Tag Archives: Nationalism

Scottish Independence: Battle Lines Drawn

London has many other pressing issues on its agenda whereas the SNP can devote the entirety of their resources and political capital to the independence campaign – a luxury which they would do well to enjoy while they can.



The respective governments of Scotland and the United Kingdom have formally agreed upon the terms and the technicalities of the referendum on Scotland’s independence. In so doing, they have drawn the lines of the battle that will take place between them until the referendum in the autumn of 2014.

The ‘Edinburgh Agreement‘ was signed on 15 October by Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and is the result of months of negotiations between the two governments, essentially centred on two main points.

The first of these was to determine through which mechanism the referendum would be rendered legal. Through Article 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 (which established devolution), London will confer legal authority for the referendum to Edinburgh and, consequently, the result will be legally binding.

London arguably had little room for manoeuvre when negotiating this point as the slightest indication of obstinacy would have been exploited by the Scottish nationalists to maximum political effect. The trade-off comes in the shape of the very question to be posed by the referendum and this was the second sticking point of the negotiations.

The British government made clear that they would only devolve legal authority for the referendum if Scottish voters were presented with one single, and very simple, question: independence, yes or no? The Scottish government argued that a second question should be included on the ballot paper, the so-called ‘devo max’ option. This would have allowed Scottish voters to vote against full independence but in favour of maximum devolution of powers to Edinburgh while remaining within the United Kingdom (basically full autonomy over everything except defence and foreign policy).

Unionists claim this demonstrates that Scottish nationalists don’t believe they can secure a majority in favour of full independence. As things stand, it is likely true that ‘devo max’ would have been the most attractive option to many Scottish voters but much can still happen between now and late 2014.

A third important point of the Edinburgh Agreement is that 16 and 17 year olds will be entitled to vote in the referendum, even though normally the minimum voting age in Scottish and British elections is eighteen. The theory, or so nationalists believe, is that the younger generation are especially likely to vote in favour of independence. While that has yet to be definitively proven, the inclusion of this point in the agreement represents a tactical victory for the SNP and means that Scottish residents currently aged 14 and upwards will be entitled to vote in 2014. We can therefore expect Scottish nationalists to devote considerable attention to these young people for the next two years.

There are still some important aspects of the referendum to be finalised, not least the exact wording of the question on the ballot paper. However, the agreement between Salmond and Cameron is a highly important milestone in the process and essentially marks the real beginning of the political battle between nationalists and unionists.

It could be argued that the agreement itself represents an important political triumph for Salmond as he heads into the SNP party conference in Perth from 18 to 21 October. With the (arguable) exception of the ‘devo max’ option, Salmond and the nationalists have obtained almost everything they wanted from the agreement. At the very least, that’s how they will present it in public.

The timing of the agreement could hardly be better for Salmond. It allows him to re-energise the campaign for independence still further and, at least temporarily, side-step problematic areas of disagreement within the party. For example, the ongoing debate about dropping the SNP’s traditional opposition to NATO could potentially have caused problems at the party conference but, while the issue has not disappeared altogether, Salmond must now be more confident of presenting a united front in Perth.

The SNP have an important strategic advantage over their unionist opponents in Scotland, who are simply not of the same calibre as Salmond (widely regarded as one of the most capable, or at least canniest, political operators in Britain) and who have been consistently outplayed by the SNP during the latter’s two terms in office.

As for the British government, the unpopularity in Scotland of the Conservative-led coalition and the legacy of the Thatcher era will seriously hamper the anti-independence campaign – and are therefore key elements of the SNP’s political calculation. Moreover, London has many other pressing issues on its agenda whereas the SNP can devote the entirety of their resources and political capital to the independence campaign – a luxury which they would do well to enjoy while they can, for it will disappear overnight if they actually win the referendum.

However, absolutely none of the above helps predict the result of the referendum, which remains simply too close to call. Ultimately the real question is how independence would materially and financially affect Scottish voters in their daily lives. If it is true that the current margin between Yes and No is as little as the price of an iPad then all parties still have everything to play for.


Photo Credit: James Sheehan / theriskyshift.com

Nationalism Rises: China, Japan & The Senkaku-Diaoyu Dispute

The assertive and single-minded Chinese approach to the Senkaku-Diaogu dispute is rationally explainable, not as a sophisticated or well-planned strategy, rather by considering the role of nationalism and its interplay with power politics concerns.


Nationalism in Japan and anti-China protests


The second of a two-part series looking at the rise of nationalism. View the first part here.


The Senkaku Islands (or Diaoyu according to the Chinese transliteration) are a group of tiny and uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. These 7 square kilometres are currently the middle of one of the most worrisome confrontations in the region between China and Japan. Both of them claim sovereignty over the islands: in 1895 Imperial Japan conquered them after a war with China; then, after the Second World War the United States administered the archipelago until 1970s, when Japan regained possession and control through a private purchase. From 2009, Chinese officials and commentators referred to that area as a sovereign “core interest”, like Taiwan and Tibet, given the great deal of exploitable natural resources underneath the East China Sea.

Despite the Chinese diplomatic efforts at reassuring their neighbours about its economic and military growth, territorial disputes over the East and South China Sea are progressively capturing the weary attention of other Asian governments and public opinions. Such an assertive and single-minded Chinese approach is rationally explainable, not as a sophisticated or well-planned strategy, rather by considering the role of nationalism and its interplay with power politics concerns.

As previously seen, the interaction between nationalism and the realist theory of International Relations affects units’ behaviour (the State) and their search for survival. In addition, this interplay is conducive to making the likelihood of war higher and its character tougher.

With regard to the Senkaku-Diaoyu dispute, the behaviours of China and Japan are explainable by taking into account the role of nationalism: however, considering solely such variable might not be sufficient to provide a comprehensive perspective of what is actually at stake in the East China Sea. As a matter of fact, power politics plays a relevant role in shaping the Sino-Japanese confrontation, whereas survival, and the fear for security and national integrity are the issues that each national actor considers mostly.


The Senkaku-Diaoyu case is a matter of survival for both China and Japan. According to structural realism, maintaining a stable degree of relative power should guarantee security between two nations. As repeatedly noticed, the Chinese growth on military expenditures, economic performances and soft-power influence, has brought its neighbours to rely more extensively on the support of some external and counterbalancing actors, such as the United States, in order to keep the level of power not overwhelming and acceptable for their security. However, the aggressive behaviour of China, showed even on other territorial disputes involving the Philippines and Vietnam, has deeply changed the perception of Asian countries towards the Chinese growth as a regional power, no longer identified as a peaceful riser rather as an hegemonic one. As a result, the national survival of these countries is perceived in danger, and the related national communities and cultural identities as well.

For this reason, since the Chinese “rational patriotism” has been identified as the only workable antidote to avoid any return to an  “humiliating past” and defend its national interests and sovereignty, Japan is increasingly fearful of China’s rise and, as a consequence of this threatening feeling, nationalist movements and political parties are pushing the country to assert itself more boldly against China’s territorial ambitions.

The State

Theoretically speaking, once the nation-state is created, its efficiency and protection is ensured by homogenizing people’s level of literacy and cultural knowledge through the modern national educational system. Especially in China, since the establishment of the Communist regime patriotic propaganda and formal education have constantly fed anger and resentment against the old imperial conquerors, such as the United States, Europe and Japan. Accordingly, the massive popular demonstration against Japan in the last few days, made crueler by national-flag burning, showed how the process of brainwashing put in place by the Communist ruling class towards the Chinese youth is actually real and dangerous for international stability. As a recent paper published in September confirms, China records one of the highest levels of popular nationalism in the world: this nationalism, however, is highly instrumental to regime stability and legitimacy. According to Wenfang Tang and Benjamin Darr, authors of the afore-mentioned research, through the education system Chinese people are constantly reminded of the ruthless Western invasion of China in the nineteenth century and the violent suppression of the Boxer Rebellion, ended up with fuelling violent nationalistic reactions against the “strangers”.


In this climate of widespread confrontation, what can be said about the likelihood of war? According to theory, nationalism increases the warfare ability of states in three ways: it allows them to set up large and powerful armies; its citizens guarantee a steady, constant and longstanding flow of resources even in military efforts; soldiers and military forces are not affected by the problem of desertion, given the strong ties of loyalty and solidarity with their own national community.

It is too early to even infer the possibility of a bellicose confrontation between China and Japan. It is however worth underlying the growing muscular role of the Japan’s Self-Defense Forces as well as its new security priorities: in the next few years, Japan’s government has planned heavy investments in helicopters and airplanes, and by 2015 the country has programmed to deploy troops in the East China Sea, just near the Senkaku archipelago.

Luckily, theory-making is primarily concerned with understanding reality, not predicting the future. As a matter of fact, prior to speaking about the possibility of war it is essential to consider a number of variables not yet implemented by policy-makers and officials (cooperation, diplomacy, changing of perception). Hopefully, this is exactly what other powers, such as the United States, are expecting from China and Japan, the second and the third economies in the world respectively.


Photo credit: ehnmark

Nationalism Rises: Survival, the State, and War.

Nationalism shaped the Clausewitzian concept of “absolute war”: before nationalism had became a powerful ideology during the French Revolution, power wars were fought for limited objectives and with limited means.


Nationalism War Realism Peace


A growing number of authors have recently focused their attention over the role and political implications of nationalism in shaping the international system. Stephen Walt has warned about the perils of ignoring the “strongest force in the world” for scholars and policy-makers, while Sebastian Rosato has underlined the progressive renationalisation of the EU’s economic and foreign policy as a consequence of political fears and incompatible economic preferences on the part of its members. In addition, Christopher Hughes has discovered the resurgence of the so-called geopolitik nationalism in the Chinese political debate.

As commendably summarized by Van Evera (1994), nationalism may be conceived of as a political movement and ideology that pushes nations, namely groups of individuals with common ethnic ties and loyalty towards their own belonging community, to desire their own independent state.

John J. Mearsheimer in his Kissing Cousins: Nationalism and Realism, paper written for the Yale Workshop on International Relations last year, analyzed the interaction between nationalism and the realist theory of International Relations. According to Mearsheimer, nationalism and realism are two particularistic theories, both deeply different from liberalism and Marxism given their universalistic approach.

By this token, their particularistic perspective privileges two basic concepts, namely survival and the state, and both of them affect the role and the likelihood of war. In fact, states are the key actors in international politics given their nature as autonomous units and the most powerful political institution in the world.


For both nationalism and realism, survival is a core concept even if they deal with different realms. According to structural realism, states are obliged to pursue a certain degree of relative power because of the anarchical structure of the system, in which them have no guarantee to be secured from external attacks and preserve their security. Nationalism is related to survival in at least three fundamental aspects: preservation of the “nation” or a given community of people; protection and reproduction of a unique cultural identity; defence of sovereignty.

Firstly, according to Anderson (1991) the nation is defined as an imagined political community. “Imagined” because its fellow-members will never know or meet most of their peers; by imagining themselves as a particular community of people with strong bonds. This kind of identification as members of the same nation is “limited” and finite, given that even the greatest nation has boundaries. Finally, the nation is imagined as a “community”: Anderson defines it as a horizontal comradeship. From that, it follows that each nation is characterized by an exceptional history and culture that in turn can be perpetuated and handed down within a given community. As Gellner stated in 1983, it is nationalism that engenders nations. Indeed, the former is conceived of as the imposition of a particular totalizing culture on society through schools and academy. Van Evera underlines the role of such institutions, along with history and literature teaching, in determining national self-consciousness and chauvinist mythmaking, deemed as the hallmark of all nationalism.

Nationalism is not conceivable without the idea of popular sovereignty, given that the growth of the former is substantiated by the integration of the masses into a common political form: namely, the state as a unit (Kohn, 1944), considered as necessary and the guarantee of liberty for the national communities who inhabit it (Renan, 1939).

The state

The modern state system is the main product of the interaction between nationalism and political realism. In particular, nations push for obtaining the nation-state in order to ensure a satisfactory degree of protection and security. Aside from considerations of political nature, historically speaking the emergence of the nation-state, and the related ideology of modern nationalism, has been historically identified by E.H. Carr (1945) between the Napoleonic Wars and 1914, during which occurred the identification of the “nation” with the “people” and the rejection of its dynastic form. On these bases the French Revolution broke out and the modern state spread in Europe as a juristic and territorial concept. In addition, within the industrial society of the nineteenth century, the nation-state proved to be the most suitable institution for providing economic growth and efficiency, by homogenizing people’s level of literacy, technical competences and cultural knowledge through the modern national educational system.


