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Unwinnable Wars: American Power and Ethnic Conflict Paperback – October 30, 1998

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

According to David Callahan, the greatest problem for U.S. policymakers in the post-cold war era has been the increase in ethnic conflict. He argues that American policy on this issue, lacking clarity and a vigorous sense of purpose, must be reconfigured, and Unwinnable Wars prescriptively outlines the various components that might compose a more effective approach.

Written during Callahan's tenure as a visiting scholar at the Twentieth Century Fund, Unwinnable Wars explores in considerable detail the growing importance of self-determination movements at the end of the 20th century, and offers criteria for the United States to use when judging appropriate responses to these movements. Callahan systematically assesses how well the U.S. has done in predicting and understanding significant conflicts in the 1990s, considering specific cases of American leadership interventions, war-crimes indictments, and direct mediation.

Throughout, Callahan exhibits a firm understanding of U.S. foreign policy, past and present, particularly with regard to the foreign policy of the Clinton administration. He optimistically maintains that U.S. foreign policy, despite its present lack of coherency, can develop consistent and effective strategies for defusing and de-escalating ethnic conflicts. Although the United States will never be able to end ethnic wars entirely, Callahan believes that it can help make them less common and, when they do occur, to reduce both their intensity and their duration. --Bertina Loeffler


“A sober, reasoned and extremely well-articulated survey of the key questions surrounding U.S. interests and policies on ethnic conflict. No important consideration is omitted . . . A superb analysis.” ―Shashi Tharoor, The Washington Post Book World

“Callahan's incisive analysis and sensible recommendations should be required reading for U.S. diplomats, the Congress, and anyone sickened by these tragic conflicts.” ―Richard H. Ullman, Princeton University

“A rationale and a road for greater American activism to contain ethnic conflicts. Callahan's reasoning is steeped in common sense (for instance, early involvement pays off by lessening the scope for full-scale warfare down the road), and he does an admirable job . . . [His] may not be the cure-all answer we'd like to hear, but it is a realistic one.” ―Peter Mass, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A skillful explanation of the explosion of conflicts within the last thirty years arising from religious, cultural, linguistic, and territorial differences--and of the policies the U.S. can pursue to defuse these tinderboxes . . . An intelligent, sober, nonmoralistic argument for mediating ethnic strife before killing fields result.” ―Kirkus Review


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (October 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809016109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809016105
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,710,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Unwinnable wars is good, but not great. It covers to some level most of the recent ethnic conflicts (Kurds, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and others), however rather than cover any of them in detail, the author looks at America's attempts to influence the outcomes. More details on the horrors of these ethnic conflicts would have made the book more powerful. The author takes an academic approach to the issue, which is good, not too emotional. Overall a good book on potential solutions to the issues raised by worldwide ethnic conflicts.
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Format: Paperback
Callahan's book is a sober look at the mindset and condition of US policy makers in the face of ethnic conflict. He describes well the opportunity for policy makers to recognize that the traditional tools of diplomacy may no longer be adequate for dealing with these situations.
While traditional diplomacy has historically been able to avoid the troubles of enthicly based conflict via strong military occupation (i.e. the Balkans under Soviet Rule and other colonial occupations) Callahan illustrates that there is no text book of philosophy or precedent to which policy makers can quickly refer for a ready made solution. Policy makes are left with a mix of apathy, frustraton and absence of clear policy goals in attemtping to resolve or otherwise influence these situtions. Policy makers must face the fact that they must learn to speak the language of ethnic conflict or face the inevitablly tragic consequences.
While the world has watched the massive calamities of Rwanda, East and West Timor and other hot spots as world bodies seem to have ignored them, Callahan is careful enough to point out that these situations are extremely difficult to moderate even when there is deliberate and concereted effort to influence these situations. He cites anxious US diplomats in the Balkans seeking a peace as well as similar attemtps by US diplomats in Rwanada to mitigate the pending slaughter.
While, he argues, ethnic conflict may not be totally eliminated, he does argue that with the appropriate sweat equity put in now, much of the tragedy that is waiting in the wings can be dramatically reduced if not postponed indefinitely.
While not an action/adventure read for those seeking an emotional take on ethinic conflict, it is a good investment for those building a knowledge base on the current and future state of US policy making and policy making world wide.
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