Theories that explain ethnic war


In recent years, even though there has been a reduction in ethnic violence and civil wars, shocking cases continue to be witnessed around world over[h1] . Violence, though considered barbaric with no place in the modern world is still a common phenomenon in the resolution of social conflicts.[h2]  Ethnic conflict or ethnic war [h3] is a war between two or more ethnic groups. Violence and conflict go hand in hand as in most cases; conflict is expressed through violence.[h4]  One of the primary characteristics of ethnic wars is that civilians are the major targets and the most affected.

We will write a custom essay sample on
Theories that explain ethnic war
or any similar topic specifically for you
Do Not Waste
Your Time

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.

More Essay Examples on War Rubric

According to Kalyvas, (2000)[h5] , research shows that 80 percent of people killed [h6] in the modern day civil wars are civilians. A distinctive feature between civil wars and civil unrest [h7] are their respective structures; organization, duration and the participants. Civil unrests, like riots, tend to take place in urban centers. They are mostly for particular groups of people and take a short period of time with minimal violence involved. Civil wars on the other hand are mostly witnessed in the rural areas. The scale of participation by individuals in civil wars is different from ordinary civil unrest. Ethnic war is seen as a war in which a neighbor rises against his own neighbor.[h8]

Theories that explain ethnic war

There are three major theories used in the description and understanding of the ethnic wars: [h9] The Primordialist Theory, Instrumentalist Theory and the Constructivist Theories. The Primordialist Theory argues that ethnic war or violence results from political, institutional and economic factors rather than ethnicity. The primordialists believe that war result sprimarily from the political elites’ and other leaders’ poor decision-making in which, these political leaders may use the ethnic card to advance their interests. Grosby (1994).[h10]

First Three Words of the Title     4

The Instrumentalists on the other hand argue that “ethnicity and race are…instrumental identities” used by particular groups of people to meet the scarcity of resources, identity or political power. Furthermore, instrumentalists think that the community leaders use the cultural groups to their competitive advantage, Stephen Cornell and Douglas Hartmann (1998)[h11]

[1]The third explanation of ethnic conflict is from the Constructivism School of Thought. The constructivists argue that the ethnic groups are socially constructed and they make up the nation. According to Benedict, (1999)  [h12] “a nation is a community socially constructed” meaning that the people see themselves as part of a nation or a group though they fundamentally identify with a particular ethnic group. The theory is attributed to Benedict Anderson who argued that a nation, made up of different ethnic groups is different from an actual community in that a nation “is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”. The communion is imagined and may be described as “virtual” opposed to “real.” Anderson argues that the communities are sovereign and at the same time limited.

Ethnic wars from the social perspective[h13]

Two wars which clearly illustrate classical cases of ethnic wars are the war in the former Yugoslavia between the Serbs and the Croats and the war in Rwanda [h14] between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Unlike a war perpetrated by a country or a sovereign nation in which the nation is held accountable, ethnic war has the direct participation of neighbor against neighbor and the particular ethnic groups are held accountable.

First Three Words of the Title     5

The Yugoslav war

The two major explanations given for the wars in Croatia and Bosnia are the culmination of ethnic hatred over time between the two ethnic groups and the rise of calls for nationalism after the fall of communism. The call for nationalism was brought about by politicians. The media calls for nationalism leading to the renewal of hatred and fear that had been kept in check with the Federal communist government.[2]Judah, (1997) [h15] argues that the war was caused by politicians with their persistent calls for nationalism; however the war would not have succeeded if there had not been ancient hatred that characterized the social fabric of the Federation. These calls led to the rise in “militant nationalism” which directly preceded the wars leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The elections in May 1990 led to the escalation of fear and insecurity which was as a result of the rising nationalism and expected soon to be independent. The elections in Croatia was highly manipulated and the nationalists headed by Franjo Tudman won the elections with over 69 percent of the parliamentary seats despite attaining only 42 percent of the total votes cast. According to Mueller (2000)[h16] , with only less than 25 percent , the Serbs’ participation[h17]  was minimal (Mueller, 2000). This was the same case with Serbia in which Slobodan Milosevic managed to win the elections. The Albanians living in Kosovo had boycotted the elections increasing Slobodan chances.

