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Where Nation-States Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism

Where Nation-States Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism

by Philip G. Roeder


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691134673
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 08/05/2007
Pages: 440
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Philip G. Roeder is professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Read an Excerpt

Where Nation-States Come From

By Philip G. Roeder Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13467-3

Chapter One Who Gets a State of Their Own?

A nation in the modern era is a population that purportedly has a right to a state of its own. Over the two centuries that we call the age of nationalism, philosophers, politicians, and polemicists have imagined hundreds, if not thousands, of nation-states. Indeed, a piece of folk wisdom often repeated in academic and policy communities holds that around the world today there may be as many as six to eight hundred active nation-state projects and another seven to eight thousand potential projects. Yet today, only a little more than 190 nation-states have achieved the status of sovereign, independent members of the world community. This begs a question: Why do some nation-state projects succeed in achieving sovereign independence while most fail?

The current configuration of borders in the world that privileges these 190 or so nation-state projects over the alternatives is something of a puzzle. Few would defend the present configuration as politically, economically, or culturally optimal. Indeed, on all continents there are competing projects to unite some states into larger states, such as a European Union or regional unions of African states; to make others smaller by granting independence to such substate entities as the Basque Countryor Somaliland; or simply to decertify some nation-states and redraw borders in a more rational or efficient manner. Their proponents have made compelling cases that these new states would be superior to the current nation-states.

The question of which nations get states of their own is obviously a question of why some nation-state projects have triumphed over the empires, multinational states, and nation-states they replaced. Yet it is more complex than that. During the crises that led to new nation-states, typically there were multiple, competing nation-state projects on the table. For example, during the process that led to the fragmentation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union) into fifteen successor states, there were proposals for dozens of alternative nation-states that would have united or divided these fifteen states in diverse ways, such as a revived Soviet Union, a Slavic union, a Turkestan to unite the so-called "stans" of Central Asia, or a Republic of Mountain Peoples that would unite communities on both sides of the Caucasus. Thus, the question of which nations get states is also a question of why some projects have triumphed over the many alternatives for unification and division that have been contending for sovereign independence.

Humanists and social scientists have devoted considerable attention to the various phenomena associated with the process of creating new nation-states, including nationalism, secessions, and state failures. The attention is warranted. The attempt to create new nation-states has been the inspiration for some of the most glorious and tragic moments of modern politics. The success of some projects to create new nation-states, such as Ireland, Israel, or Lithuania, represents the fulfillment of aspirations for self-governance that define the era of nationalism. Yet the success of nation-state projects has often been associated with violent destruction, as the breakup of Yugoslavia illustrates. The frustration of nation-state projects has often been equally costly, as the conflicts in Chechnya and Palestine attest.

The attention is also warranted because nation-states are among the most important institutions of political life; they establish fundamental parameters of both global and domestic politics. For example, in the past century changes in the configuration of nation-states have given strength to new global forces, such as the rise of the Third World following the breakup of European empires, and have changed the polarity of the international system, such as the end of bipolarity following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The changing configuration of nation-states provides the building blocks with which diplomats must seek to build peace and security even in the face of transnational forces such as terrorism. The boundaries created by nation-states define the outlines of domestic politics as well. The boundaries constrain the likelihood that democracy can succeed in a polity, demarcate the actors and preferences that must be balanced in domestic politics, and thus shape the direction policy will take. For example, little imagination is needed to identify the ways in which North American politics inside and among sovereign states would have been profoundly different had the project for a Confederate States of America led to sovereign statehood in the nineteenth century.

The explanation for which nations are likely to get states of their own also has practical implications as we look ahead to the policy problems that may engage governments and the global community in the future. For policy-makers who must anticipate crises, the explanation helps to identify potential instabilities in existing nation-states. It identifies nation-state projects seeking sovereign independence that may be most threatening to the peace. Such nation-state crises have been extraordinarily destabilizing. For example, in recent decades projects to create new nation-states have been the single most common agenda of terrorists. Robert Pape recorded 188 suicide bomb attacks between 1980 and 2001. Fully 82 percent of these attacks were associated with the campaigns to achieve independence for a Palestinian state, a Kurdish state, a Tamil state, or a Chechen state, or to separate Kashmir from India. (Most of the other attacks were associated with nationalist attempts to end a foreign occupation of an existing nation-state.) As Pape summarizes, "the strategic logic of suicide terrorism is specifically designed to coerce modern democracies to make significant concessions to national self-determination." Similarly, nation-state crises have been the single most common cause of internal wars over the last half-century. Nils Petter Gleditsch recorded 184 wars within the jurisdictions of sovereign states between 1946 and 2001, including 21 within their external dependencies and 163 within the metropolises. More than half of these wars, 51.6 percent, were associated with nation-state crises in which parties challenged the existing state and demanded either statehood for themselves or unification with another state.

Furthermore, for the designers of transitions to peace after civil war, democracy after autocracy, or independence after subjection, answers to the question of where nation-states come from can provide guidance for the design of stable political orders in culturally diverse societies. Indeed, I argue in this book that the source of new nation-states has been a crisis of "stateness"-a crisis in which residents contest the human and geographic borders of existing states and some residents even seek to create new independent states-and that this crisis typically results from the design of their institutions. An implication of this finding is that by prudent action, governments and the global community could avoid such crises in the future, but probably will not.

Patterns of Nation-State Creation, 1816-2000

The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen ushered in an age of nationalism that led to the conscious creation of nation-states. In the 185 years that followed the final defeat of the French in 1815, most existing states sought to redefine themselves by the new logic of nation-statehood, namely, that their statehood was the expression of the sovereign will of a people. More dramatically, a total of 191 new or reconstituted states joined or rejoined the international system, most with the claim that this represented the sovereign prerogative of a people to be self-governing.

Although the creation and reconstitution of states around the world continued throughout the years from 1816 to 2000, as figure 1.1 shows, this process accelerated during the latter half of the twentieth century. The creation of new nation-states in the past two centuries has occurred in a few episodic bursts. Specifically, since 1815 there have been four bursts in the creation of new nation-states: the classic period, from the Congress of Vienna to the Congress of Berlin; the first quarter of the twentieth century; the three decades that followed World War II; and the decade that straddled the end of the cold war. It would be imprudent to make bold claims about trends, especially a claim that this is a declining trend. Compared with earlier decades, the decade of the 1990s was the second most intense period of transformation in the existing state system and creation of new nation-states, after the 1960s.

Decolonization represents the single most common source of new nation-states-62 percent of the total number created since 1815 (table 1.1). These 118 new states had not previously been incorporated into the metropolitan core of the governing states but remained juridically separate as colonies or protectorates. In the first and third phases of nation-state creation, 1816-1900 and 1941-1985, decolonization was the primary process by which new states were created. The second most common source of new nation-states has been division of (or secession from) the metropolitan cores of states, which accounts for about 32 percent of the total. The division of the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the USSR, and Yugoslavia in particular stand as major sources of new states. The sixty-two states created by division of metropolitan cores include secessionist territories (e.g., Estonia in 1918 and 1991), reconstituted rump nation-states left behind (e.g., the Russian Federation in 1991 or the Czech Republic in 1993), and regimes imposed by occupying authorities (e.g., the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Korea in 1948). In the second and fourth phases of nation-state creation, 1901-1940 and 1986- 2000, division or secession was the primary source of new nation-states. The remaining eleven new nation-states include five that resulted from the unification of existing states (e.g., Germany in 1990, Vietnam in 1975). Another six resulted from incorporation of peripheral regions into the international system through settlement (e.g., Liberia in 1847, Orange Free State in 1853) or recognition of indigenous sovereignties (e.g., Afghanistan in 1919, Saudi Arabia in 1932) in areas previously not recognized as falling under any sovereign authority.

These changes in state boundaries through decolonization, secession, and unification have in fact moved the world closer to the ideal proclaimed by such nationalists as Giuseppe Mazzini-a universal system of nation-states. Almost all new states have claimed to represent the sovereign will of their people to have a state of their own. For example, the acts adopted by new states to declare their independence typically predicate this act on the right of a specified people to constitute a state of its own. Today, the constitutions of most states are predicated on the claim that the people, such as "the Burundian Nation" or "the Chadian people," have a right to govern themselves and to choose the form of their own government. For example, 72 percent of the 143 constitutions of major states in force in 2000 began with just such a claim.

This pattern of nation-state creation sets the question I address in this book: Why did these nation-state projects achieve sovereign independence while hundreds of other projects have not?

The Segmental Institutions Thesis

The usual explanations for the success of nation-state projects begin with identities, grievances, and mobilization. A common nationalist narrative about the origins of individual nation-states celebrates the politicization of an ethnic identity and the awakening or reawakening of national identity. The narrative immortalizes bold proclamations against the oppression of overlords and the heroic mobilization of nationalist resistance on the path to independence. In the academy, these narratives have become the basis of a significant body of sociological theory that imputes prime causality to identity, grievances, and mobilization. More recently, these traditional explanations have been challenged by theories in the fields of economics and international relations that claim that economic greed, not cultural grievance, motivates nationalist resistance and that the selection mechanism of international recognition actually determines which nation-states become sovereign members of the world community.

