This is an uncommonly well-argued and well-written explanation of the violent conflicts that erupted across the Caucasus during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With exceptional clarity of thought, Zürcher melds established statistical studies of internal wars with a carefully constructed comparison of the origins and courses of the Chechen, Georgian, and Nagorno-Karabakh wars. At a theoretical level, he strives, without forcing the issue, to distill from general theory insights useful for understanding his specific cases, and from the specific cases, refinements that enrich general theory. At a practical level, he seeks to account not only for the dogs that barked but also for those that did not, despite similar vulnerabilities (Dagestan in Russia, Ajaria in Georgia). Ethnic configurations and their political-geographic frameworks, the weakening of countervailing state power, and the intensity of competing national projects are crucial enabling factors of conflict, but, he argues, it is a mix of political fears and economic opportunities, exploited by the "entrepreneurs of violence" (those who combine commerce, criminality, and patriotism), that ignites conflict into war and then keeps it burning.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue