 2004 in Macedonia and Kosovo indicate that we did hardly see the end here either. Was the dissolution unavoidable? Was war an inescapable consequence?

I shall attempt to translate these issues into manageable research questions, trying to make various postdictions concerning FY around 1990. There are no natural laws in social science, so the questions will deal with probabilities, asking what were the prognoses with highest likelihood at that time point. No empirical facts are drawn on that were not available at that time; confirmed general propositions are used even if they have only found empirical support later than 1990.



The first question is then: how probable was a dissolution, given the characteristics of FY and the circumstances prevailing some fifteen years ago. There is little quantitative research on when and how states dissolve. One relevant classical finding is Richardson’s (1960: 190f.) that the longer two groups lived under common government, the less likely is a civil war. This does not say anything about peaceful dissolutions; but these are historically quite rare, so this finding actually covers the great majority of cases.

The first problem concerning FY is to define its age: from 1918 or from 1945? In the first case, YU of 1990 was older than two thirds of all states; in the second case, it still belonged to the older half. Its prognosis on the basis of this indicator only was therefore about average, meaning that it was definitely less likely to dissolve than to remain. If we use qualitative analyses instead, the first problem is disagreement: some conclude that it was doomed for a number of reasons, others that it was fully viable. How convincing the pro and con arguments are is a subjective matter, or at least contains large subjective elements.

There had indeed been attempts at dissolving it, temporarily successful in 1941-45. Small armed Croatian groups from abroad failed to get much support in 1968 and were quickly suppressed. The Croatian Spring in 1971 had much more support, initially also in the party leadership, which, however, withdrew when public demands rapidly escalated from cultural autonomy to economic autonomy and from there to secession (eventually claiming large parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina); as a bid for dissolution it failed. [Read more…]