 [3]In the Croatian state, for example, the Serbs were considered a minority group with civil rights different from the other Croats. Because of this, the Croatian Serbs demanded autonomy as they lived in fear in Croatia. This resulted in several armed conflicts. One of such conflicts happened when the Serbian Policemen living in Croatia declined to wear the new uniform which they were given following the attainment of autonomy by the Croatian government. The other form of militant conflict was the “log revolution” where the Serbs

First Three Words of the Title     6

blocked the streets with logs, thereby preventing the Croatian forces from entering the Serb territory where the Croat police had a strike. Since the Croats were still under the Yugoslav government, the federal government intervened by barring Croatian helicopters from flying over the area. Likewise, the Hutu of Rwanda[h18] , though with the same rights as the Tutsi’s, had been marginalized over the years Rwandan. Edith Marko-Stöckl (2004)

The participants of the war were small groups of thugs, soccer hooligans, and idlers who were “always drunk” Muller, (2000)[h19] . Initially, they were organized by the political elites to help in the war. The federal army had inevitably disintegrated[h20]  as a result of growing ethnic hatred and calls for nationalism thereby having minimal participation in the war.

            The majority of Yugoslav residents had not believed in its break up as shown in a poll conducted in Yugoslavia in 1990. It showed that of the total number of people interviewed, only 16 percent supported the creation of autonomic national states as opposed to the whooping 61 percent who did not agree to the idea. This shows that the majority of the [4]Yugoslavs wanted a united nation. It was the small groups of armed civilians who fully participated in the persecution of the ethnic groups who were considered not so friendly.

The existence of thugs and a general attitude of the rise of ethnic warfare also contributed to the civil war in Yugoslavia. The major perpetrators of the ethnic conflict were the common criminals, idlers, thugs and fanatics. Mueller (2000)[h21] , classifies the war. It is these people who rose to become national heroes during the war.

Muller, (2000)[h22] , thinks that the war had taken part in four major steps, the takeover where “well armed thugs” strategically took over the regions that was formerly ruled by the civilian. This takeover was directly supported by the politicians who believed that the military was in control. It is this takeover that led to the persecution of ethnic groups. This

First Three Words of the Title     7

was followed by the “Carnibal” in which the thugs in control engaged in all forms of socially unacceptable behavior: mass killings of innocent civilians, mass gang rapes, uncontrolled drunkenness as well as other sadistic behavior. The third step of the war was the revenge attacks in which the people who had been persecuted sought revenge. An example of this is the formation of a group the “Black Swans” who had been “orphaned by the wars”. Lastly, the “Occupation and dissertation,” follows. It characterized the end of the war.

Violence and Genocide in Rwanda[h23]

[5]A classic example of the degeneration of ethnic tension into a full blown genocide is the Rwandan case. There are three major ethnic groups in Rwanda; The Hutu, Tutsi and the Twa. JUSTOR 2001 [h24] reports that by 1990, 85 percent of the total Rwandan population was Hutus while the Tutsis and the Twa’s comprises 14 percent and 1 percent respectively. Since the colonial times, there had been tension between the majority who are the Hutus, and the minority who are the Tutsi’s. Belgians, the colonial masters, brought about the problem by empowering the Tutsi’s and making them the elites of the country. As a result of this, the Hutus continued to be seen as second class citizens in a country where they were the majority in terms of population. The social structure which had been fairly dynamic was divided into two competing and fighting ethnic groups. This resulted in a full blown genocide in Rwanda in April 1994 where more than 800,000 people died. The genocide was preceded by a conflict that had been going on between Habyarimana’s government and the rebel group the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) who were predominantly the Tutsis. RPF had been formed as a result of fear of possible persecutions by the Tutsis of the Hutus.  The conflict went on between October 1990 and August 1993. The conflict ended after the signing of a power sharing agreement between the two groups (JUSTOR, 2005)[h25] . The genocide is believed to be caused