In this book I argue that all of these elements-identity, grievance, greed, mobilization, and international recognition-must be present for a successful nation-state project. For the proponents of a nation-state project to advance to sovereign independence, all of these elements must align so that they are mutually reinforcing. Misalignment of any one element can create an insurmountable obstacle to success. Misalignment is a reason why so few projects succeed. The argument in this book turns our attention to the question, what could possibly lead all of these elements to align favorably? Perhaps this alignment can result from simple luck or coincidence, but that is unlikely. Rather, I argue that there is a common overarching constraint that has increased the likelihood of such an alignment: almost every successful nation-state project has been associated with an existing institution that I refer to as a "segment-state." Independence represented the administrative upgrade of this existing jurisdiction. For example, after the demise of the USSR, the successful nation-state projects were the projects associated with the first-order jurisdictions called union republics, such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The nation-state projects not associated with these segment-states, such as the projects for Turkestan, Idel-Ural, the Mountain Republic, or Novorossiia, failed in the 1990s. I will call this argument the segmental institutions thesis.

This pattern, which privileges nation-state projects associated with segment-states, holds around the world and throughout the twentieth century. From 1901 to 2000, 177 new nation-states were created, and 153 of these new nation-states had been segment-states immediately prior to independence (see table 10.5). That is, 86 percent of all new nation-states in the twentieth century had prehistories that looked much like the creation of independent successor states of the USSR. Indeed, for the past century it would have been safe to bet a considerable sum with the rule of thumb, "no segment-state, no nation-state." No other simple rules would have yielded such a high return. For example, it would have been hard to win as much by betting on the elevation of ethnic groups to national consciousness and then statehood; fewer than a dozen ethnic groups without segment-states achieved sovereign independence in the twentieth century. Nor would it have been as lucrative to bet on the constituents of federations, since only one of those that were not segment-states became a nation-state. (These anomalies are discussed in chapter 10.) Rather than groups or territories alone, it is the unique conjunction of popular and territorial jurisdictions in a segment-state that has paved the way to independence. Thus, this simple thesis explains why, since 1815, most nation-state projects that have sought sovereign statehood have failed. The authors of most imagined nation-states, such as Kurdistan, Turkestan, Tamil Eelam, or Atzlán, have been unable to draw on the resources of segment-states.


Excerpted from Where Nation-States Come From by Philip G. Roeder
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents





CHAPTER ONE: Who Gets a State of Their Own? 3

CHAPTER TWO: Varieties of Segmented States 42


CHAPTER THREE: Hegemonies and Segment-State Machines 81

CHAPTER FOUR: Creating Identity Hegemony 108

CHAPTER FIVE: Conditions for Political-Identity Hegemony 136


CHAPTER SIX: The Dynamics of Nation-State Crises 163

CHAPTER SEVEN: The Segmental Agenda and Escalation of Stakes 203

CHAPTER EIGHT: Escalation of Means in Nation-State Crises 229


CHAPTER NINE: Which Nation-State Projects Create Crises? 259

CHAPTER TEN: Which Segment-States Become Nation-States? 290

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Nation-States and the International System 341

APPENDIX: Segment-States, 1901-2000 355



What People are Saying About This

M. Steven Fish

A superb work. First, it furnishes an outstanding model of how to 'do' social science. Second, it provides a great deal of well-organized information about state formation and nonformation, especially as concerns the Soviet state and the myriad tugs-of-war over territorial and ethnic sovereignty that have shaped post-Soviet politics. Third, it furnishes conclusions—complete with overwhelming evidence in their support—that will have immediate practical implications for world politics. Fourth, it is a good read: without cutting scholarly corners, it offers many delightful moments.
M. Steven Fish, University of California, Berkeley

Valerie Bunce

This is an original, rigorous, and indeed fascinating book. Using a wide range of data and methods, it argues that the institutional design of the units of political authority in the international system explains the origins of nation-states over nearly two hundred years. It is relevant to a remarkable range of debates in comparative and international politics; to those who work on nationalism, state-building, and democratization; and to specialists in both sub-Saharan Africa and postcommunist Eurasia.
Valerie Bunce, Cornell University

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