Book Review: L’Unione europea e la prevenzione dei conflitti

Elena Baracani, L’Unione europea e la prevenzione dei conflitti. Un’analisi comparata di tre casi di studio: Cipro, Kosovo e Palestina (Bologna, Italy: il Mulino, 2014). 272 pp., €22,00 (paperback), ISBN: 9788815254610.

The end of the bipolar order and the effects of global interdependence provided new prospects for transnational actors and, at the same time, made the international system more vulnerable to new security challenges. The issue of the prevention of internal conflicts, being of high relevance for international stability, has become an interesting subject of investigation for International Relations scholars. Accordingly, greater attention has been reserved for the culture of prevention during the 1990s, mainly in line with the tradition of conflict resolution studies interested in identifying the causes of violent conflicts and directed to recognizing policies and management tools to apply before the escalation of the conflicts and the outbreak of violence. Conflict per se was not undesirable; however, what should have been prevented was violence as a means of resolution of disputes (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, and Miall, 1999, Contemporary Conflict Resolution, Cambridge: Polity; Lund, 1996, Preventing Violent Conflicts: A Strategy for Preventive Diplomacy, Washington, D.C.: Institute of Peace Press; Ryan, 1999, Preventive Diplomacy, Conflict Prevention, and Ethnic Conflict, in Carment David and James Patrick (eds.), Peace in the Midst of Wars. Preventing and Managing International Conflicts, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press). The changed international landscape was followed by changes within the regulatory patterns of the international order and this led to inevitable changes in the organizational structure of international politics. Particularly in Europe, the emergence of conflicts in the Western Balkans and the enormous difficulties in responding effectively and promptly to instability and insecurity created by them, induced the European regional institutions to equip themselves with new regulatory and operational mechanisms to better prepare Europe for future crises. Particularly, following the establishment of the Lisbon Treaty, scholars’ attention has been directed towards the European Union’s (EU’s) consolidation of tools and institutions as an international actor and also as actor of conflict prevention. In particular, the new trend is directed toward analyzing the new system and tools of external governance of the EU in opposing the root causes of conflicts not only throughout the world but more specifically in the EU’s neighborhood. In fact, the recent turmoil in the EU’s neighborhood moved the problems of crisis management on a high priority on the EU foreign policy agenda.

Drawing from this recent—but already consolidated—research tradition, Elena Baracani’s book L’Unione Europea e la prevenzione dei conflitti re-launches this topic and assesses it with empirical endeavor, analyzing three case studies in detail: Cyprus, Kosovo, and Palestine. The book follows the recent empirical research that studies EU foreign policy, with special attention to its external activities in the resolution of conflicts, ESDP operations, and coordination activities with other international actors. However, Baracani uses a broad perspective and includes a wide-ranging empirical definition of conflict prevention to comprise all the main foreign policy tools adopted by the EU to manage the different dynamics of a conflict, including those that are only indirectly used to prevent conflicts. Bearing the above platform in mind, the author’s intention is—more precisely—to encompass not only all activities and policies that structurally and operatively prevent conflicts but also those that aim to stabilize post-conflict environments. Adopting a single framework for the three case studies, the author comparatively analyzes the underlying forces at work in prevention activities by the EU. The starting point of the research examines the historical and social background of the three ethnic conflicts and is carried out by pointing to the four changing aspects (evolution dynamics): the origin of the conflict; the outbreak of violence and the eventual escalation and de-escalation steps; the internationalization of the conflict; and the Europeanization. Another goal is the study and classification of the main foreign policy tools adopted by the EU to intervene before the escalation of the conflicts, during the conflicts and after them. The author aims to assess the mechanisms and the conditions that enabled the EU to exert its leverage and evaluate how these tools have affected, or not, the dynamics of behavior of the conflicting parties.

The book is systematically organized into two parts comprising three chapters each. The first part of the book is theoretically grounded and introduces the notions of conflict and prevention, of the EU foreign policy and of their activities of prevention. The second part is empirically based and presents the three case studies in detail with one chapter on each study. The variability in the definitions of conflict, the problems in its classifications, and an overview of the main conflict databases projects are parts of the first chapter, which also deals with the challenges toward the conflict resolution’s scholarship brought together by the transformation in the contemporary international system. A special focus is reserved for ethnic conflicts and to the theories and explanations on the origin of ethnic conflicts. The essentialism explanations are mainly drawn—originally—from Connor (1994, Ethnonationalism, Princeton: Princeton University Press) and, more recently, from Petersen’s (2002, Understanding ethnic violence: Fear, hatred, and resentment in twentieth-century Eastern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) theories. The latter sees the ethnic hatred as a product of human nature and the bitterness resulting from the status change of the Second World War. For Connor, the ethnic linkages were stronger and deeper as compared to the new national linkages created through the formation of the new states, due to the de-colonization process. The instrumentalism explanation instead saw a mask that was suitable to hide other economic and political interests in the notion of ethnicity. According to institutionalism, the multi-ethnic societies either live in peace or are caught in violent behaviors as a result of how political institutions are planned and implemented. Neo-realism uses the analogy of the conflicts between states applied to the clashes among ethnic groups within states: either the violent conflict is a consequence of the existence of ethnic groups; or, conversely, ethnic groups originate from a violent conflict. The solution foreseen is the creation of homogeneous territories comprising a single ethnic group and the transfer of the minorities in the main patria. Finally, the ethnic conflict by the constructivism is explained by the possible “master narrative” that may be exploited by the political elite and linked to the presence in each society of a proper “master cleavage,” which is structured according to the history of the territory.

Notwithstanding this special focus, an extensive and circumstantial account is devoted to the EU as an international actor through a historical background on the evolution and nature of the EU foreign policy, which is presented in the second chapter. Moreover, in this case, the author adopts a huge conceptual perspective with an all-inclusive definition of the EU foreign policy, which is neither identified by the single foreign policies of the EU state members nor by the solely Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), while it is considered from a multilevel governance perspective. In particular, the attention is directed toward the transformations introduced in the EU policy-making by the Lisbon Treaty and how these have affected EU international politics. The theoretical explanations on the origin and nature of European international actions are briefly based on international relations’ traditional paradigms of realism, liberalism, and constructivism.

The third chapter completes the conceptual accounts of the first part of the book, strengthening the knowledge of the theme of conflict prevention with an encompassing account of the EU documents (treaties, Commission communications, and programs and tools) that deals with the activities of prevention, whose evolution is organized into three phases: Phase 1 encompasses the launch of European Political Cooperation (EPC) to the Maastricht Treaty; Phase 2 covers the time from the Maastricht Treaty to the Lisbon Treaty; and Phase 3 deals with all the transformations from the launch of the Lisbon Treaty to the present time.

Moving to the second part of the book, which presents the description of the three conflicts through the five abovementioned dynamic evolutions, these last three chapters focus on the empirical findings of the Europeanization of the case studies and, in particular, assesses the tools adopted and norms promoted by EU institutions. The mechanisms and the conditions that have enabled or prevented the EU from exerting its leverage are ascertained for each case. The Cyprus conflict is envisaged as a manifestation of “linkage politics” as its evolution follows three levels: the local level of the Turkish and Greek communities, the regional level with the involvement of Greece and Turkey, and the international level with the involvement of the main powers and international organizations such as the UN, NATO, and the EU. This linkage is due to the fact that each level affects the other. Concerning Kosovo, the main empirical findings of the analysis show the difficulties faced by the EU in finding tools and policies of structural and operational prevention and in identifying an agreement concerning the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia. The Palestine conflict shows the ability of the EU to internationalize the issue and financially support the country’s institution building and to promote a multilateral cooperation with other Arab countries. However, diplomatically, the EU’s role in conflict management has always been subordinated to the US.

To conclude, Elena Baracani’s book represents a significant contribution for those interested in ethnic conflicts as well as the external affairs of the EU. Methodologically, the book is aptly organized and coherently adopts a comparative approach, focusing on the relationships between the two variables (EU prevention activities as the independent variable and governments’ and political groups’ behaviors as the dependent variable) for all the three case studies. The book’s main interesting and distinguishing argument is the paradox of favoring the evolution and transformation of the disputes into frozen conflicts as an outcome of the Europeanization process. Accordingly, if the EU becomes not only the main reference point but—as in the case of Cyprus through the membership—a part of the conflict, and dismisses its role as the external third party, the conflict dynamics will easily evolve in a frozen condition.

Rosa Rossi, University of Catania

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