Mueller’s “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’” Essay

Mueller’s “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’” discusses the plausibility of deciphering intrastate conflicts that unfold underneath nationalist agendas as rooted within the deep-seated ethnic prejudice. The writer posits that deciphering ‘ethnic’ conflicts as uncompromising struggles between ethnic teams of their totality or perhaps a vital proportion of stated teams is deeply deceptive. Instead, Mueller insists that such conflicts are often waged by comparatively small teams of combatants “that purport to fight and kill in the name of some larger entity” whereas the inhabitants stays largely passive.1 The writer assesses election knowledge and widespread polls from Yugoslavia within the Nineties to point out that, even on the top of nationalist successes, they solely had a really reasonable widespread and electoral help.2 Similarly, Mueller analyzes the case of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 to focus on that the principle members within the Tutsi killing have been comparatively small organizations. These included the Hutu-controlled police pressure, Presidential Guard, and “militia bands… created and trained by Hutu extremists.”3 The writer concludes that the idea of ethnic warfare obscures the truth that ethnic killings are largely perpetrated by small bands of delinquents moderately than the inhabitants at giant.

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Among different issues, the article discusses how ethnic cleaning might open further recruitment alternatives for the teams concerned in it. As the writer notes, when a small armed band took management of a given locality, members of the persecuted teams “would usually flee to areas protected by their own ethnic ruffians.”4 Once there, a few of those that have fled persecution would want t struggle again and “join like-minded armed bands” of their co-ethnics.5 Thus, Mueller means that territorial management exercised by one facet in an ethnic battle might enhance the numbers of the opposite facet, though these would nonetheless stay small in comparison with the inhabitants on the whole.

The article might have additional strengthened its method to refuting ethnic-based explanations of intrastate conflicts by assessing the opportunity of ethnic defection. While the bands of armed ruffians kill and persecute based mostly on the individuals’s ethnic identification, the latter might be fluid, and territorial management could also be an necessary issue on this course of.6 In “Ethnic Defection in Civil War,” Kalyvas attracts on a broad vary of examples to point out how defection can happen in ethnic conflicts. A telling instance is the Turkish authorities creating Kurdish militias in Turkish-controlled territories to oppose the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that depends closely on Kurdish nationalism.7 This instance, in addition to many others, demonstrates that territorial management can promote collaboration among the many inhabitants “irrespective of initially adverse preferences,” equivalent to ethnic ties. Thus, whereas Kalyvas confirms Mueller’s evaluation that ethnicity doesn’t decide ‘ethnic’ conflicts, it additionally enhances the latter’s evaluation by displaying how territorial management might enhance the controlling facet’s numbers as a substitute of its opponent’s.

To summarize, Mueller’s “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’” brazenly denies ethnic explanations of civil wars waged underneath nationalist slogans as reductionist and misguiding. Instead, the writer argues that the conflicts often called ‘ethnic’ often contain small teams of armed delinquents who use ethnic slogans as an excuse to interact in looting and persecution. Mueller additionally explains how territorial management of 1 facet of an ethnic battle might enhance the numbers of the opposing facet by offering it with the newly dispossessed recruits. However, the writer’s evaluation might have been additional strengthened by contemplating the opportunity of territorial management bolstering the numbers of the controlling facet as nicely by means of the method of ethnic defection.

Natural Resource and Split Homelands, and State Capacity: Why Some Countries Are More Prone to Civil Wars

While absolutely the quantity and the relative prominence of interstate wars decreased because the finish of the Second World War and particularly after the tip of the Cold War, it didn’t deliver perpetual peace. Instead, the second half of the 20th and the early years of the 21st century have seen a big improve within the variety of civil wars. Keeping decolonization in thoughts, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Africa supplies most of those wars. Still, even African states differ in capability to withstand the specter of the civil warfare or, on the very least, finish violence comparatively swiftly. This distinction within the prevalence of civil wars brings forth an inexpensive query of why some states are extra vulnerable to civil wars than others. Answering this query requires figuring out main theoretical frameworks explaining the causes for the emergence of civil wars and making use of these frameworks to particular case research. The examples of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone exhibit that pure sources and break up homelands are robust predictive elements, however one ought to use them rigorously to keep away from deceptive oversimplifications.