Lastly, Mearsheimer underlines three main advantages that nationalism provides to increase the warfare ability of states: it allows them to set up large and powerful armies; its citizens guarantee a steady, constant and longstanding flow of resources even in military efforts; soldiers and military forces are not affected by the problem of desertion, given the strong ties of loyalty and solidarity with their own national community.

As a matter of fact, the levée en masse, introduced within the French Constitution as an emergency wartime measure in 1793, marked a turning point in the development of modern armies. As an agent of the national community, the rise of mass army saw the concurrent and definitive decline of mercenary forces, replaced by an extensive national conscription and financed through taxes extracted from the population itself. According to Paret (1993), between 1800 and 1815 Napoleon gathered over 2 million men. In effect, these large military bodies were created for national self-defence and they represented a successful practice soon imitated by other nation-states concerned with survival and sovereignty protection.

Nonetheless, a large army incapable of maintaining its size at war might be not so useful: for this reason a constant flow of resources was necessary, for instance to acquire and keep manpower, weapon and supplies working and efficient. Nationalism, in this case, plays a crucial role: the conviction to preserve sovereignty, independence and prestige of the national state, makes available the essential resources (general growth of population, commerce and wealth) for expanding and physically maintaining mass military forces.

A final advantage resulting from the relationship between nationalism and military power lies in the sense of solidarity and loyalty among soldiers and towards their own nation-state. As Haas pointed out in 1986, nationalism is “the convergence of territorial and political loyalty” irrespective of affiliation (kinship, profession, religion, economic interest, race) but centred upon the common historical and cultural identity of given national community’s members.

As a result, nationalism shaped the Clausewitzian concept of “absolute war”: before nationalism had became a powerful ideology during the French Revolution, great power wars were fought for limited objectives and with limited means, while its absoluteness emerged in Europe when nationalism “enlarged and motivated European armies” (Ferguson, 2002).

Might this first analysis be applied to contemporary “nationalistic” disputes, such as those concerning East Asia, in order to understand and forecast eventual developments? To what extent is it possible to frame the the so-called “Asian Nationalism at Sea” through the aforementioned analysis? A further step in this direction will be delivered in my next article.


Photo Credit: Durhamskywriter

Australia’s Multiculturalism: Integrated or Racist?

Multiculturalism in Australia has flourished over the years and brought many positive contributions to its society. But the road to achieving an appreciation of multiculturalism is still a challenge.


Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 26 per cent of the Australian population was born overseas and 20 per cent of Australians have at least one parent born overseas (please note these statistics are based on the number of people who provided this information). We have 400 or more languages spoken at home and over 100 religions are practised by Australians (these statistics were supplied to me by the ABS).  The top ten countries of birth for the overseas born population are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China (not including Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Italy, Vietnam, Philippines, South Africa, Malaysia and Germany.


Early migrants originated mostly from England and Ireland and other European countries such as Germany. During the Gold Rush era in the 1850s, many migrants from around the world came seeking fortunes. The Chinese were among the first non-European migrants to arrive in Australia. Some Chinese migrants settled in Australia and formed societies, becoming a new community in Australia.  In 1901, the states of Australia voted to form the Federation of Australia. At that time, Australia was surging with nationalism, the Australian government aimed to preserve an Anglo-centric society and culture and thus the Federal Parliament passed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 or known as the “White Australia Policy”. The act sought to “place certain restrictions on immigration and… for the removal… of prohibited immigrants”.  White Australia Policy officially ended in 1976 under the Goth Whitlam Government.

A large wave of migration surged after the Second World War when Europeans from countries such as Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany, Turkey, and the Netherlands migrated to Australia to start a new life. In 1949, many Chinese fled China when the Communist government took power.

Migratory shift turned to Asia in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Many Vietnamese left Vietnam after the war, while a large wave of Cambodians escaped Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime. When East Timor declared independence in 1975, Indonesian troops invaded East Timor and captured the capital city Dili. This prompted many East Timorese to flee. Migration from the Balkans rose during the Yugoslav Wars and Chinese migration surged again after the Tiananmen Square Incident and post 1997 when Hong Kong was transferred back to China. Other migrants came from The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.

Recently, Australia has been receiving a new wave of migrants from areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Burma and countries from the Horn of Africa. These are our new and emerging communities, most of them escaped from war, famine and persecution.

Multiculturalism Today

Multiculturalism has made many significant changes in Australian society.  It has contributed to the local and national economy by contributing heavily to the restaurant and tourism industries, involvement in politics and government, and by sharing their culture, traditions and food with the Australian population. Many members from multicultural communities participate in community work and take leadership roles, promoting multiculturalism and facilitating cross-cultural understanding between their community and the wider community. Moreover, Australia has many community and not-for-profit organisations dedicated to supporting migrant communities.

Multiculturalism is strongly encouraged in Australia.  Each year, Canberra hosts the National Multicultural Festival. A national day called Harmony Day  celebrates Australian diversity, and an annual activity called Refugee Week  celebrates and recognises the positive impact refugees have made to Australian society. The government has developed initiatives such as the Australian Multicultural Council to encourage multicultural community members to participate in government policy consultation.

Despite these initiatives, multiculturalism is not always welcomed. A recent report completed by the University of Western Sydney surveyed 12,512 people from around Australia and revealed that almost half of them have negative views towards Muslims. This negativity was also directed at Asians (23.8%), Indigenous Australians (27.9%), Africans (27%) and Jewish people (23.3%) (results from the article can be read here,  and details of the survey through here). Racial tensions have led to instances of violence, such as the attacks on Indian international students and the infamous 2005 Cronulla Riots. Approximately 5000 Australians, mostly of Anglo and Celtic background, gathered to fight for Australian pride and “reclaim their beaches” after two Middle Eastern youths assaulted a Cronulla life guard. People with a Middle-Eastern background or appearance were also targeted.

Multiculturalism has made Australian society more vibrant, unique and has enabled us to learn and appreciate different cultures, languages, and beliefs, while becoming friends with people from different backgrounds. However, we are still a long way from achieving social harmony because there are still cultural barriers and discrimination that exist between mainstream Australian society and multicultural communities. Misunderstanding and ignorance are still prevalent in our society because we do not attempt to learn and understand different cultures in an open-minded and objective manner.


