The development of international law since the nineteenth century is characterized by the inherent tension between the liberal and conservative traditions of dealing with what might be termed the ‘problem’ of ethnicity. Having set the historical premise, this chapter argues that the presentday hesitancy of liberal international law to engage with ethnicity in ethnic conflicts and ethnic minorities has its roots in these conflicting philosophical traditions. The chapter therefore concludes that an effective response to the drawback of international law vis-à-vis minority protection and ethnic conflicts relies on the subtle normative reconciliation of the traditions of liberalism and conservatism apropos of the role of ethnicity in the political organisation of nation states.
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