From Bosnia to Iraq: The Failure of Forced Coexistence

From Bosnia to Iraq: The Failure of Forced Coexistence

The obsession with inviolable borders often creates dangerously divided societies.


Thinking Outside the Box

In his seminal book Ethnic Groups in Conflict, renowned political scientist Donald L. Horowitz wrote that if it was impossible for different groups to live together in one heterogeneous state, then it would be better to enable these groups to live separately in more than one homogeneous state, even if it implied population transfers. More recently, former CIA analyst and national security expert Steven E. Meyer has argued that the only stable borders in the world are those that are accepted by the local populations.

In this article, we have argued that the time has come to recognize the fact that Iraq’s ethnoreligious groups have reached a point beyond which continued coexistence becomes virtually impossible. The international community can respond by forcing them, once again, to renegotiate the terms of living in the same state (hereby laying the foundations for the next civil war), or it can do the right thing by allowing them to divorce and live next to each other as neighbors. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is still hope that a post-Dayton agreement might persuade all three constituent groups to carry on together. To achieve this, it is essential that the Bosniaks abandon the goal of dominating the other two ethnic groups, while the Serbs and Croats have to give up the idea of merging with their kin-states across the border. There is still time to do this, but only as long as Bosnia remains an international protectorate and potential EU candidate.

In conclusion it can be said that the compulsory coexistence of incompatible ethnoreligious groups in unwanted states on the Balkan Peninsula and in the Middle East represents a continuation of the interwar policy of major European powers to help create weak and internally fragmented countries that can be easily controlled, or at least influenced from the outside. It also attests to the rigidity and short-sightedness of international mediators, whose unyielding adherence to the principle of inviolability of borders often paralyzes divided societies in a grey area of enforced peace and patronized polity. “Better a horrible end than horror without end” is a wise proverb that should be considered by decisionmakers when the minimum of overarching loyalty to the state and compliance with its constitution and body of laws is absent.

Janko Bekić is a political scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO) in Zagreb, Croatia. He holds a PhD in Comparative Politics and his work focuses mainly on ethnoreligious conflicts in the Balkans and in the Middle East. Currently he is conducting research on Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman foreign policy.

Image: Type 59 tanks. Wikimedia Commons/public domain.