War or Peace? Nationalism, Democracy, and American Foreign Policy in Post-Communist Europe

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War or Peace? Nationalism, Democracy, and American Foreign Policy in Post-Communist Europe

By Steven L. Burg
New York University Press, 1996
258 pp. $35.00
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Like some visitor returned after a long absence, studies of nationalism, ethnicity, and conflict are everywhere, and nowhere more popular than among students of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. As a result it grows increasingly difficult to say something original. Berg does, but by making nationalism the backdrop and the tasks facing the United States the point. Policy's lodestar, he argues, must be democratization, even ahead of economic reform. Headway toward democracy creates overarching impulses that check the mischievous effects of ethnic- based politics, justify the redrawing of borders, and make possible the coexistence of quite separate communities within the same larger political entity. Burg knows that progress toward democracy does not come easily, hence he has an elaborate notion of how the United States and other key European states should play their role, rethink the use of multilateral institutions, and commit themselves to what he calls "preventive engagement" in societies where the ingredients of trouble are all too plain. Difficult as democracy-building may be, however, getting the United States to embrace "preventive engagement" on anything close to an adequate basis, alas, may be considerably more so.