When scrutinising the complex, convoluted and nebulous subject of “nationalist movements”, one has to first understand the term “nationalism” so as to comprehend why these movements are being given birth to till today, in the current times, where the concept of the ‘global village” has percolated right down to the lowest echelons of this international system that we thrive on, and where different nation-states are perceived to have lost their uniqueness and fused with the world at large to atrophy into being part of a colossal world order. State sovereignty has been diluted and obfuscated as globalization and regionalisation have become the watchwords of today and state-interdependence, the key to economic survival of nations, both weak and strong, alike. Yet, it would seem as though these are the very conditions which are conducive for nationalistic sentiments to run high and hold their own against such massive forces as globalisation. People seem to cling on fastidiously to their ethnic identities and  racial lines of segregation  than display a desire to merge with the peoples of this world and appear to eschew peace through renouncing their cultural differences. This has led to heavy casualty in terms of human lives and a gaping schism between nations which only results in regression of mankind as this chasm instigates man to touch base with his most primal of instincts and start wars, conflicts, riots, revolts and such like. This essay attempts to shed some light on why these nationalist upheavals occur from time to time despite the grave repercussions borne by mankind.


                 Nationalism is defined as a political movement constituted by two characteristics: a) individual members give their primary loyalty to their own ethnic or national community ; this loyalty supersedes their loyalty to other groups, e.g. , those based on common kinship or political ideology; and b) these ethnic or national communities desire their own independent state.[1] There is an inevitable link between nationalism and war/conflict since nationalism hinges upon political ideologies and most wars/conflicts so far have taken their roots in them. Stephen Van Evera has identified four attributes of any nationalist movement  which determine the sphere of influence it has on the potential of war. The four attributes are: a) the political status of the movement: if statehood is attained or not; b) the movement’s stance towards its national diaspora; c) the movement’s stance toward other nation: does it respect or deny other nations’ right to national independence? d) the movement’s treatment of its own minorities.[2]


                    Nationalist movements which are in search of their own states and have not been granted their wish yet bear greater risk of causing war because their struggle for national freedom can spark off wars of secession and this might have a spill-over effect on the world and could possibly create an internal war. Secondly, the conflicts attributed to these movements could affect other interest groups adversely, thus causing hurt to other uninvolved parties and dragging them into the fray as well. It is quite evident from the contemporary examples that disruptions to peace has been made possible due to the stateless nature of the nationalist movements as this would mean that a great deal of change would have to be undergone by the international system to accommodate their emergence. There are two peace-zones in this arena: one is when statehood has already been granted and second, when the central government is able to contain the nationalist movement. The real danger arises when there is a pay-off in terms of power between the incumbent government and the nationalist movement. In such a circumstance, both sides are willing and able to fight this out and thus, the impact is a lot more deep and violent. An example of  such a situation would be in the case of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers where the LTTE’s(Liberation of Tamil Tigers Ealem) forceful demand for a separate country for the significant minority of Tamil population in the country is being met by the central government’s ability to oppose such a move. This has led to many a bloody and gory conflict within and without the country. Another example to enhance this point would be the East Timor crisis. The East Timorese stand firm in their bid to maintain their  autonomy while their previous master, the Indonesian army, is retaliating violently to their decision to vote for independence. Thus, almost-equal might in the hands of both the nationalist movement and the central government  creates greater intensity in conflicts.


                   The second aspect of the nationalist movement which poses a risk of a conflict eruption is in terms of its national diaspora. If a nation’s ethnic community is in another country, even if in microscopic numbers, the nation might lay claim to it. The question here arises if the nation is willing to compromise on complete unity with its ethnic community or if it will try and claim those people who belong to its ethnic origins but live in another nation. If the nation decides to maintain its population the way it is and not try to integrate the members of their ethnicity outside it, chances of conflict are tremendously low. Yet another way of maintaining peace would be to try and gain those people from outside through the process of immigration. The third option is the one that is inherently dangerous. It is that of annexing the nation which contains the ethnic minority. This is illustrated in the case of Germany way back at the onset of World War II when Hitler invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia on the grounds that since there was a significantly large group of German-speaking of population in these two nations, Germany should be granted to take the two countries under its wing[3]. Another example of diaspora annexation and which is happening till today is the case of Pakistan-Kasmir. Due to the large number of Muslims in the Indian state of Kashmir, Pakistanis are claiming ownership to it. Although no annexation has yet taken place, there is an on-going conflict between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. This issue is closely intertwined with the one on heterogeneous society being more conflict-prone than a homogeneous one since the various ethnic groups may always clamour for separation if they grow big enough or strong enough to do so. Also, when including lot of such minority groups in a nation’s population, the dangers of  encountering hostility from these communities’ original nations is high.


