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1. Institutional Settings and

Since the end of the Second World War, most violent conflicts have begun as struggles within states, not as international disputes. More often than not, strife is triggered by state discrimination against marginalized populations.[1] Some state bureaucracies categorize insiders and outsiders by national, ethnic, or religious criteria, while others rely more heavily on kinship, tribe, or social class. Although states use different methods to classify privileged and excluded populations, systematic discrimination of any type tends to provoke resistance and violence, prompting even greater state repression.[2] This dynamic is particularly acute in semidemocratic or ethnocratic states such as Serbia and Israel, where group discrimination is coupled with substantial sensitivity to international norms and the rule of law.[3] These states are discriminatory but partially democratic, making resistance both inevitable and feasible.

Serbia and Israel differed in important ways, but they resembled one another in the periods under discussion in that both were organized to promote the interests of one ethno-national community over others. In some respects, this flows from their shared origins in the national selfdetermination movements sweeping Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[4] Struggling against the declining Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, would-be leaders of national minorities sought to define and disseminate a sense of collective identity among Serbs, Jews, Poles, Croats, Czechs, and others. Most importantly, they often claimed contested lands as their nation's patrimony, even

when those regions were also home to others. For the Serbian and Jewish national movements, the struggle for self-determination was lent particular urgency by the terrible violence their peoples suffered during World War II at the hands of Nazis and their collaborators.[5] This shared history of vulnerability generated a recurring interest in national unification, territorial control, and state power.

Contemporary Serbian nationalism, which began in the mid-1980s, sought to reorganize Serbia so that it would protect the interests of ethnic Serbs, provoking anxiety and countermobilization.[6] In the 1990s, this countermobilization occurred in Serbia proper (in areas such as the Sandžak and Kosovo), as well as in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, including most importantly Croatia and Bosnia.[7] The contemporary Zionist movement, for its part, began in 1967 to extend Jewish control over the West Bank and Gaza, triggering Palestinian resistance and, in December 1987, a popular rebellion.[8] Both the Serbian and Jewish states had elevated the interests of one national community group over all others within a shared geographic space, stimulating antagonism and resistance.


The previous chapter suggested that Serbian and Israeli methods of violence tended toward police-style efforts where state control was highest, and toward more destructive tactics where the state's grip was weak. This observation prompts elaboration of a general hypothesis of state repression: the more tightly outsider populations are controlled by contemporary, semi-democratic states, the more likely they are to experience police-style repression. The less firmly these regions are controlled by nationalist states, conversely, the more likely they are to experience destructive violence and even ethnic cleansing. Zones of intense state power prevent nationalism from developing to its most virulent proportions, but at the margins of state authority, extremism flourishes. State violence is organized very differently in the core as opposed to the periphery of power.

The rest of this book elaborates and defends this argument for the Serbian and Israeli cases. As such, it represents an effort at theory building, not theory testing, and I make no claim for its unproblematic application elsewhere. Aided by comparisons, theory-building exercises identify important variables, concepts, and arguments that can later be extended to or tested on other cases, a theme I briefly explore

in the concluding chapter. In its present form, my explanation provides a reasonable interpretation of empirical variation across and within the Serbian and Israeli cases. By studying failed attempts by some paramilitaries to import specific methods of violence from one institutional setting to another, moreover, I dramatize the importance of context. When nationalist militias try but fail to use Bosnia-style methods in Serbia proper, their aborted trajectory underlines the power of institutional settings. With some modification, this same approach might help explain patterns of state violence in other high-capacity and partially democratic states such as Turkey, apartheid-era South Africa, and India.[9]


Conventional wisdom views nationalist violence as a burst of uncontrolled brutality, not a rule-bound endeavor. In instances of stateorganized repression, however, agents of state violence are embedded in context-specific webs of rules, regulations, and expectations. Armies, paramilitaries, and police forces use violence in specific, norm-laden institutional settings. These settings differ in terms of how fully they are controlled by the state and how saturated they are by regulations, as well as in the degree to which the state is accountable for a region's fate. Densely institutionalized settings score high on most or all of these measures, while weakly institutionalized settings score much lower. For example, marginalized groups living in the national capital are in a more heavily institutionalized setting than are co-nationals in poorly controlled peripheral provinces. These differences, in turn, influence patterns of state violence. States are more likely to use police-style methods in institutionally dense settings, but more destructive tactics in institutionally thin arenas.

