Since the end of the Cold War, more than four million people have been killed by ethnic conflicts, failed-state wars, and humanitarian disasters. This book provides a remarkably lucid inquiry into this seemingly intractable area of violence. Rubin argues that these deadly conflicts are not just tragedies but "holes in the fabric of international society" threatening the integrity of the entire global order. Looking at case studies, he is most helpful in identifying the causes of these wars, rejecting the view that they are deep-rooted ethnic conflicts that should just burn out, or that they are local power struggles that can be mitigated by firm action against leaders. Rather, Rubin focuses on the breakdown of political and economic institutions. Conflicts tend to occur in impoverished, poorly educated, polarized societies with weak states and resources that can be looted. Corrupt rulers with access to a valuable commodity, such as diamonds or coca, accumulate private wealth, gut political institutions, tap into international arms markets, and trigger deadly power struggles among competing ethnic factions. He concludes that conflict prevention must necessarily entail state building -- that is, strengthening the capacities of broken societies for peaceful self-government.
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