Major Theoretical Frameworks

Over the years, political scientists have urged quite a few causal explanations for civil wars. Most of those explanations are contributions to a ‘greed vs. grievance’ debate supporting certainly one of these two paradigms. The ‘grievance’ perspective posits that actual or perceived injustice skilled by a sure group is the principle reason behind civil wars. The ‘greed’ perspective, however, maintains that teams interact in civil warfare searching for management over beneficial sources. This part will briefly cowl these views and in addition record a few of their shortcomings.

The grievance perspective rests on the commonsense assumption that individuals insurgent once they really feel like their pursuits are ignored or infringed by the present authorities within the present establishment. In the case of contemporary African states, which provide many of the civil wars, the explanations for this infringement, whether or not actual or perceived, usually return to “the influence of Europeans during the colonial period.”8 Arbitrary colonial borders paid little, if any, consideration to the ethnic composition of the inhabitants. This disregard for African political geographies resulted in drawing borders that break up ethnic teams between totally different states. As famous by Michalopoulos and Papaioannou, break up teams are likely to have “fewer household assets, poorer access to utilities, and worse educational outcomes” in addition to face increased discrimination dangers from the federal government.9 This reality makes them extra disgruntled, and as a consequence, extra prone to insurgent. Additionally, neighboring international locations are additionally extra seemingly to make use of break up ethnicities as their proxies to incite civil warfare, which suggests they’re extra vulnerable to revolt.10 Thus, the grievance perspective posits that infringing upon the curiosity of sure teams is the principle think about sparking civil wars.

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The greed perspective takes a distinct method to the topic and insists that actors in civil wars are primarily motivated by materials achieve moderately than their proclaimed ideological trigger. This view is put forth with the best readability in Collier and Hoeffner’s “Greed and Grievance in Civil Wars.” The authors level out that insurgent teams “must raise considerable finance to meet their expenses” and, as such, have to search out ample sources of income by sheer necessity.11 Collier and Hoeffner be aware that insurgent forces, sometimes composed of low-skilled armed laborers, are “particularly suited to raise finance through the extortion of primary commodity exports.”12 This tendency is all of the extra distinguished in insurgent teams that can’t depend on vital help from overseas, whether or not from diasporas or sympathizing governments. It is necessary to notice that Collier and Hoeffner didn’t utterly reject the grievance perspective in favor of the greed perspective however, moderately, proposed to make use of the 2 in accord.13 Still, their contribution has made the greed perspective far more distinguished than earlier than in explaining the incidence of civil wars.

One significantly notable case of utilizing the greed mannequin as a proof for a better or decrease likelihood of civil wars is associating the danger of inside battle with the pure useful resource endowment. According to this angle, beneficial pure sources and governments that depend on them to a big diploma for his or her income can function a powerful predictor of the civil warfare chance. In his research, Ross posits that “natural resources have contributed to the onset, duration, and intensity of many civil wars.”14 He admits that lootable sources, equivalent to gems or medicine, and unlootable ones, equivalent to oil, are likely to correlate with various kinds of battle.15 Yet the principle premise stays the identical: pure useful resource endowment and reliance on their exports as a income might function a sturdy predictor of civil warfare danger. From this angle, civil wars usually tend to start when and the place a revolt might be worthwhile, in full accordance with the greed paradigm.

While each greed and grievance fashions have been proven to own explanatory and predictive energy for numerous conflicts, one ought to nonetheless concentrate on their inherent tendency to oversimplify conflicts. It ought to be remembered that causal explanations for the chance of civil wars usually emerge not as a result of sheer mental curiosity however as scientific pointers for political decision-making. Policymakers will naturally are likely to favor the reasons which might be easy, result in possible and easy-to-implement measures, and permit interesting to their energy base. As a outcome, a theoretical method can develop into distinguished not as a result of it possesses the best explanatory energy however as a result of it “suggests a simple solution to the complex issue.”16 Hence, if one strives for scientific readability moderately than merely political expedience, one ought to be cautious in making use of any of the most important theoretical views to a given case research. It is important to concentrate to the specifics of the battle to keep away from oversimplifying theorizations that may overshadow the important options of a given civil warfare.