Photo Credit: Johnny Jet

Hizb ut-Tahrir & The 21st Century Caliphate

Despite being able to find some supporters, the party faces an uphill climb. With too many schisms within the Islamic world, Hizb ut-Tahrir will find it difficult to circumvent all of them through an ideal.


Hizb ut-Tahrir demo


On the surface, Britain seems like an unlikely location for the seat of the caliphate. However, many Islamist groups and individuals have called for the establishment of the caliphate, or khilafah from and in the United Kingdom. Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, established in Palestine in the early 1950s, found a platform in Britain from which to preach and spread its non-violent path to ‘true Islam’. It has found audiences and followers in Europe, Africa, Central Asia and recently, in South East Asia, especially Indonesia.

Following the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 and with no precisely designated succession plan, the newly Islamised Arabs were left leaderless. Thus began a long struggle, which arguable continues to this day, of who should lead the Islamic world. In recent times groups such as Al-Qaeda have called for a more violent struggle towards unity with a vanguard group at the helm. Ironically, but unsurprisingly perhaps, this is somewhat similar to Lenin’s concept of the vanguard to lead the communist revolution in Russia.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was formed during the Arab nationalist struggle of the 1950s. It wanted to unite the Arabs around Islam and saw the re-establishment of the caliphate as the best political system for the Arab world. Ultimately it failed in the Middle East – its call for a caliphate threatened the Arab monarchies, specifically Jordan where they had tried to register as a political party but were disallowed. Unable to preach openly, the group sought the religious freedom of the west and established itself in Britain in the 1980s.

In order to fit with the modern world, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been able to adjust its ideals to the 21st century. Their website talks of the establishment of a ‘modern caliphate’ that would encompass all, Muslim and non-Muslim. Its hierarchy, reminiscent of a corporation, has the caliph heading different designated departments, everything from finance to jihad.

Their message has been popular amongst the party’s target groups, including second-generation British born Muslims and Muslim students of different nationalities. Despite some scrutiny from the British government following the July 2003 bombings, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been allowed to continue to operate. Although they work fairly openly within the United Kingdom, it continues to look eastwards. Through pamphleteering and preaches, they remind followers and potential supporters that their struggle is not in the west.

Having established itself in Britain, Hizb ut-Tahrir has broadened its scope eastwards again, notably in Africa and Central Asia. Its members have targeted unstable countries where a caliphate could be offered as a potential solution. For instance in Zanzibar, where there had been some conflict between the Muslims and Christians, Hizb ut-Tahrir offered the caliphate as a solution. Condemning democracy as the way of the infidels, they promoted the establishment of an Islamic state.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has launched similar campaigns in Central Asia, specifically in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Their vision is to unite these three countries, together with China’s Xinjiang province as a way to kick-start the caliphate. However, in this respect Hizb ut-Tahrir has met strict resistance from the governments in this region. Undeterred, the party has most recently set up in South East Asia. A rally in Jakarta in 2007 saw an estimate of 80,000 followers call for the establishment of the caliphate.

Throughout its history, Hizb ut-Tahrir has remained true to its non-violent path. Despite backlash and suppression, they have only relied on preaching and campaigning in order to spread its messages and goals. A 2003 report by the International Crisis states clearly that the group has not been involved in any terrorist activity in Central Asia or elsewhere.

Hizb ut-Tahrir continues its campaign to establish a caliphate. Despite being able to find some supporters, the party faces an uphill climb. With too many schisms within the Islamic world, Hizb ut-Tahrir will find it difficult to circumvent all of them through an ideal.

American Exceptionalism & The Shaping Of US Foreign Policy

The resort to the nationalist ideology of American Exceptionalism by both sides of the political spectrum is not just a temporary electoral trick, but a signal of a deeper state of uncertainty and concern rooted in the history of the American republic.


american exceptionalism


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he growing electoral debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney has been focusing on, among many other issues, the meaning of American Exceptionalism, after years of dismissal from the public arena. This comeback to an ideological lexicon, concurrent with an historical period marked by economic turmoil and political uncertainty about the predominant role of the United States in international relations, can be explained by digging into its own origin in order to get a better understanding of what is now at stake within the current debate over the American greatness.

The resurgence of American Exceptionalism should be framed into the historical evolution of the concept, in order to relate it to the relevant political backdrop. Indeed, although many commentators attribute the coining of the term to Joseph Stalin in 1929 – who’s condemnation of American Exceptionalism was based on capitalism being an exception to Marxism’s universal laws – the ideological roots are to be found in the famous puritan John Winthrop’s speech in 1630. Winthrop alluded to the Arabella’s passengers escaping England as the “city upon the hill” for future people: drawing upon Matthew 5:14–15, Winthrop articulated his vision of the forthcoming Puritan colony in New England as an example of a truly godly society to be admired and imitated by England and the world.

However, Thomas Paine made the greatest contribution to the definition of the American national ideology, when in his “Common Sense” pamphlet written in 1776 he described America as a the rampart of liberty for the world. In addition, the French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville confirmed such a self-perception of political uniqueness in 1840.

What is interesting, and worth noting, is that the ideology of exceptionalism, coupled with a keen interest in commercial trade, marked the first years of American independence with a new kind of foreign policy approach characterized by the intertwined relationship between interests, values and self-representation, by working as the mobilizing domestic driver of the American role in the world. As a matter of fact, as the Italian historian Mario Del Pero puts it, unilateralist foreign policies have been implemented every time national interest and international inspiration overlapped, by reflecting on international level the nationalist rhetoric (as occurred in 1898, 1914, 1941 and recently along with the neo-conservative political resurgence), in order to give Americans order to their vision of the world and defining their place within it.

Despite some prominent scholars (such as Stephen Walt) having tried to debunk the myth of American Exceptionalism and to rule it out from the possible explanatory variables of US foreign policy, stressing that its conduct has been determined firstly by the relative power and the competitive nature of international politics, contemporary debate has refocused its attention on this issue. This resurgence has come about in no small part due to some surveys carried out by Gallup, according to which American nationalism is booming within the United States: 80% of its population believes in the unique character of their country because of its history and possession of a constitution that make it a different, and the greatest nation in the world.

Indeed, nationalism is quite a common means for uniting divided populations and can act on two different levels: domestic and international. As for the former, nationalism comes out as unifying and mobilizing factor when economic difficulties and political challenges arise. For instance, national reaction and popular refusal to the “Malaise Speech” by President Carter in 1979, gave a big thrust to the Reaganian propaganda on international level: as a matter of fact, the 40th President of the United States based his electoral campaign on the saving role of the American leadership against the Evil Empire led by the Soviet Union.

