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Journal of World History 11.1 (2000) 140-142

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Book Review

The State, War, and the State of War

The State, War, and the State of War. By K. J. Holsti. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xiv + 254. $59.95 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

K. J. Holsti's State, War, and the State of War is the fifty-first volume in the Cambridge Studies in International Relations series, a project of the Cambridge University Press and the British International Studies Association. The series was launched to publish new scholarship in international studies and has an enviable record in anticipating and [End Page 140] treating topics that have gained the spotlight in current scholarly debate, including the alleged decline of the state, globalization, the resurgence of civil society, and methodological issues.

Holsti quite rightly points out that while interstate wars have been declining, the number of internal wars has been increasing. He believes a major reason for this is the growing problem of weak states. Since 1945 the criteria for being a sovereign state have been muddled or murky, and many have arisen that lack the glue to maintain an identity. The right to rule is unclear, and their administrations have little legitimacy. This builds, as he acknowledges, on the work of Barry Buzan, particularly in People, States, and Fear (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991).

Legitimacy is crucial to the strong state, Holsti believes, and it hinges on ideas and sentiment. Geography and administrative efficiency are all very well, but without the sense of community derived from ideas and sentiment, the prognosis for success is limited. Of course, this is rather like Toynbee's criteria for the successful civilization and its dependence on challenge and response, as those states that have succeeded are examples of success and those that have failed are not. We are not really sure we can forecast the future winners and losers. Holsti places Switzerland, Norway, and Tonga among the winners, and Lebanon, Liberia, and Afghanistan among the losers.

Colonialism inevitably gets blamed for part of the present crisis (p. 131). Groups were left high and dry when the European powers left. The Eritreans in what was greater Ethiopia, the Indians in Uganda, the Muslims in Myanmar, the Tamils in Sri Lanka all were subjected, displaced, disenfranchised, or simply murdered. All over the world these excluded groups have been forced into opposition. The Berbers in Algeria have now been ousted from the larger community, too late for Holsti's book but surely as yet another example. The prognosis is not good for any quick solution to these internal conflicts: "Increased oppression to keep the whole mess together only generated increased resistance. Leaders become isolated and inhabit make-believe worlds concocted by their cronies and dwindling sycophants" (p. 119).

Irredenta might seem a solution, but generally the economies of adjoining states cannot bear the massive repatriation required. Often the affinities of the oppressed minority with compatriots elsewhere have become diluted by time and not as strong as romantics would like to believe. The other obvious solution is, of course, separation. This strikes fear into the hearts not only of the leadership of the involved state but of the leaders of all states, for which is without minorities? American policy in these situations, for example, is generally unsympathetic [End Page 141] to separation while offering little alternative. The shabby treatment of Kurds in Iraq comes to mind.

Democratization and federalism have been put forward as solutions to the startling growth in the number of internal conflicts, but Holsti believes that the solution ultimately--if indeed there is one--is that weak states simply must become stronger or that some alternative to the state be devised. He examines in this latter case, at some length, the possible role of the United Nations, where the attitude is still "Westphalian" (to borrow from Voltaire's Candide) and preoccupied with sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also considers that Western-style democracy may not be practical in some of the situations. Unfortunately, there are no ready answers, and he frankly concludes...