Conflicts Without Borders

How to contain the virus of ethnic conflict.

Issue: May-June 2008

MANY GOVERNMENTS around the world identify stopping and stemming "ethnic and religious hatreds" as a major foreign-policy priority. Quite simply, in the words of the 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy, such "conflicts do not stay isolated for long and often spread or devolve into humanitarian tragedy or anarchy." Yet, ethnic conflicts do not simply appear out of thin air. They can be traced primarily to the decisions of political leaders. The spread of ethnic conflict is not automatic either. For existing ethnic conflicts to move beyond their original borders, the relevant actors-ethnic communities, states and other private-interest groups-need to make a choice. If they choose to expand the conflict, they need three things: the motive, the means and the opportunity.

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