Currently, given the end of the unipolar moment, the beleaguered state of American economy combined with its military troubles (with its expenditure being cut and it being overstretched from East Asia to Western Europe), as well as an increasing dysfunctional governance and the decline of American legitimacy abroad, the United States is in a very uncomfortable position. The resort to the nationalist ideology of American Exceptionalism by both sides of the political spectrum is not just a temporary electoral trick, but a signal of a deeper state of uncertainty and concern rooted in the history of the American republic.

The Falkland, Las Malvinas

Falkland/Malvinas: Identity Crisis
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}




ʻNational unity is always effected by means of brutalityʼ, Ernest Renan(1)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he thirty year anniversary of the Falklands/Malvinas War was commemorated in both Britain and Argentina just weeks ago with much ceremony, speeches and media coverage. For the past five years, Argentina has reasserted its claim to the islands more vocally, takings its complaint of the ʻillegitimateʼ UK presence to the United Nations. Tensions have been rising, with Argentina drumming up allies and imposing embargoes on vessels flying the Falklands flag in Argentinean waters, going so far as to persuade Chile to restrict or ban flights to the islands, further isolating the residents and increasing the sense of ʻencirclementʼ.(2) British Prime Minister David Cameron, among others, retaliated in a show of political posturing, not only with British naval presence near the Islands, but also rather curiously by accusing Argentina of possessing a ʻcolonialist attitudeʼ.(3)

National identity played, and continues to play, a significant role in the perpetuation of the conflict. The aim of this analysis is to review current displays of nationalism and portrayals of national identity in Argentina and Britain with reference to the domestic and international circumstances at the time of the invasion in 1982 and thus to discern the key factors and justifications on both sides of the conflict. In order to do this, the author will conduct a theoretical analysis of the construction and securitization of national identity in both nation-states. The analysis will first analyze Michael Billigʼs ʻbanal nationalismʼ, often associated with this historic dispute, incorporating its foundations in Roland Barthesʼ semiological analysis of myth-symbols. The analysis will then look at an alternative approach through Benedict Andersonʼs ʻimagined communitiesʼ. During the analysis a number of examples will be discussed including language, symbols, speeches and events from the years preceding the war to the present day in order to view the way in which these displays of nationalism and representations of national identity are perpetuated and received.


Before we define nationalism and national identity, it is useful to have an understanding of what exactly constitutes a nation. The ʻnationʼ can be viewed as a distinctive group of people dwelling in a specific territory, the members of which may or may not be ancestrally related.(4) A ʻquasi-mythical bondʼ is assumed between the group and the territory.(5) Alternatively, the nation can be viewed as a social construction, the character of which forms the basis for political strategies.(6) It has been argued that the nation is a contingency rather than a necessity.(7)

In the framework of this thesis, it is useful to view the nation-state, as represented by its central political institutions, in a dual capacity as legitimate if its internal members, as well as external counterparts, accept its sovereignty. This is particularly relevant considering the popular opinion that the Argentinean military dictatorship at the time of the 1982 invasion sought a ʻjust warʼ to seal its sovereignty.(8) The same applies when considering successive British governments attempts to maintain popularity and unity amidst shifting political spectrums and economic crises, and how the island dispute can effect this in the creation of a common enemy.

Nationalism is ʻprimarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruentʼ(9) Alternatively, nationalism is ʻan ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a human population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ʻnationʼʼ.(10) Another perspective is that nationalism refers to the largest group of people with common descent, whereas ʻpatriotismʼ refers to civic and state affiliations.(11) These definitions show the difficulty in agreeing upon a universal formula for nationalism because a particular understanding of ʻnationʼ is presupposed.

Expressions of nationalism are one form of identity, as well as ethnicity, religion, language and of course gender. National identity involves a form of political community, which implies common institutions, rights and duties as well as the assumption of a common and finite social space within a fixed territory. National ʻidentityʼ implies that the members identify with, and feel they belong to, this fixed space.(12)

The Bold…

Constructivism argues that ʻinterests and identities are informed by norms which guide actors (states) along certain socially prescribed channels of ʻappropriateʼ ehaviour[sic]ʼ.(13) States, in their formation, look to apparently ʻlegitimateʼ behaviors and actions, which are not known a priori, but are based on the domestic and international circumstances in which they find themselves. Following this framework it is possible to analyze the depictions of Argentine and British national identities, and also how they can be categorized as ʻhotʼ or ʻbanalʼ, but exist ultimately in the aim of ʻimaginingʼ or creating national fervor around the Falkland/Malvinas dispute, or in reaction to the circumstances surrounding the dispute.

National identity can be employed to create or consolidate political legitimacy. ʻHotterʼ forms of nationalism such as the existence of causa Malvinas and vocal Argentinean expressions of ʻincompletenessʼ add fuel to the fire for groups of people not (yet) connected to the dispute. It must be acknowledged that criticisms of extreme Argentinean nationalism came predominantly from British governments, and that the present Argentinean government has attempted to depict ʻcoolerʼ territorial nationalism in its use of the UN as arbitrator.(14) Nevertheless, bold displays of nationalism, such as visits to strategically chosen locations such as la plaza de las Malvinas in Ushuaia by President Kirchner, as well as aggressive political posturing between Kirchner and Prime Minister David Cameron, are in direct contrast to the everyday, unnoticed reminders of national symbols which will be discussed later.