I borrow the notion of institutional setting from organizational sociology's institutionalist theory, a body of research highlighting the ability of context—alternately termed organizational environments, organizational fields, or institutional environments—to shape organizational choices, attitudes, and methods.[10] Explicit rules and tacit norms pervade institutional settings to a greater or lesser extent, pushing organizations to behave in contextually appropriate ways.[11] I extend this insight to state repression, arguing that violence takes place in discrete institutional settings, each of which has its own logic of appropriateness.



Although frontiers and ghettos are only two of many possible settings, they are particularly relevant to our cases. Both Serbia and Israel coveted lands outside their internationally recognized boundaries, but each of these areas was differently constituted, with Bosnia serving as frontier, and Palestine as ghetto. In both cases, unwanted populations were repressed and excluded, but repertoires of actual state violence were radically at odds. Institutional settings served as mediating structures, transforming similarly nationalist orientations into dissimilar regimes of domination.

Frontiers: Poorly Regulated Arenas of State Action

Initial American explorations of the frontier's sociological significance highlighted its positive impact on U.S. society and its economy, suggesting that the ready availability of land lent the country its energy, dynamism, and democracy.[12] Critics, however, noted that this interpretation ignored the Native American frontier experience of dispossession, segregation, and death.[13] Building on this later work, I define frontiers as geographic zones demarcated by explicit boundaries of some sort and not tightly integrated into adjacent core states. Core agents may be involved in frontier politics, but their involvement is often indirect. Under these conditions, the rules states make for themselves, and that international actors make for states, do not fully apply, granting frontier agents substantial autonomy.[14] Until core polities close the frontier and extend central authority, they often choose to influence events through clandestine frontier allies operating with little respect for the law.[15] Frontiers are thus weakly institutionalized and often chaotic settings prone to vigilantism and paramilitary freelancing.[16] In the American West, for example, over 300 different vigilante groups were active between the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, [17] taking the law into their own hands and using lynching, whipping, and other extra-legal methods to establish dominance.[18] Frontiers permit and even promote intensely destructive and graphic violence.

The results are illustrated by the American experience.[19] When the frontier was open and indigenous populations were unincorporated into the U.S. polity, they were targeted for dispossession and massacre. Once the frontier was subject to central state regulation, by contrast, aboriginals were locked in reservations, where they were policed and oppressed,

but not killed outright. They had lost their freedom and land, but their new institutional setting shielded them from the final act of physical destruction. By passing from frontier to reservation, surviving Native Americans were spared utter liquidation.[20]

Part I of the book applies the notion of frontiers to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992–93, arguing that international politics inadvertently helped transform Bosnia into a frontier vis-à-vis Serbia. In April 1992, Western powers recognized Bosnian independence, transforming what had been an internal Yugoslav boundary into a sovereign, international border. Although ethnic Serbs on both sides of the border protested, international pressure compelled Serbian authorities to publicly acknowledge the new line as a meaningful boundary. At the same time, however, key Belgrade authorities sought to shape Bosnian events by supplying Bosnian Serbs with logistical and military support and encouraging the dislocation of non-Serb populations. The Bosnian frontier was external to the Serbian core, but was still heavily, albeit clandestinely, influenced by Belgrade's decisions. Bosnian Serb combatants and Serbian cross-border paramilitaries served as clandestine frontier agents and carried out most of Bosnia's ethnic cleansing.

The importance of Bosnia's institutional setting is graphically illustrated by the fate of non-Serb populations living just over the border within Serbia proper. Although Serbian paramilitaries harassed and intimidated these populations, they did not employ Bosnia-style methods of forced displacement. Bosnian frontier met Serbian core at the border, where Serbian nationalism was transformed into a very different regime of violence. Frontier led to death or dispossession, but core offered some crucial protections.

