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Blood and Borders

The Responsibility to Protect and the Problem of the Kin-State

image of Blood and Borders
Inter-ethnic conflict and genocide have demonstrated the dangers of failing to protect people targeted by fellow citizens. When minority groups in one country are targeted for killings or ethnic cleansing based on their group identity, whose responsibility is it to protect them? In particular, are they owed any protective responsibility by their kin-state? How can cross-border kinship ties strengthen greater pannational identity across borders without challenging territorially defined national security? As shown by the Russia-Georgia conflict over South Ossetia, unilateral intervention by a kin-state can lead to conflict within and between states. The protection of national minorities should not be used as an excuse to violate state sovereignty and generate interstate conflict.

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Where are the borders? National identity and national security

Many of today’s borders are the result of imperfect post-conflict compromises, the collapse of empires or the artificial imposition of colonial powers. As a consequence, nations and states are seldom perfectly congruous. Almost no state is ethnically homogeneous or a “pure” nation-state – multi-ethnicity is the norm. People sharing the same ethnicity do not necessarily share the same citizenship, and vice versa. And people of one nation may be spread among many states. Think of the Serb communities living outside of Serbia, or Albanians living in Kosovo and Macedonia, or Russians in the “near abroad”. In some parts of the world, borders are so vague that ethnic and tribal groups move back and forth across them and feel that they are among “kin” on both sides: for example, the Baluchis and Pashtuns straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the Tuareg groups in the Sahel region of Africa.

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