However, there are two dimensions to such bold displays of nationalism. As Matthew Benwell and Klaus Dodds point out, public expressions of national identity and attempts at solidarity such as Kirchnerʼs 2010 visit to Ushuaia – far south of Buenos Aires – have limited audiences, environmental conditions reduce the potential for large crowds of ʻflag waversʼ. Whilst ceremonies serve as ʻbanalʼ yearly reminders of the continuing relevance of the conflict, it has limited reach because it presupposes a ʻquasi-mythicalʼ bond between the average Argentine and the Malvinas. The study conducted by Benwell and Dodds shows the opposite relationship to be true. Young people interviewed, most born at the time of or after the conflict, did not see a ʻpurposeʼ to the islands and some questioned, ʻwhat nation?ʼ, depicting a major disconnect between Argentinean political rhetoric on national belonging and the younger voting generations.(15)

One of the hottest examples of nationalism for both nation-states arises in the discussion of UN Resolution 2065 on the Falklands/Malvinas ʻquestionʼ, based upon Resolution 1514. Resolution 1514 is informed by a conviction that ʻall peoples have an inalienable right to […] the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territoryʼ.(16) Argentina bases its accusation of ʻillegalʼ British presence upon this resolution, whilst its own claim is ostensibly territorial, refusing to acknowledge the rights or interests of the Islanders, whom they see as ethnically British settlers on a territory of Spanish inheritance. Resolution 2065 explicitly cites the interests of the Islanders.(17) These differences in legalistic stances reveal diverse perspectives on national identity. The British government has maintained that ʻit is the inalienable right of the Falkland Islanders to decide where sovereignty lies.ʼ(18) The previous British assertion was on the basis of long-term peaceful administration of the Islands since 1833. On the other hand, Argentina upholds territorial integrity over the rights of the population which is at odds with liberal democratic principles as well as Argentinaʼs past as a colonial territory and former military dictatorship – a past from which it is eager to distance itself. D. George Boyce highlights the inconsistency of a ʻcomparatively […] new nation […] comprised largely of immigrants […] seeking to make good its claim to the Falklands on anti-colonial groundsʼ.(19) Both nation-states appear to have a negative view of colonialism in line with UN Conventions, yet both accuse the other of maintaining just such an attitude.(20)

British national identity, in its overt manifestations, is somewhat more muted than that of Argentina. However, in the past decade or so, successive British governments have attempted to construct a greater sense of national belonging, more akin to American ʻflag wavingʼ, in the light of international terrorism, economic crises and widespread rioting in 2011. Understandably, British national identity is currently somewhat fragmented considering potential Scottish evolution, which has led to more regionalized nationalisms. There has been a significant debate on ʻEnglishnessʼ, rather than ʻBritishnessʼ – a conversation that occurs in peaks and troughs during times of duress, and which has a significant impact on Britonsʼ ability to identify with the culturally identical, yet geographically removed, Falklanders.(21) Similar to the disillusionment of young Argentines, Britons are less concerned with continued administration of, and sovereignty over, the Islands and are arguably more attuned to political pandering and diversionary tactics in the domestic space.(22)

Comparing British positions past and present, the circumstances do not appear to be drastically different. Whilst the United Kingdomʼs place on the international stage has increased in prominence, as has Argentinaʼs in light of a burgeoning Latin American economy, there is still a worldwide economic crisis and a significant national debt. Recent budget cuts have presented different angles on the debate, for example, in late 2010, retired naval commanders wrote to The Times to express their concern at defense cuts and the reining in of armed forces in the region, amidst fears that this was tantamount inviting Argentina to invade again. However, it was suggested that relations with Argentina had improved drastically, Argentine veterans ʻcome [to the Island] to bury the ghost. People here donʼt show any aggression to them.ʼ(23) This exemplifies the major disconnect between the reality of the situation between the islanders, those explicitly connected to the conflict and the general public, as well as those with outside interests such as politicians, pundits and military personnel; this highlights the mixed receptions to and justifications for ʻhotʼ nationalism.

…The Banal…

Argentinean nationalism has been analyzed in relation to Michael Billigʼs concept of ʻbanal nationalismʼ. Benwell and Dodds argue that research into territorial nationalism should not ignore the wider spatial, temporal and everyday contexts, concluding that interest in the ʻMalvinasʼ issue varies in intensity depending not only on wider social, political and economic circumstances, but also on the geographic location under consideration and familial circumstances of the individual.(24) An important example is the national remembrance day of the war on April 2nd in both nation-states. For the average Argentine this provides a regular, annual reminder of the contemporary relevance of the dispute, bringing las Islas Malvinas to the fore of public consciousness. In Britain also the remembrance day brings weeks of media attention, causing parts of the public to fulminate against the issue.(25)

Benwell and Dodds highlight two issues with continuous ʻforgettingʼ in Argentina which constitute two sides of the same issue: in evoking the memory of the conflict as a representation of national identity and unity, the sense of ʻincompletenessʼ that the lack of sovereignty of the islands inflicts on Argentinean national identity is perpetuated. As discussed briefly above, this in turn is exacerbated by the disparity between the theatre of action and the individual – not only in the framework of the past conflict, but also in the present circumstances, in which the average citizen – Argentinean or British – cannot comprehend the reality of the islands in their geographically and/or culturally removed existence, but is nonetheless presented with an identity crisis.

The use of language, gendering in particular, is another aspect of banal nationalism in this case. Las Malvinas were referred to as ʻthe little lost sistersʼ, evoking a sense of feminine vulnerability.(26) Masculine terminology is ʻcolonizingʼ whilst feminine terminology is ʻcolonizedʼ.(27) In addition, the use of phrases and slogans such as ʻlas Malvinas son argentinosʼ (the Malvinas are Argentine) in rhetoric and propaganda perpetuates not only the use of a specific name – ʻMalvinasʼ rather than ʻFalklandsʼ – but also the possessive nature of the claim. Interestingly, such slogans refer to the islands only, and not the islanders themselves. However, Benwell and Dodds highlight that not all generations and regions identify with the narrative of ownership. Boyce states that the Islanders are seen as ʻBritish, kith and kin of the home nation, speaking in familiar accentsʼ.(28) It is implied that shared language and heredity unite people to a nation more forcefully than the Argentinean connection to the Malvinas soil.

Cultural symbolism adds to this picture under Barthesʼ thesis on the layering of meaning onto seemingly arbitrary objects. Argentina has created a furore by making concerted efforts to prevent civilian vessels flying the Falklands flag from entering their waters, also persuading vital British allies such as Chile to follow suit. This has been contested in the words of an Argentinean student as a ʻbig lie […] all they have to do is change the Falklands flag for a British flag and they can sail into portʼ.29 Whilst the islands are seen as a ʻsymbol of patriotismʼ, an Argentinean filmmaker, Tamara Florin, stated upon her visit to the islands that the people ʻeat fish and chips […], theyʼre Britishʼ. She states unequivocally that ʻthere is nothing Argentinean about the islandsʼ except perhaps the landscape and the active landmines left behind by Argentine forces during the conflict 30 years ago – a far from positive legacy to the islands.(30)

…And The Imagined.

