‘Ethnic security dilemma’ was discussed

Dear Editor,

In his letter `A deliberate misreading of letter’, (SN 10-21-13) in which Mr Abu Bakr addressed some claims made by Mr Annan Boodram, he posited, “As an aside, while it is true that Ravi Dev has never claimed to be the progenitor of the term “ethnic security dilemma”, neither has he, in his writings on the subject, ever bothered, as far as I can recall, to go beyond Horowitz to give us the benefit of its origins and of its occurrence in the literature of ethnic conflict. It would have been useful to do so.”

While it may be asking too much even  for Mr Bakr’s prodigious memory, we did in fact discuss our usage of the term in the column “Dearth of theory” (KN-18-08). In the article we noted that “Mr Dennis Wiggins, a very thoughtful and committed analyst and commentator of Guyanese politics, suggested that `Mr. Dev has adopted in Guyana the application of a term used to describe intra-state ethnic conflict without accepting the tenets and methodology by which such application is applied.’”

Mr Wiggins had first pointed out that the term “security dilemma”  was first used by John Hertz. “…in his 1951 book, Political Realism and Political idealism, John Herz referred to potential escalation of conflict through an unintended cycle of provocation in interstate relations.”

In “Dearth of theory” we pointed out that this dilemma in inter-state relations was due to “the anarchic environment in which states operate.” While Hertz’s “security dilemma” had nothing to do with ethnic conflict, in “Dearth of Theory” we proposed:  “that the original formulation may be more appropriate to analyse the PPP’s behaviour since 1997, since they were forced to operate in an anarchic arena against an opposition that had the wherewithal to challenge it frontally.”

We continued however, “The modification of this theory of inter-state behaviour to “intra-state ethnic conflict” that Mr. Wiggins refers to, and for which we purportedly did “without accepting the tenets and methodology by which such application is applied”, was done first in 1993 by Barry Posen and then a more nuanced fashion by Stuart Kauffman in 1994.

“It should have been obvious to Mr. Wiggins that our formulation of the “Ethnic Security Dilemmas” in Guyana could not have possibly used the “framework” of Kauffman (or Posen) when ours (1988, 1990) preceded theirs. We agree with Mr. Wiggins that Kauffman’s and Posen’s later formulations, which addressed post-Soviet scenarios may not be appropriate for our impasse.

“Our formulation centred on our majoritarian political system, within a colonial (and post-colonial) state, that structured our political behaviour into dilemmas for both major groups. For Africans, as a group that had literally slaved to establish the foundations and jumped through all the hoops set by the colonial masters – deculturation, education, Christianity, mixing, “proper behaviour” etc. – their dilemma was that if they played by the rules they would be locked out of Executive office in a polity where ethnic voting prevailed.

“For Indians, whose claim to legitimacy runs through saving the sugar industry, while the majoritarian rules may help secure them the Executive, their hold on that institution would always be problematical if the Armed Forces were composed almost exclusively of their political opponents – Africans.”

 Yours faithfully,
Ravi Dev







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