Bosnia and Syria: Intervention Then and Now

Michael Ignatieff in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_285 Aug. 20 16.03When state order collapses, as it did in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as it is doing now in Syria, chaos unleashes existential fear among all the groups who had once sheltered under the protection of the state. Such fear makes it difficult to sustain multi-confessional, pluralist, tolerant orders when dictatorship falls apart. When state order collapses, every confessional or ethnic group asks one question: Who will protect us now?

As Sunni, Alawite, Christian, Druze and Shia ask this question, they know the only possible answer is themselves. In a Hobbesian situation—a war of all against all—each individual gravitates back to the security offered by their clan, sect or ethnic group, or more precisely, to those individuals within those groups who offer armed protection. This is especially the case when dictatorships collapse, for in this case a security vacuum emerges on top of a political one. In a state that never permitted mobilization of political parties across sectarian, clan, or ethnic divides, none of these groups has learned to trust each other in a political order. They may share a hatred of the dictator and a fear of what comes next, but not much else. Politics has never brought them together before. Now they are faced with security dilemmas and they conclude, rationally enough, that they can only face these dilemmas alone, in the safety of their own group. Such was the case in the former Yugoslavia. Such is the case now in Syria.

More here.