Finally, one more explanatory mannequin for the chance of civil wars not associated on to both greed or grievance is the state capability perspective. Koren and Sarbahi level out that the state presence in a given area might function a predictive issue for the chance of a civil warfare. Moreover, inside battle may very well be extra prone to start within the areas the place the federal government’s presence is the strongest.17 The causes for this seemingly paradoxical tendency might embody the better prevalence of presidency targets to strike at, elite fragmentation, and growth response.18 Thus, this clarification means that the upper diploma of a weak state’s presence in a given space can improve the chance of a civil warfare there.

Case Study: Sierra Leone Civil War, 1991-2002

As talked about above, the greed perspective is a really influential method to explaining the causes of civil warfare and the chance of a given state to succumb to 1. A chronic civil warfare in Sierra Leone that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and was solely ended after a overseas intervention might function a helpful case research on this respect. It can also be an appropriate instance of the state capability clarification – particularly, its elite fragmentation facet. This half will analyze the Sierra Leone civil warfare to exhibit how reliance on pure useful resource exports and fragmented elites might make a rustic extra vulnerable to a civil warfare.

The case of Sierra Leone affords some proof to help the greed perspective, because the nation’s wealthy mineral deposits performed a big function in the middle of the battle. While significantly wealthy in diamonds, the nation “had never succeeded in controlling or properly taxing the valuable primary products” even in peacetime, a lot much less in wartime.19 The unlawful shadow economic system surrounded the mining and export of diamonds earlier than the outbreak of warfare and flourished much more when the hostilities started. Both rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and troopers of the official Sierra Leone authorities actively engaged in unlawful diamond mining for revenue’s sake. Collier and Hoeffner check with the civil warfare in Sierra Leone as probably the most distinguished examples of how insurgent teams increase funds “through the extortion of primary commodity exports.”20 From this angle, one can certainly view the Sierra Leone civil warfare as a greed-driven battle prompted by the profitability of extorting pure useful resource exports.

However, the case of Sierra Leone additionally demonstrates the limitation of the greed mannequin – or, on the very least, the need to make use of it in a cautious and nuanced method to mirror the complicated actuality. Diamonds, in addition to different gems and most medicine, have a excessive cost-to weight and cost-to-volume ratio, that means that even a small quantity of both might be extraordinarily beneficial. These qualities make them a valuable prize not just for organizations that possess ample logistical capabilities but in addition for people. In different phrases, diamonds correspond completely to the definition of lootable pure sources as these that may be “easily appropriated by individuals or small groups of low-skilled workers.”21 Ross associates the prevalence of lootable pure sources with non-separatist civil wars, versus the separatist ones.22 The civil warfare in Sierra Leone confirms this assumption, because the RUF, a minimum of in its declarations, contested the facility over your complete nation moderately than aimed to engineer a profitable secession. Yet the diamonds’ lootability additionally casts a shadow of doubt on the most important premise of Collier and Hoeffner’s account of greed as a causal issue.

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As talked about above, the principle premise of the greed perspective, as outlined by Collier and Hoeffner, is that the profitability of appropriating pure sources results in an elevated danger of inside battle. From this angle, the exploitation of pure sources serves “to raise finance through” and canopy the working prices of the insurgent group.23 However, the extra lootable a sure commodity is, the simpler it’s to maintain and use it for one’s private enrichment moderately than the group’s objectives. This was exactly the case in Sierra Leone when even particular person rebels and troopers profited from appropriating diamonds.24 With this in thoughts, Fearon is more than likely proper to notice that the prevalence of major commodity exports doesn’t essentially supplies “for easier rebel start-up finance.”25 While the diamonds of Sierra Leone made the civil warfare worthwhile, they largely benefited people actors moderately than organizations because of the sheer ease of appropriating them. Thus, the case of Sierra Leone demonstrates that reliance on major neighborhood exports could make a rustic extra vulnerable to civil wars, however one ought to do not forget that lootable and non-lootable sources have totally different implications.

