OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution

Issue 3.1 | March 2000

ISSN 1522-211X


Reviews in Brief

By Derek Sweetman, Editor-In-Chief, OJPCR

Culture and Conflict Resolution

Kevin Avruch’s Culture and Conflict Resolution takes as its starting point the idea that culture is an individual characteristic shaped by past experience and influenced by our current and past social contacts. Avruch is concerned with educating practitioners in conflict resolution to adequately speak of and deal with cultural differences.

Faced with overcoming both other approaches to culture and the argument that culture is not a significant variable in international negotiation, Avruch includes a short history of both issues and deftly (and with some wit) addresses these concerns. This is followed by a discussion of past efforts to address culture in conflict resolution. Since Avruch views culture as, ultimately, an individual cognitive process, he dismisses approaches that entirely treat culture in grand group terms and crafts a definition that allows for more flexibility between individuals while still being academically and professionally useful. Culture provides a way to discuss and analyze the context in which individuals are participating in conflict.

Culture and Conflict Resolution argues culture is important and can pose difficulties for practitioners, but does not admonish them from approaching conflict in cultures other than their own. Avruch realizes that no one can be expected to be an expert in any culture they are working within and therefore stresses education that focuses on denying the myths about culture and producing practitioners who are more readily able to recognize their own preconceptions and limitations. This short book makes a large statement on the validity of cultural inquiry in conflict resolution and charts a path toward its more adequate study.

Culture and Conflict Resolution. 1998. Kevin Avruch. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press. 153 pp.

New Wine & Old Bottles

New Wine & Old Bottles: International Politics and Ethical Discourse collects a 1996 lecture by Jean Bethke Elshtain along with a forward by Raimo Väyrynen and responses by Fred Dallmayr and Martha Merritt. Elshtain examines recent interpretations of both sovereignty and nationalism.

Although Elshtain believes it is not possible to create an overarching theory of international politics, she does not ignore the possibility of including normative and ethical considerations in foreign policy. Sovereignty in the West is seen as a "heroic narrative," which is built on and reflects the peculiarities of earlier religious and political thought.

As it changed from a deity-based concept to a nation-state centered one, Elshtain believes sovereignty is now changing to focus on individuals themselves. This empowerment of the individual has resulted in a change from loyalty-based approaches to political ethics to one more grounded in notions of responsibility.

This analysis leads Elshtain to examine the "new nationalism," which is characterized by national unity along with self-determination and individual identity. She stresses that not all nationalism is hate-based and some level of national unity is necessary for functional civic activity. What has happened in the Balkans is not nationalism dooming its adherents to war, but the lack of a positive nationalism not based on ethnic differences.

Following this, Elshtain examines the possibility of political forgiveness given by groups, as opposed to individuals. She sees a conscious act of devaluing past harmful actions in order to promote more harmonious contemporary relation as a requirement for true forgiveness. She does not call for ignoring the horrors of the past, but an acknowledgement of the fact that current generations cannot change what has happened.

Of the accompanying responses, Merritt’s piece is more thought provoking and critical, but both extend the analysis in Elshtain’s lecture. New Wine & Old Bottles is a thought-provoking work that examines critical issues relating to war and peace.

New Wine & Old Bottles: International Politics and Ethical Discourse. 1998. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Raimo Väyrynen, Fred Dallmayr, and Martha Merritt. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 81pp.

Restoring Justice

Restoring Justice, by Daniel Van Ness and Karen Heetderks Strong, is an overview of the restorative justice movement and includes suggestions for incorporating restorative justice into the American judicial system.

Van Ness and Strong begin by describing the history of the Western legal approach to crime. Original notions of crime revolved around the need to provide victim restitution and make relationships and families whole. This position began to shift after the Norman invasion of Britain. Instead of crime occurring primarily against the victim, it began to be understood as an action against, first, the king and, later, the state. Punishment became more public, focussing on humiliation instead of restitution. Prisons were places to confine prisoners until punishment. At the end of the 18th Century, a social movement to reform the system began to encourage replacing these prisons and punishments with rehabilitation and the modern penitentiary was formed. A penitentiary was a place where prisoners were sent to contemplate their actions and repent. In the 1970s, rehabilitation began to be rejected and was replaced by a reinvigorated policy of punishment and protecting society.

Although the rehabilitation model was replaced, the concept of crime primarily as an action against the state was not. Van Ness and Strong stress that a new focus on the victim as a participant in justice is required. Crime involves not only the criminal and the state, but also the victim, his or her family, and the community in which the crime took place. All of these interests must be recognized to reduce crime and promote justice.

Van Ness and Strong examine various programs that use mediation and conciliation to rebuild the relationships between victim and offender, as well as set reasonable levels of restitution. In addition, they answer common objections to the restorative justice approach. They finish by providing a model through which restorative justice can be incorporated into the American judicial system.

By situating the restorative justice movement into the historical approaches to crime and justice, Van Ness and Strong are able to more thoroughly ground the call for restitution and victim recognition. Restoring Justice is a well-argued book and a quality introduction into the restorative justice movement. It will be useful for students and others interested in varied approaches to justice and makes a strong argument against retributive justice, locally and globally.

Restoring Justice. 1997. Daniel Van Ness and Karen Heetderks Strong. Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing. 228 pp.

The Nuremberg Fallacy

Eugene Davidson’s The Nuremberg Fallacy, originally published in 1973, has been released in a new paperback edition by the University of Missouri Press. The book examines the effect of the principals of the Nuremberg Trials upon international conflict over the last fifty years. Davidson acknowledges early on that the principles embodied in the Nuremberg indictments were abandoned even before the end of the trials, yet was still concerned with evaluating their effect 25 years later. Through case studies of wars in the Middle East, Algeria, Vietnam, and the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe, he shows plentiful examples of actions that would have met the Nuremberg criteria, but were not pursued.

Davidson’s ultimate concern is in establishing why the Nuremberg principles were not carried on and applied to future conflicts. For him, the answer is that the doctrine of military necessity has been made stronger since World War II and this has left no room for an objective prosecution of the leaders of aggressive groups. This does not lead Davidson to conclude that we would be better off if the Nuremberg principles had been applied. He stresses that adherence to the prosecution of national leaders could have brought the superpowers into a new conflict, which was avoided by skilled statesmen able to sense the extant realities of international relations and make the concessions necessary to avoid massive conflict.

It is not that Davidson feels international armed conflict is inevitable, but that he is deeply critical of the ability of countries to use international law to limit or eliminate it. The Nuremberg Fallacy does not include new material on the Bosnian or Rwandan Tribunals and it would be interesting to learn what impact they may have on Davidson’s opinions, but the book is a strong argument against any panacea for war. For Davidson, peace is a constant struggle shaped by the changing reality of the world in which we live.

The Nuremberg Fallacy. 1998. Eugene Davidson. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. 334 pp.

OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution is published by the Tabula Rasa Institute, www.trinstitute.org.