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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: January 2013

5 - Ethnic politics and armed conflict


This chapter shifts the focus back from the struggle over principles of political legitimacy to the power configurations that will make this struggle more war-prone. After all, war remains a rare event even at the height of the process of nation-state formation. Many territories transitioned into nation-statehood peacefully (as the Baltic states in the 1990s) or remained peaceful after a violent overthrow of the pre-national regime (as Switzerland). To empirically evaluate whether an exclusionary power configuration indeed explains the differences between violent and peaceful trajectories, we need to restrict the analysis somewhat so that the collection of high-quality data becomes feasible. This chapter looks at the post-1945 period exclusively and examines civil wars only, showing that they are more likely to erupt in countries with marked degrees of ethno-political inequality. Compared to the previous two chapters, it also uses a much more fine-grained coding of violent conflict that includes all armed confrontations that cost as few as 25 lives. Therefore, we are now interested both in small-scale incidents of armed conflict as well as in the full-scale civil wars that were already analyzed in the previous chapter.

To test the political exclusion hypothesis, the chapter introduces a new dataset that records ethnic power relations in all countries of the world since World War II. The Ethnic Power Relations (EPR) dataset contains a yearly list of all politically relevant ethnic groups and their degree of access to executive-level state power – from total control of the government to overt political discrimination and exclusion. The EPR dataset overcomes the limitations of existing data compilations, especially the widely used Minorities at Risk (MAR) dataset, which contains information on disadvantaged minorities and is thus less suited to capture the dynamics of ethnic politics at the power center. The EPR dataset also improves upon conventional demographic indices of diversity that are only tangentially related to the ethno-political struggle over newly established nation-states, as will be discussed in more detail below.

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