Apart from the greed perspective, the case of Sierra Leone reveals the significance of state capability in making the nation roughly vulnerable to a civil warfare. State capability refers to a given polity’s skill to penetrate social life and train territorial management and is assessed by means of totally different mixture measures. Common sense would recommend that civil wars usually tend to start within the weaker international locations with a low general degree of state capability. Koren and Sarbahi stress this level when mentioning that “civil war is likely to arise in countries that have lower degrees of state capacity.”26 This general weak spot when it comes to exercising management over territories and influencing populations was pretty evident within the Sierra Leone civil warfare. Government troops have been often underpaid, underequipped, and poorly educated, which made them much less environment friendly in controlling territories on the state’s behalf.27 Moreover, the troopers usually shared the insurgent’s dissatisfaction with the corrupt authorities, that means the state couldn’t even adequately penetrate the prevailing discourse within the army.28 Thus, Sierra Leone of the Nineties might function a textbook case of a rustic with low state capability.

Still, the general nationwide degree of state capability isn’t the one issue related to the opportunity of a civil warfare, because the state’s native and regional presence additionally correlates with it. Koren and Sarbahi exhibit that, nonetheless paradoxical it could appear, civil wars are extra seemingly “in locations within the country where the state exercises greater control.”29 Once once more, this was exactly the case in Sierra Leone, because the warfare raged hardest within the diamond-producing areas contested by the military and the rebels. Undersupplied, unappreciated, and offered with a possibility to complement themselves, authorities troops tuned to appropriating pure sources as a substitute of preventing the RUF. It created a self-sustaining system of exploitation with either side aiming to “preserve the benefits of warfare,” and this method emerged exactly due to the heavy presence of the federal government’s army forces.30 In this respect, the civil warfare in Sierra Leone confirms that an elevated presence of a typically weak state might make a area extra vulnerable to civil warfare.

Another particular mechanism of state capability influencing civil warfare dangers illustrated by the Sierra Leone civil warfare is elite fragmentation. In this case, fighters are led by political actors who have been a “part of the same political group” that guidelines the nation or cooperated with it in a method or one other.31 In Sierra Leone, “disgruntled politicians and chiefs,” together with these beforehand concerned with the federal government, lent their help willingly to the insurgent trigger as a result of for one motive or one other.32 Thus, the case research demonstrates how a mix of low state capability mixed with excessive state presence and elite fragmentation makes the nation extra vulnerable to civil wars.

Case Study: Democratic Republic of Congo, 1996-2003

While having misplaced come of its prominence to the greed perspective, the grievance paradigm continues to be a distinguished clarification for the outbreak of civil wars. Internal conflicts within the Democratic Republic of Congo throughout and in between the First and Second Congo Wars of 1996-1997 and 1998-2003. This half will exhibit how the greed perspective can show inadequate to clarify the nation’s susceptibility to civil wars, and the grievance perspective nonetheless retains appreciable explanatory energy, particularly within the areas with break up ethnicities.

On the floor degree, inside conflicts within the Democratic Republic of Congo will also be defined by means of the greed paradigm and reliance on pure useful resource exports. According to some, the battle in some elements of the nation was pushed to a big diploma by “the profitable local section of the ‘marketing chain’ for tantalite.”33 From this angle, civil wars in Congo may as nicely have been attributable to the insurgent teams’ curiosity in acquiring sources for private and organizational features.

Yet a better look demonstrates that this clarification is very simplistic and reductionist as a result of it displays the political priorities of exterior actors moderately than the complicated actuality of the civil warfare. Researchers have already famous that the “conflict minerals” narrative has develop into essentially the most prevalent in explaining inside conflicts within the nation, however not essentially as a result of its explanatory energy.34 Rather, it has achieved such exceptional persistence within the public discourse as a result of “it resonates with non-Congolese audiences.”35 Associating mineral sources with the reason for battle affords a easy resolution of not shopping for battle minerals to dry out the sources of financing for the armed teams who depend upon them. Moreover, this clarification permits the inhabitants to personally take part within the decision of the battle by boycotting the businesses that purchase battle minerals. As such, the greed perspective is the proper causal clarification for overseas policymakers as a result of it supplies a transparent avenue of method and permits to attraction to the audiences at dwelling. However, making use of the greed perspective to Congolese conflicts too vigorously tends to overshadow the significance of grievances.