                            Thirdly, the question of how much does every nation value other nations’ sovereignty comes into the picture. If a nation were to take a stand that does not recognise others’ independence and territorial freedom and holds only its own as legitimate, a conflict is indeed just a matter of time. This is showcased in the case of the Iraqi invasion of Iran. The Gulf war in 1990 came about precisely because of this brazen disregard of Iran’s territorial boundary.

                           There is an argument that international recognition of a nation’s territorial boundaries prevents conflicts since there is hardly any murkiness over ownership of the land. But the third trait of a nationalist movement stands in defiance of this theory.


                           Lastly, if the nationalism respects and recognises the rights and privileges of its own minorities, places them on equal par with the dominant ethnic community and treats them fairly, conflicts will most probably not arise. It is when the nation begrudges the minorities in some way or other (albeit justified or not) that the fault lines of conflict appear. A classic case study for this purpose would be India. The Hindu Nationalist Movement led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was intent, and still is, on displacing the Muslims in India and shifting the secular stance of the nation to a Hindu nation. Religious intolerance resulted in mass murder which totally decimated the holy site of Babri Masjid along with thousands of Hindus and Muslims because the RSS claimed that the site was actually a holy one for the Hindus since a Ram temple had been built in the same place where the mosque now stood[4]. In the case of Rwanda, the same problem took shape in the form of  the clash between ethnic, but elitist minority, the Tutsies, and the neglected majority, the Hutus leading to a horrendous genocide. In this situation though, there was a slight role reversal since the Hutus rebelled first although they were the majority. But the fault rests equally on both the Tutsies and the Hutus when it is a question of murder and gore[5]. Then there is also the subjugation and oppression of the Kurds by the Iraqis and Turks. Once again, the same problem of clashes with the interests of the minority group.[6]It has to be mentioned here that the greater the oppression and intensity of subjugation of the minorities (or, in the exceptional case of Rwanda, the majority), the more the impetus for the backlash will be and the greater the scale of violence.                     

                               To sum up my essay, there is the crucial link between nationalism and war (or peace) and the intensity of the potential for conflict and the act of conflict itself is determined by four characteristics of the nationalist movements--the call for statehood, the view taken towards the national diaspora, respect for other nations’ sovereignty and treatment of one’s minorities. While the fist three define the scope of a nationalist movement’s claims against others, the fourth helps determine the scope of others’ claims against the movement[7].There are various subfactors that also determine the EXTENT to which conflicts are violent and on what intensity level and violence level these conflicts take place. These include the demographic constitution of the nation, the perception of the movement on attaining statehood (whether it can or not), the extent of unfair treatment of the minorities by the nation, internationally recognised demarcation of boundaries of the nations and so on and so forth. Thus, the nexus between nationalism and war/peace is very clear and concrete and has been tested through the various and diverse examples of nations and nationalist movements.           



1.      Joseph S. Nye, “Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History”, Second Edition (New York: Longman, 1997)


2.      Stephen Van Evera, “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War”, in Micheal E. Borwn, Owen R. Cote, Jr., Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller (eds.), Theories of War and Peace (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1998), pp257-291


3.      The Costs of Conflict: Prevention and Cure in Global Arena, Edited by Michael E. Brown and Richard N. Rosecrance


4., “The Kurdish Experience”


5., “The Rise of Hindu Nationalism in India”


6., “ The Global Rise of Ethnic Nationalism”, Contributed by Franklin Sanders( Eads, Tennessee)


7., “ Western Nationalism and Islamic Nationhood”, Murtada Mutahhari, Translated from the Persian by Dr. Wahid Akhtar, Vol.V No.3 and 4


[1] Stephen Van Evera, “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War”, in Michael E. Borwn, Owen R. Cote, Jr, Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E.Miller(eds), Theories of War and Peace ( Cambridge, MIT Press, 1998), pp258

[2] same as (1); pp262

[3] Joseph S. Nye, Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, Chapter 4( The failure of collective security and world war 2), Second Edition, (New York: Longman, 1997), pp84-85

[4] http://www.students.haverford/edu/aperry, “The rise of Hindu Nationalism in India

[5] Talentino,K Andrea, “The Costs of Conflict: Prevention and Cure in the Global Arena”,(Rwanda) Edited by Brown, E. Michael and Rosecrance, N. Richard , pp60-61

[7] Stephen Van Evera, “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War”, in Michael E. Borwn, Owen R. Cote, Jr, Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E.Miller(eds), Theories of War and Peace ( Cambridge, MIT Press, 1998),pp266 


Any comments or questions regarding this essay can be addressed to: Radhika Prabhakar

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