First Three Words of the Title     8

by the government policies that aimed at destroying the Tutsi minority. According to Strauss, 2005[h26] , the Rwandese war was planned by the elites in the then ruling Hutu ethnic group, though he acknowledges that there are other factors that led to the rise of the war. Three groups which participated in the war were the Forces Arm’ees Rwandaises (FAR), the Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF) and the Hutu extremists. The elites had the ability to influence and coerce the Hutu ordinary citizens into participating fully in the genocide though the participation of the citizens is questioned because according to estimation, only 9 percent of the citizens took part, Mueller, (2000)[h27] . Even though the ideology that ignites the war in Rwanda has called for the participation by all Hutus in the elimination of the Tutsis, only few Hutu extremists took part in the killings.

Comparative understanding of the two wars.

[6]The two ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, the Serbs and the Croats were relatives. It is estimated that around 29 percent of the Serbs had married Croats in 1991, (Gagnon 1994, 130-131)[h28] . This even exceeds the number of blacks married to the whites in America which was estimated to stand at 12 percent by 1993 (Mueller, 2000)[h29] . Just as the Yugoslavs were relatives, the Hutus and the Tutsi’s had significantly intermarried. According to Des Forges (1999), nearly every Tutsi had a relative from the Hutu ethnic group, (Mueller, 2000)[h30] .

According to the social constructive theory, there were three conditions which led to the rise of the ethnic wars[h31] . In both the Rwandan and the Yugoslav cases, there were myths and historical injustices which justified ethnic hostility and violence. Secondly, there were intense fears by a particular group about possible persecution by another group. In both cases there was a general feeling that a particular group would persecute another group. The Hutu were afraid of becoming second class citizens to the Tutsi minority and the Tutsis were afraid

First Three Words of the Title     9

of a possible future persecution. This is evidenced by the formation of the RPF which sought to defend the rights of the Tutsis. In Yugoslavia a good illustration of this condition can be seen in the case of the Croatian Serbs who felt that with the Croatian independence around the corner and with the creation of a new Constitution, it would lower their ethnic status in the social strata and result in a possible persecution. The May 1990 elections in Yugoslavia led to a general feeling by the Croatian Serbs that they would be marginalized.

In both cases, the ethnic groups had the opportunities to mobilize resources and personnel to engage in fights. The important leaders also served to fuel the rising of ethnic wars through rhetoric’s and mass mobilization of a certain group of people. Lack of any of the above discussed points would probably have prevented the possible war. Lead to the avoidance of both conflicts. JUSTR, (2000)[h32] . [7]

The case of the atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia were similar with regards to their planning and execution. They were both planned at governmental level and were carried out by the government forces of well as organized militia groups. In Rwanda, the Hutu who were in government had started persecuting the Tutsi minority long before the Genocide. Habyarimana regime…had subjected the Tutsi minority to… ferocious persecution.”  JUSTOR, (2003)[h33] .

The two cases of conflicts are seen as resulting from tribalism, ethnic hatred, irrationality and cultural inadequacy. They were a result of modern day tribalism and long standing suspicion and ethnic hatreds. The participants in both cases were often involved in the destruction of property, violence, were often drunk and under the influence of other drugs. The other groups who offered protection were also as guilty as the perpetrators of the violence themselves.

First Three Words of the Title     10

The purposes of the two wars were also similar, to eliminate a particular group of people from a given territory. In both the two wars the criminals released from jail due to a state of lawlessness participated in the escalation of socially unacceptable behavior; looting, rape, and mass killings were a common phenomenon. The perpetrators were people who happened to know one another and had peacefully coexisted and lived together as friends and neighbors some being relatives.

