The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintegration in the Post-Cold War Era

The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintegration in the Post-Cold War Era

The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintegration in the Post-Cold War Era

The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintegration in the Post-Cold War Era


In this book, a collection of experts investigate the varied forces - from global systems to local beliefs - that lead to civil violence, chaos and, perhaps, a new political order. The State, Identity and Violence explores acts of mass violence occurring within national borders and examines the links such acts have to personal identities and how they challenge the character or very existence of the state. Building upon the anthropological premises of holism and cross-cultural comparison, this volume shows how violent challenges to existing states should be conceptualized as layered problems, with multiple kinds of causes. It not only goes beyond the "ancient hatreds" explanation, but shows the inadequacy of the concept of "ethnic violence" and of theories which treat interests and identities as separate, sometimes opposed variables


Violent conflict and control of the state

R. Brian Ferguson

No one expected it. In 1988, the Cold War died. The main frame of global political orientation disintegrated, and talk turned to how to spend “the peace dividend.” Yes, there were a few lingering “hot spots” around the world that needed to be “tidied up,” but the United Nations (UN) was taking care of that (Loomis 1993:125). Like any moment in time, you had to be there. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, strange and especially brutal conflicts erupted in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa and elsewhere. The linkage of “nation” and “state,” long unquestioned as the irreducible unit of global politics, suddenly seemed very questionable indeed. In some places, the future existence of a state, at least as we thought we knew it, was in doubt. Optimism gave way to bleak scenarios of collapse and carnage fed by nothing more than cultural difference. The term “civil war” seemed inadequate for mass violence carried out by irregular forces, deliberately targeting civilians. New labels were coined: “wars of the third kind” (Holsti 1996), “non-trinitarian wars” (non-Clausewitzian) (Van Creveld 1991), or simply, “new wars” (Kaldor 1999). Not the end of history that one scholar had predicted (Fukuyama 1992), to many it looked more like the end of civilization, “the coming anarchy” (Kaplan 1994). What was happening to the world? This book was started during that time.

In retrospect, the situation was less extreme than it seemed. Bloody intra-state wars, often involving cultural divides, had in fact been increasing for decades, especially since the 1960s (Gantzel 1997). There was indeed a sharp surge with the end of the Cold War, peaking in 1992. Perception of this violence was amplified in its contrast to the suddenly deflated great power rivalry, and if local bases of “low intensity conflicts” had been overlooked while subsumed to the East/West rivalry, they became very apparent in its absence. But the number of ongoing internal wars quickly fell back to the long-term trend line, and by 1995 was around the level of 1988 (Gurr 2000:30-34; Wallensteen and Sollenberg 1997:339). Some scholars have found grounds for optimism about further reductions in the future (Byman and Van Evera 1998:45), while others point out the great number of potential eruptions still stewing out there (Aklaev n.d.; Gurr and Marshall 2000). In 1998 and 1999, the number of major internal armed conflicts surged back up to the 1992-93 level, primarily due to new fighting in Africa (SIPRI 2001). No one expects such conflicts to disappear in the near future.

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