Ghettos: The Ambiguity of Unequal Inclusion

Experts generally view ghettos as impoverished neighborhoods segregated by religion, race, or ethnicity. One scholar defines African American ghettos as "excluded from economic and social privileges, deprived of social esteem, and unable to influence the … rules which define their participation within the wider society," and similar themes of segregation, marginalization, and disempowerment are invoked by others as well.[21] Viewed from another perspective, however, the ghetto's fate is less clear-cut; the ghetto is incorporated into the dominant polity, albeit with ambivalence and disdain. Due to their halfway status, ghettos are segregated and repressed, but rarely liquidated outright. Ghettos are more

heavily institutionalized settings than frontiers, and are therefore objections of policing, not ethnic cleansing or genocide. Ghetto critics are right to emphasize the ills of poverty, crime, and broken families, but this perspective obscures the ghetto's remarkable ability to survive and to receive some of the benefits available to more favored populations, including a minimum of legal protection. Despite marginalization, ghetto residents remain alive and in their homes, presenting a perpetual challenge to the dominant society. While sheer survival is indubitably cold comfort to ghetto victims, it remains an analytically crucial point. In other words, frontiers are precariously perched on the edge of the dominant polity, whereas ghettos are situated squarely within it. Frontier residents can be expelled or killed, but ghetto residents can only be harshly policed.

The ambivalent status of the ghetto was dramatized during U.S. urban unrest in the 1960s, when largely white police shot, detained, and beat largely black ghetto residents.[22] Despite the crisis atmosphere, however, the authorities did not deploy their most awful methods. National Guardsmen were deployed against "organized agitators" and "revolutionaries," but physical liquidation was never on the agenda.[23] The authorities might dispatch more police, adopt more aggressive policies, and imprison more people, but they could not expel or kill ghetto residents en masse.

The notion of the ghetto is relevant to our story because of the West Bank and Gaza's relationship with Israel, which never officially annexed these regions (except East Jerusalem) after 1967, but did tacitly incorporate them as subordinate parts of the Israeli polity. Western powers did not openly endorse Israel's tacit annexation, but did not firmly support Palestinian sovereignty either, merely pressing Israel to respect Palestinian human rights. When the Palestinian uprising began, consequently, Palestinians were harshly policed but not ethnically cleansed.


Why are ghettos policed, not destroyed? Thinkers such as Anthony Giddens, Michel Foucault, Michael Mann, and Charles Tilly offer some tentative answers.[24] In the pre-modern period, sovereigns used intense but sporadic violence against internal rebels, believing that a few dramatic punitive acts would keep others in line. Modern states, conversely, cut back on the intensity of methods, shifting to smoother but more comprehensive regimes of control. Although the modern state's ability to

shape society has increased enormously, the sheer deadliness of domestic state coercion has declined.[25] Scholars offer different interpretations of this trend, but historical sociologist Michael Mann's distinction between despotic and infrastructural power seems particularly useful. Mann writes that pre-modern despots could do as they wished with their victims, but they had less access to powerful technologies of control over society at large.[26] Modern "infrastructural" states, by contrast, can penetrate society and implement their policies more widely, but are also obliged to operate within certain recognized moral and legal limits. Modern states, Mann notes, cannot "brazenly kill or expropriate their [internal] enemies" without exciting intense opposition, and they cannot change fundamental rules of state behavior at will.[27] As infrastructural power grows, in other words, despotic power declines. Social theorist Anthony Giddens views this as an increase in the "scope" of state power at the expense of intensity, while French social philosopher Michel Foucault writes of transitions from "punishment" to "discipline."[28]

What prompted this shift? Some argue it stems from the material interests of capitalists seeking predictable, routinized, and low-key methods of rule to promote trade, while others suggest it stemmed from shifts in the balance of state-society power. As rulers demanded greater loyalty, taxes, and military service from their citizens, the latter discovered they could successfully press sovereigns to modify their ways. Still a third group believes that state elites initiated the shift themselves to rationalize and improve techniques of mass control. Regardless of the precise explanation, most agree that an important change in state-society relations took place during the move from pre-modern to modern European statehood, forcing states to become increasingly bound by rules they themselves created.

