Science & Tech

Indivisible territory and ethnic war

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Researcher says ethnic violence depends on how principal antagonists think about territory

Monica Duffy Toft is assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and assistant director of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Toft has studied the causes of ethnic war and developed a theory based on territory. She says that “Attempts to negotiate a resolution short of war will fail when: (1) the ethnic minority demands sovereignty over the territory it occupies, and (2) the state views that territory as indivisible. Ethnic war is less likely to break out if only one of these conditions is met, and very unlikely if neither condition is met.” She concludes her article with three implications: “ethnic groups are rational; that certain settlement patterns will not be amenable to outside intervention; and partition may not be a good policy option to end violence.”