Evidence means that the presence of break up ethnicities in several areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo correlates carefully with the incidence of inside conflicts. For instance, Congolese areas populated by Rwandan minority break up between the borders account for practically 20 % of all battle whereas solely constituting 6 % of the inhabitants.36 The similar applies to separate Hunde ethnicity, which, whereas accounting for merely 2.2 of the nation’s inhabitants, demonstrates roughly 20 % of all battle.37 Thus, the Congolese instance means that break up ethnic homelands have a excessive potential for inside conflicts, and having a number of break up ethnicities inside the nationwide borders makes a rustic extra vulnerable to civil wars.

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To summarize, either side of the greed and grievance debate, in addition to the state capability method, possess appreciable explanatory energy for assessing civil wars. Reliance on the exports of pure sources, equivalent to diamonds in Sierra Leone, makes insurgency worthwhile and civil wars extra seemingly. Low ranges of state capability mixed with a excessive diploma of state presence and elite fragmentation improve the chance of inside conflicts as nicely, as demonstrated by the case of Sierra Leone. The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo reveals how grievances – particularly, difficulties confronted by break up ethnicities within the international locations dominated by different teams – make a area extra vulnerable to civil wars. Hence, international locations might be extra vulnerable to civil wars as a result of quite a few elements, together with reliance on pure useful resource exports, grievances of particular inhabitants teams, and excessive presence of a weak state with fragmented elites.

Work Cited

Autesserre, Severine. “Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and their Unintended Consequences.” African Affairs, vol. 111, no. 443, 2012, pp. 202-222.

Collier, Paul, and Anke Hoeffner, “Greed and Grievance in Civil War.” Adobe PDF File.

Cramer, C. “Homo Economicus Goes to War: Methodological Individualism, Rational Choice and the Political Economy of War.” World Development, vol. 30, no. 11, 2002, pp. 1845–1864.

Fearon, James D. “Primary Commodity Exports and Civil War.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 49, no. 4, 2005, pp. 483-507.

Keen, David. “Since I am a Dog, Beware my Fangs”: Beyond a ‘rational violence’ framework within the Sierra Leonean War.” Crisis State Programme, Working Paper 14, 2002.

Koren, Ore, and Anoop Okay. Sarbahi. “State Capacity, Insurgency, and Civil War: A Disaggregated Analysis.” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 62, no. 2, 2018, pp. 274-288.

Michalopoulos, Stelios, and Elias Papaioannou. “The Long-Run Effects of the Scramble for Africa.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 17620, 2011.

Ross, Michael L. “Oil, Drugs and Diamonds: The Varying roles of Natural Resources in Civil War.” The Political Economy of Armed Conflict: Beyond Greed and Grievance, edited by Karen Ballentine and Jack Sherman, Lynne Rienner, 2003, pp. 47-72.

Kalyvas, Stathis N. “Ethnic Defection in Civil War.” Comparative Political Studies, vol. 41, no. 8, 2008, pp. 1043-1068.

Mueller, John. “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’.” International Security, vol. 25, no. 1, 2000, pp. 42–70.


  1. Mueller 42.
  2. Mueller 45-46.
  3. Mueller 59.
  4. Mueller 43.
  5. Mueller 56.
  6. Kalyvas 1061.
  7. Kalyvas 1050.
  8. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou 1.
  9. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou 3.
  10. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou 2.
  11. Collier and Hoeffner 6.
  12. Collier and Hoeffner 6.
  13. Collier and Hoeffner 22.
  14. Ross 48.
  15. Ross 56-9.
  16. Autesserre 11.
  17. Koren and Sarbahi 283.
  18. Koren and Sarbahi 283-285.
  19. Keen 3.
  20. Collier and Hoeffner 6.
  21. Ross 47.
  22. Ross 59-61.
  23. Collier and Hoeffner 6
  24. Keen 3.
  25. Fearon 504.
  26. Koren and Sarbahi 275.
  27. Keen 3.
  28. Keen 3.
  29. Koren and Sarbahi 275.
  30. Keen 4.
  31. Koren and Sarbahi 273.
  32. Keen 3.
  33. Cramer 1849.
  34. Autesserre 10.
  35. Autesserre 10.
  36. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou 35.
  37. Michalopoulos and Papaioannou 35.

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