Infrastructural power relies on centralized control over the means of violence. In states with low infrastructural capacities, the means of coercion are broadly dispersed through the population, but when sovereigns successfully concentrate the means of violence, infrastructural power rises. Ironically, however, centralized coercion does not grant states unlimited powers, but is rather associated with rules, regulations, and norms limiting the state's methods against the now defenseless citizenry. Under infrastructural regimes of power, weaponless citizens are to be policed, not destroyed. Clearly, any notion that modern infrastructural power invariably limits state repression is wrong, since some states with high infrastructural power massacre their own populations. As the examples of Nazi Germany and Rwanda demonstrate, powerful state

apparatuses can be used to commit genocide against their own citizens.[29]Yet broadly speaking, the more securely the state dominates society, the more incentives it faces to reduce its reliance on despotic methods.

This trend is illustrated by the Soviet experience, where Stalin's tyranny was eventually replaced with a smoother system of control. Post-Stalinist "socialist legality," one observer writes, "was not wholly without content when it came to restraining regime behavior," since Soviet internal security forces often went to "extraordinary lengths … to pretend—sometimes it seems almost to themselves—that the rules [were] being followed."[30] As theorists of the modern state might anticipate, increased Soviet infrastructural control eventually limited its resort to despotic methods. Like other high-capacity states, the post-Stalinist Soviet Union adopted a more encompassing, but less spectacularly brutal, regime of social control. Importantly, this suggests that states will be reluctant to openly flout laws they themselves have created. Nevertheless, it seems clear that some institutional settings are more conducive to one type of regime over another. Densely institutionalized settings such as ghettos are areas of high infrastructural power, explaining the state's reliance on police-style or infrastructural methods. Weakly institutionalized arenas such as frontiers, conversely, are subject to lower levels of infrastructural strength, leading to more despotic regimes of power.

Most of us would probably prefer to face infrastructural rather than despotic state power, just as ghetto ethnic policing seems preferable to frontier-style cleansing. Still, it would be wrong to regard the shift from despotism to infrastructural regimes of violence as an unproblematic improvement, a point often made by those skeptical of modernization's benefits. As Foucault persuasively argues, pervasive modern disciplinary techniques can be more invasive than occasional acts of kingly punishment.[31] Despotism is explicit, dramatic, and awful but is often irregular and fleeting. Infrastructural power is less blatant, by contrast, but often penetrates social life to a much greater extent. Policing, moreover, excites less broad condemnation, as Palestinians have discovered.


International norms help explain how particular institutional settings emerge and function.[32] In a world of global journalism, instant communications, and transnational human rights networks, internal wars are subject to intense international scrutiny.[33] Nowhere is this more true

than in Bosnia and Palestine, where the conflicts were subjected to systematic international intervention and mediation. Serbian and Israeli decision makers constantly sought to shape, respond to, and evade global scrutiny, making international forces an integral part of our story.

There has been an explosion of transnational norm making and activism in relation to a broad array of issues such as women's rights, immigration, and human rights.[34] This trend is being driven by intergovernmental bodies such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank, as well as nongovernmental organizations such as Transparency International, Greenpeace, and Human Rights Watch. Studies show that as the density of international norms and networks grows, states feel compelled to at least try to demonstrate to global audiences that they are modern, civilized, and efficient, adopting approved global rules and models of action.[35] Many of these global norms have been so internalized by state agents that they pass without notice, becoming constitutive of state action.[36] Others, including human rights, are often less thoroughly internalized, serving only as externally imposed constraints on policy.

In April 1992, the sovereignty norm helped create a Bosnian frontier because Western powers chose to recognize the Bosnian republic's borders as sovereign, forcing Serbia to officially disengage. This severed Bosnia from Serbia's formal control (through the Yugoslav federation), promoting frontier-like conditions. In 1988, conversely, Palestinian demands for independence were rebuffed by the same powers. Instead, Western powers applied the norm of human rights to the West Bank and Gaza, promoting Israel's use of ethnic policing. Greater Western support for Bosnian sovereignty, ironically, helped prepare the ground for more intense Serbian despotism.