The two wars are also similar in the sequence regarding to where the wars took place. The Rwandan conflict took part in two periods; between 1990 and 1994 followed by the 1994 genocide while the Yugoslav also took part in two parts; the first conflict between Serbia and the Yugoslav forces and the other in Kosovo Liberation Army. Even though people doubt the [8]Rwandese case, it is evident that the two wars assert that ethnic civil wars are not different from non ethnic civil wars. Journal of Conflict Resolution,2001[h34] . Mueller, (2000)[h35]  argues that the violence in Yugoslavia was not as a result of long standing ethnic hatred but was as a result of manipulation of criminals, thugs, and the naïve masses by politicians. [9]He also argues that Nationalism was a card used to motivate the masses in the case of the former Yugoslavia, thereby leading to escalation in ethnic hatred. In the case of Rwanda, a similar scenario is seen as the perpetrators of violence were small time thugs on the rampage who were most of the time under the influence of alcohol or drugs[h36] . In both the two cases, the participation of the general masses is evident though. It is estimated that a shocking nine percent of Hutu male aged over 13 directly participated in the genocide Mueller, (2000). It is therefore evident that it is only a small minority of individuals who participate in armed conflict in the name of a larger unwilling majority.


First Three Words of the Title     11

[10]As seen above, most people believe that ethnic wars are wars in which neighbors rise against other neighbors making seemingly ordinary people become murderous to the neighbors perceived as the enemy. The Rwandan case seems to have been argued by [11]Gagnon and Kimbley. However from the cases of Rwanda and the former [12]Yugoslavia, ethnic wars have close resemblances to non ethnic wars with regards to the people involved in the wars. These participants are just a small group of people who fight and murder in the name of a larger ethnic group based on social injustices that are more often than not, virtual, severely misguided and unnecessary. It can therefore be argued that ethnic wars essentially are mistakenly said to exist. We can conclude that ethnic warfare closely resembles non ethnic warfare because only a small group of armed and idle thugs are the participants of these wars and the majority of the masses are unwilling to participate. However, it is evident that in both the Rwandan and the Yugoslav cases, conflicts increased and ethnic hatred had spawned over the years. These provided a breeding ground for ethnic violence. Mueller, (2000).[h37]  It is therefore wrong to conclude that a particular ethnic group can venture out to destroy another group. Even though ethnic and national hatred are seemingly inevitable and global, use of violence or threats of violence should not be promoted. Several ethnic groups and nationalities have accepted diversity and they learned to get along with the situation. Examples are the blacks and the whites in the United States and the different nations in Europe where even though there still has some conflicting differences which are experienced in violence, have chosen to get along. [13]We can also conclude that the motivating factors of the people who actually carry out the killings are the opportunities presented by wars rather than the ethnic hatreds or historical injustices.

First Three Words of the Title     12


Anderson, B. (Year that this article is published). Imagined Communities. Place where this book is published: Publisher of this book.

Grosby S. (1994). The Verdict of History: The Inexpungeable Tie of Primordiality – A Response to Eller and Coughlan’, Ethnic and Racial Studies [h38] . Where is this book published:Publisher.

Cornell S. & Hartmann D. (1998). Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

Marko-Stöckl E. (2004).The Making of Ethnic Insecurity: A Case Study of the Krajina Serbs


Harvey F. P. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans: Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy. Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, 33, 37-65 RetrievedMarch 2000, from JSTOR database.

JSTOR: The Banality of “Ethnic War” <>[h40]

Mueller, J. (2000). The Banality of “Ethnic War”: Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Ohio State University:Publisher.

[1]Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities.
[2] . Edith Marko-Stöckl (2004).The Making of Ethnic Insecurity
[3] Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities.
[4] . Edith Marko-Stöckl (2004).The Making of Ethnic Insecurity
[5] . Edith Marko-Stöckl (2004).The Making of Ethnic Insecurity
[6] . Edith Marko-Stöckl (2004).The Making of Ethnic Insecurity
[7] Mueller,J.(2000) The Banality of “Ethnic War”:
[8] Frank P. Harvey Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans
[9] Mueller,J.(2000) The Banality of “Ethnic War”:
[10] Frank P. Harvey Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans
[11] Mueller,J.(2000) The Banality of “Ethnic War”:
Mueller,J.(2000) The Banality of “Ethnic War”: [12]
[13] Frank P. Harvey Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans

[h1] all over the world.
[h2]This sentence is ambiguous. We can say this instead: Though we consider violence barbaric, it is still common in resolution of social conflicts.
[h3]Before or after you define this term, tell how this term is related in your study. How is the term ethnic conflict relevant in your study?
[h4]You can place this sentence before the previous sentence.
[h5]In-text citations of the APA style is in this format (Last name of the author, year of publication, page number of quote. To follow that format, this sentence will be changed to: According to (first name) Kalyvas, research shows that 80 percent of people killed in the modern day civil wars are civilians (Kalyvas, 2000, page number)
[h6]80% of people killed where? In the war? You need to add a clause to enhance your sentence.
[h7]Civil war and civil unrest must be defined. You must show how this term is related with the previous term, ethnic conflict.
[h8]You introduced the term ethnic war, and then you introduced another term, civil wars and civil unrests, and then you’ll return to the idea of the ethnic war. If these terms are interrelated, I think you need to insert a sentence showing their relationship to aid your readers in understanding your research.
[h9]Because, according to your instructor’s comments, you need to use the Social Constructionist approach in your study, you need not to elaborate of the other Theories. A sentence to describe the other theories is enough.
[h10]If this is an in-text citation, see comment [h5]. If this is a secondary source, use this format: (cited in Grosby, 1994)
[h11]See comment [h10]
[h12]See comment [h10]
[h13]You can change this subtitle to: The Yugoslav War and from the social perspective. When you do that, you can introduce Yugoslav War and discuss it using the Social Constructionist Approach under one subtitle as your instructor wants.
[h14]How did you say that these wars are ethnic wars?
[h15]See comment [h10]
[h16] [h16]See comment [h10]
[h17]Participation where?
[h18]Before comparing the ethnic war in Yugoslavia, give an analysis of the Yugoslavian ethnic war first and then, introduce the situation in Rwanda. After doing so, only then can you compare the two ethnic wars.
[h19] [h19] [h19]See comment [h10]
[h20]They disintegrated what? Do you mean, As a result of growing ethnic hatred and calls for nationalism, the federal army had been disintegrated before the war. Thus, they had a minimal participation in the war that occurred in Rwanda.
[h21] [h21] [h21]See comment [h10]
[h22] [h22] [h22]See comment [h10]
[h23]It is better if you begin this part by telling how the genocide in Rwanda is similar with the ethnic war in Yugoslavia.
[h24]JUSTOR is not an author, instead, look for the name of the author of the article that you read in JUSTOR.
[h25] [h25] [h25]See comment [h24]
[h26] [h26] [h26]See comment [h10]
[h27] [h27] [h27]See comment [h10]
[h28] [h28] [h28]See comment [h10]
[h29] [h29] [h29]See comment [h10]
[h30]This, I think, is a secondary source. Please see comment [h10].
[h31]I suggest that you state the three conditions and then, evaluate the case of Yugoslavia and Rwanda to know if these three conditions are present in both instances.
[h32] [h32] [h32]See comment [h24]
[h33] [h33] [h33]See comment [h24]
[h34] [h34] [h34]See comment [h10]
[h35] [h35] [h35]See comment [h10]
[h36]This sentence is ambiguous. What do you mean?
[h37] [h37] [h37]See comment [h10]
[h38]What is the title of the book? Write only the Title of the book.
[h39]Is this an article from an electronic database? Or is this a report from a private organization in the website? If this a report from a private organization, follow this format: Organization name. (Year, Month Day). Title. Retrieved Month Day, Year, from complete web address
[h40]Follow the format of the entry before this if this is from an electronic database.

Haven’t Found A Paper?

Let us create the best one for you! What is your topic?

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.

Haven't found the Essay You Want?

Get your custom essay sample

For Only $13/page

Eric from Graduateway Hi there, would you like to get an essay? What is your topic? Let me help you