The term war of independence is generally used interchangeably with war of national liberation. Since the rise of nationalism, wars of independence have become one of the notions that draw the contours of today’s world order. The wars of independence started as particular nations’ fight against imperial powers and then evolved as wars against colonial or occupational powers.
Even long before the rise of nationalism, wars of independence were fought against imperial and colonial powers. Chronologically, it is possible to argue that the history of the phenomenon of war of independence goes back to earlier periods of history. The first ever war that can be called independence war was the War of Scottish Independence (1296– 1357), which was a series of wars fought between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The first War of Scottish Independence began with England’s invasion of Scotland in 1296. At the end of the War of Scottish Independence, Scotland retained its status as an independent nation. Another historically significant war of independence was the American War of Independence (1775–1782), which was the conflict between Britain and its American colonists. The American War of Independence led to the end of European control of both North and South America. In spite of the existence of these earlier examples of wars of independence, the concept found its place in international relations scholarship after the development of nationalism.
According to the Article 1(1) of the first Protocol of 1977, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, wars of national liberation are defined as “peoples . . . fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination” and determine that they should be treated legally, as if they were engaged in an international armed conflict.
Many theories of warfare claim that wars result from the intimate connection between the nation and the state. According to Max Weber (1948), the state is a territorial organization exercising legitimate control over its own bounded territory, unchallenged by internal power competition or external intervention. Weber then defines the nation as “a community of sentiment which would adequately manifest itself in a state of its own” and hence “tends to produce a state of its own” (176). The link between the nation and the state is established by the doctrine of national self-determination, which has become the major legitimacy of states. National self-determination was the main principle on which political boundaries of eastern Europe and Balkans were determined after the end of World War I (1914–1918). Moreover, self-determination was the principal idea behind the anticolonial movement of the post-1945 period. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the struggle of subject peoples against colonial powers took the form of wars of independence. During this period, different national revolutionary groups engaged in struggle against Western rulers or against indigenous regimes deemed to be dependent on outsiders at the expense of their own populations. The phenomenon of independence wars of the third world against Western domination is geographically, culturally, and ideologically a broad one. The most prominent examples of these are the Chinese revolution, which culminated in the establishment of communist power in 1949; the Vietnamese struggle against the French (and later against the United States); the Algerian War against the French; civil violence in Latin America; and convulsions in southern Africa. All of these struggles were waged by indigenous movements and their external allies in the name of national liberation and independence.
It is this intimate link between nationalism and statehood that triggers wars of independence, because the ideal of the nation-state is never fully achieved. In no historical case have all members of a particular nation gathered within one state’s boundaries. On the contrary, many states contain a considerable number of national minorities. The lack of full correlation between the nations and the states frequently gives rise to tensions that can lead to war. Even in the twenty-first century, there are still nations without states whose warriors and militants are fighting for their independence—the Basques, Kurds, Catalans, Palestinians, Timorese, and countless others.
Generally, national minorities who feel dissatisfaction with the existing regime claim self-determination and fight for their separate states. For these national groups, greater emphasis is put on the independent existence of their particular nation. In fact, through the creation of armed wings and leader cadres these national groups have established proto-states. For national minorities the establishment of armed bodies and leadership structures indicate that national liberation is no longer a matter of private sentiment but a serious aspiration.
- Cederman, Lars-Erik. “Nationalism and Ethnicity.” Handbook of International Relations. Sage, 2002. http://sage-ereference. com/hdbk_intlrelations/ Article_n21.html.
- Harris, Nigel. National Liberation. London: Penguin, 1990.
- International Committee of the Red Cross,“Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August, 1949 (Protocol 1). 8 June 1977.” International Humanitarian Law—Treaties & Documents, 2005, www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/FULL/470?OpenDocument.
- MacFarlane, S. Neil. Superpower Rivalry and 3rd World Radicalism: The Idea of National Liberation. London: Croom Helm, 1985.
- Menzies, Gordon, ed. The Scottish Nation. London: BBC, 1972.
- Weber, Max. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Translated by H. H. Gerth and C.Wright Mills. 1948. Reprint, London: Routledge, 2001.
- Wells, Peter. The American War of Independence. London: University of London Press, 1967.
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