Human Rights

The treaties, norms, and conventions surrounding the notion of human rights increasingly play an important role in global affairs, and states are under more pressure than ever before to appear respectful of their populations' dignity and rights.[37] In a sense, human rights norms represent the codification and dissemination of the rules and regulations produced by infrastructural power. Even if states do not actually wield infrastructural control over a given area, they feel pressured to use policing and law enforcement tactics, since that is what human rights norms require. Increased global human rights pressures are evident in the global media's

use of the term. Between 1982 and 1994, for example, the Reuters World Service registered a 500 percent increase in stories with the words "human rights," while the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) registered a 600 percent increase. Other agencies, such as China's Xinhua's press service, witnessed even more dramatic growth.[38] The number of international nongovernmental organizations dealing with human rights, moreover, is also on the increase. From only 33 such international groups in 1953, the numbers rose to 79 in 1983, and 168 a decade later.[39]

These changes are reconfiguring the global normative environment, with important consequences for smaller but significant regional powers such as Serbia or Israel.[40] Forced into a subordinate position vis-à-vis global (but often Western-dominated) rule makers, regional and local powers are obliged to take human rights into consideration.[41] Semidemocracies such as Serbia, Israel, Mexico, Turkey, and Indonesia also have vocal human rights organizations of their own, lending global norms even greater domestic resonance. Local and global human rights activists often collaborate, infusing one another with information, resources, and legitimacy.[42] In these cases, global human rights norms and norms of domestic infrastructural power are mutually reinforcing. These two sources of restraint in heavily institutionalized settings—domestic infrastructural power and international human rights norms—are analytically distinct but mutually reinforcing.


Sovereignty, a second and more established global norm, is also highly relevant to our story. Sovereignty divides territory into exclusive chunks of property, affecting styles of state violence in contradictory ways.[43] In our two cases, sovereignty helped trigger violence by providing Serbian and Jewish nationalists with powerful grievances. Since both countries' internationally recognized borders excluded coveted lands, nationalists in each felt duty bound to change their country's boundaries. In both cases, moreover, frustrated sovereignty claims provided incentives for ethnic cleansing. Some Serbian nationalists believed their claim over Bosnia would be bolstered by removal of the non-Serb population, while some Jewish Zionists held similar views regarding Palestine. Thus in one important sense, sovereignty served as a catalyst for Serbian and Israeli violence.

At the same time, sovereignty constrained repression by enhancing each state's infrastructural power in contested areas, creating the pre-conditions

for policing, rather than cleansing. Broadly speaking, infrastructural power is strengthened by international recognition of a state's right to be sovereign ruler over a given piece of territory. Without such recognition, states are constantly anxious that their claim to rule will be undermined.[44] To clarify, it is helpful to distinguish between sovereignty's empirical and juridical aspects.[45] Empirical sovereignty is the state's actual physical ability to control territory, expropriate the means of violence, administer the population, and shape social and political life. Juridical sovereignty, by contrast, is the theoretical right states have to do such things, and this is achieved through diplomatic practices, treaties, and international norms. States earn empirical sovereignty, conversely, through physical violence, control, and administration.[46] Infrastructural control is based chiefly on mechanisms of empirical sovereignty, but cannot endure without juridical recognition.[47]

A second way in which sovereignty promotes policing over cleansing is through its link to the global human rights norm. The two norms have become increasingly intertwined, creating a "package deal" in which governments gain juridical rights to territory in return for a commitment to treat the population appropriately.[48] Although actual policies obviously diverge substantially from international standards, no state can remain entirely indifferent.

Finally, sovereignty promotes policing by making it difficult for governments to disclaim responsibility for rogue internal violence. Given human rights pressures, governments are often tempted to argue that private actors are responsible for illegal violence, but the spirit of juridical sovereignty complicates this effort.[49] Sovereigns are expected to have expropriated the means of violence from the citizenry in their own territory, and actions by lawless private forces undermine the state's legitimacy, a fate most rulers seek to avoid.


Until now my discussion appears to suggest that institutional settings somehow dictate state action through preexisting institutional routines, norms, or logics of appropriateness. Such a determinist understanding of repression, however, would be misguided. As this book's case studies demonstrate in detail, states respond creatively to rules and institutional settings, taking structural constraints into consideration while simultaneously devising new methods of violence.[50] State repression is not cleanly produced by institutional rules, but is rather created through a

chaotic negotiation process in which soldiers, police, and paramilitary gunmen work with, around, and through institutional rules.[51] At the same time, however, room for maneuver is not unlimited, and institutional settings do matter. As French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu suggests, social action is a process of "invention within limits."[52] To discover how this works in practice, we must closely examine the nuts and bolts of repression in individual settings of violence.

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