Benedict Andersonʼs ʻimagined communitiesʼ is relevant when considering the aforementioned disconnect between the reality of the Islands and the ʻeverymanʼ Argentinean or Briton. Whilst some aspects of ʻbanal nationalismʼ are more effective (and affective) than others, in truth most citizens of either nation-state will never visit the islands, thus a sense of connectedness has to be ʻimaginedʼ or ʻinventedʼ in order to maintain the relevance of the issue. Some examples to this end have already been given such as language, gendering, place names and ceremonies. However, thus far neither hot nor banal nationalism has fully explained the perpetuation of these symbols and their assumed ʻnaturalnessʼ – both overt and unconscious displays of national identity have varied absorption and reaction depending on spatial and temporal geographies.

Anderson argues that after the French Revolution the ʻnationʼ transformed into an ʻinventionʼ widely available for any prospective nation.(31) Indeed, Argentinaʼs transformation to a liberal democracy, and more importantly its past as a Spanish colony, could be said to involve much of this ʻinventednessʼ and the island dispute is ostensibly a significant factor in the full realization of a truly Argentinean national identity. Carlos Escudé argues that the remaining territorial nationalism in Spanish-speaking countries is a hindrance in regional and international cooperation and integration, citing the ʻindoctrination of public opinion through the educational systems and the mass mediaʼ.(32) He continues that ʻthe educational system appears to have been successful in the dissemination of the myth of Argentine territorial lossesʼ.(33) Boyce also states that ʻBritish children were not taught (as were Argentine children) that the islands were rightfully theirsʼ.(34)

Vicente Palermo argues that the island dispute is ʻdivisive and polarising [sic]ʼ; its place at the forefront of Argentine foreign policy affects its external relations and its ʻthinkingʼ. Thus, Argentina is reacting to the continuation of the dispute in its present democratic format with policy that affects the construction and reconstruction of national identity. ʻReconstructionʼ indicates that national identity is constantly morphing and shifting in line with domestic, regional and international landscapes. As Escudé states, in the national imagining, the historically derived perceptions of territorial losses created sensitivities which escalated ʻgrotesquely unimportant issues, preventing a much needed economic integration [and contributed] to push Argentina into a ludicrous, unwinnable and criminal war in 1982.ʼ(35)

In contrast, British national identity is constructed and ʻimaginedʼ by maintaining the rhetoric of self-determination for the Islanders, and is thus also ʻinventedʼ (in this case) in reaction to the dispute. It is considered a noble cause to defend the rights of a people faced with territorial expansionists whose cartographic policy continually draws and redraws their habitat in ever-encroaching boundaries.(36) At the same time, whilst it is appealing to perpetuate British national identity as a champion of democracy, it is constructed with the same pride, tantamount to pigheadedness, seen in the Argentine constitutional governmentʼs unwillingness to approach a negotiation that both would consider a capitulation.


In summary, Argentine national identity has undergone major shifts in the past 30 years through changing governments and economic situations. Whilst asserting its claim as a liberal democracy through the United Nations, Argentina continues to display quite ʻhotʼ forms of nationalism which have the potential to cascade to future generations who inherit the conflict. However, as shown, the potential for this to occur depends on geographies and individual affiliations – the assumed ʻnaturalnessʼ of banal references to the Malvinas in the Argentinean ʻimaginingʼ have varying levels of absorption across different demographics.

British national identity is similarly framed upon its history as a colonial Empire, seen in the light of global decolonization and the increasing role of the United Nations as an extremely negative legacy for which it must atone. Thus, national identity rebounds and reacts to the dispute, Britain assumes the role of defender of a weak island populace and its right to choose sovereignty, turning the conflict on its head and returning the colonialist accusation to its Argentinean opposition. The current domestic situation in both nationstates reflects their need to perpetuate the sovereignty dispute – President Kircher is being forced to implement the first budget cuts that a Peronist government has ever had to do, as well as maintaining the status quo stance on non-capitulation to territorial claims to avoid the self-perpetuating sense of national ʻincompletenessʼ whilst contending with the cultural disconnect between Islanders and Argentines. British national identity is imagined and reinforced in relation to its domestic economic and identity crises, but more importantly, this identity is created and reinforced through reminders of ethnic, cultural and linguistic similarities with the Falklanders in order to bridge the geographic distance that creates a disconnect between the Islanders and Britons on the mainland.

In short, both national identities derive characteristics from their own histories as well as their interactions with each other in the the perpetuation of the conflict. Nationalist fervor in both nation-states varies in strength depending on domestic and international climates, but both perspectives on the islands are ʻimaginedʼ to create a sense of connectedness, and justification for claims to the Falklands/Malvinas.

[toggle title=”Citations and Bibliography”]


1 Renan (1990) p.11
2 Beckett (2012)
3 Ibid.
4 Ozkirimli (2005) p.18
5 Penrose in Jackson & Penrose (eds.) (1993) p.29
6 Mohan (1999) p.28
7 Gellner (2006) pp.6-7
8 Boyce (2005) p.3
9 Gellner (2006) p.6
10 Smith (2004) p.198
11 Walker Connor cited in Ibid. p.200
12 Smith (1991) p.9
13 Hobson (2003) p.146 emphasis added
14 Benwell & Dodds (2011) p.442
15 Ibid. p.445-446
16 UN (Dec 1960)
17 UN (Dec 1965)
18 House of Commons (2012)
19 Boyce (2005) p.11
20 Watt (2012)
21 Mohan (1999) p.29
22 Jenkins (2012)
23 Weaver (2010)
24 Benwell & Dodds (2012)
25 Watt (2012)
26 Escudé (1988) p.164
27 Hobson (2003) p.162
28 Boyce (2005) p.4
29 Goni (2012)
30 First citation Benwell & Dodds (2012) p.446, thereafter Goni (2012)
31 Anderson (1991) p.67
32 Escudé (1988) p.139
33 Ibid. p.157
34 Boyce (2005) p.6
35 Escudé (1988) p.152
36 Ibid. p.160


Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London & New York: Verso [rev. ed.] 1991 [1983])
James Aulich (ed.), Framing the Falklands War: Nationhood, Culture and Identity (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1992)
Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Seuil,1957)
Matthew C. Benwell & Klaus Dodds, ʻArgentine territorial nationalism revisited: The Malvinas/Falklands dispute and geographies of everyday nationalismʼ, Political Geography, Vo. 30 (2011), pp. 441 – 449
Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London, California & New Delhi: Sage, 2002 [1995])
D. George Boyce, The Falklands War, (Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2005)
John Breuilly, Nationalism and the State [2nd ed.] (Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 1993)
Peter Calvert, Border and Territorial Disputes of the World 4th edition (London: John Harper, 2004)
Peter Calvert, ʻSovereignty and the Falklands Crisisʼ, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs), Vol. 59, No. 3 (Summer 1983), pp. 405 – 413
Carlos Escudé, ʻArgentine territorial nationalismʼ, Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1988), pp. 139 – 165
Kevin Foster, Fighting Fictions: war, narrative and national identity (Cambridge: Pluto Press, 1999)
Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism [2nd ed.] (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006 [1983])
Uki Goni, ʻʻThe Falklanders eat fish and chips. How can they belong to Argentina?ʼʼ, The Guardian, (January 28th 2012)
Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000 [1983])
House of Commons, Daily Hansard Commons Debates: Falkland Islands, (January 31st 2012)
John Mohan, A United Kingdom? Economic, Social and Political Geographies, (London: Arnold, 1999)
Vicente Palermo, ʻFalklands/Malvinas: In Search of Common Groundʼ, Political Insight, (April 2012)
Ernest Renan, ‘What is a Nation?’ (translated by M. Thom), in Homi Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration, (London: Routledge, 1990 [1882]), pp. 8 – 22
Stephen A. Royle, ʻPostcolonial Culture on Dependent Islandsʼ, Space and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 2, (2010) pp. 203 – 215
Anthony D. Smith, National Identity, (London: Penguin, 1991)
United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 1514 (XV) – ʻDeclaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoplesʼ, (December 14th 1960 – 15th Session)
United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 2065 (XX) – ʻQuestion of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)ʼ, (December 16th 1965 – 20th Session)


The Rise Of The Far-Right In French Politics

The events of this presidential election both recognize the newly gained power of the far-right movement in France and further the process of mainstreaming its radical stances on immigration and economic policy.



The Socialist party’s François Hollande may have come in first in round one of the French presidential elections, but the third place spot earned by the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen is has been one of the biggest news stories in French electoral politics. She brought in nearly 18 percent of the vote, the highest percentage yet won by the National Front. Le Pen, the daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, gave a speech that was a clear indication of the new strength that the National Front has taken from this success. “The battle for France has only just begun,” she declared. “We are now the only real opposition.”

This far-right opposition, and the battle they are intent on waging, should be taken seriously. The National Front bases itself on a vigorously protectionist and anti-establishment populism that can be found on the rise in the politics of countries across Europe. A large survey last fall, conducted by British think tank Demos, revealed a powerful swell of far-right allegiance all across Europe, most notably among younger men.

Far-right stances like this that centre on a mix of economic rage and identity politics have gained traction in Hungary with the Jobbik party, and in the Netherlands, where politician Geert Wilders, who has compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, is successfully capitalizing on anti-immigrant nationalism in his ascendancy. In Germany, the hard right National Democratic Party is targeting a broader base of support by embracing the environmental movement.

The eurosceptic nationalism associated with Le Pen’s campaign is focused on protectionist sentiment and anti-immigration stances. Le Pen’s support for opting out of the Eurozone appeals especially to voters like those in rural France who feel victimized economically by the EU’s economic decision-making and austerity measures. Voters like these also feel threatened by immigrants, whom they see as competition for employment in a tough economy. They are attracted by the fact that she wants immigration to France reduced to only 10,000 people a year.

Le Pen has very successfully framed her closed-border stances in highly economic terms, directly attributing economic hardship to the waste and cost and competition brought by multiculturalist approaches, globalization and European integration. Using support for this position to challenge the character of her opponents, she asked: “Who between Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy willimpose the austerity plan in the most servile way? Who will submit the best to the instructions of the IMF, the ECB or the European Commission?” Statements like this one reflect the National Front’s powerful rhetorical marriage of questions of national character and identity with the populist politics of economic fear and anger.

NPR quoted a handful of National Front supporters in rural France who listed their primary concerns as the supposed double threat of the Eurozone and immigration. A man named Remy Boursot in Chambolle Musigny said, “As a winegrower, it’s Europe that dictates my life. We’ve lost our sovereignty, and this has killed our small businesses and artisans. We have to get out of the euro currency. And with unemployment on the rise, we hardly need mass immigration.” His words demonstrate another characteristic of this far-right populism: a sense of demand and urgency, spurred on by a feeling of personal loss and voicelessness.

Unsurprisingly, a particularly popular target of this kind of threat-driven identity politics, and even in more mainstream French politics, is Islam. Islam is portrayed as a growing threat to French communities, and many of the French who threw their support behind the National Front see Islam as, in Le Pen’s words, “advancing into neighbourhoods“. France has the highest Muslim population in Western Europe, at 5 million, and has serious struggles with cultural and political Islamophobia. Undoubtedly, capitalising on these struggles has done the far-right and Marine Le Pen great favours in their ascent.

Despite the intensity of Le Pen’s stances, her far-right appeal has found an unsettling niche among the young electorate. Her more contemporary appeal and her more flexible stances on issues like abortion have made her and her party more widely attractive. For the younger voting demographic, Le Pen ranked number one among the ten candidates on the first presidential ballot. In April of last year, polling results put her in second place between Hollande and Sarkozy among 18 to 22 year olds and a March 2011 study from the CSA Institute comparing three separate polls put her at first place among potential voters in the 18 to 26 range. These numbers show an unexpected youth power behind Le Pen, given her far-right position. Nonna Meyer, of Sciences Po, told the AP that her youth appeal is explained by a rhetorical shift away from her father’s style: “She’s younger, she’s a woman, she condemns anti-Semitism. She often says things differently than her father. She says she is tolerant, it is Islam that is intolerant … She upends the discourse.”

Other parties have begun to try to appeal to the demands and desires of the popular support for parties like the National Front. Following Le Pen’s showing in round one, both the victorious Socialist candidate Hollande and the second place finisher and incumbent defender Sarkozy have made motions to try and win over support from that wing of the French political dynamic. Hollande, who looks likely to be France’s next president, has done this to a lesser extent. Sarkozy, however, sees the far right as his only chance to hold on to the presidency and has hardened his positions on the EU, immigration and Islam to curry favour with Le Pen’s National Front supporters. Most of their vote is predicted to go to him, although this isn’t expected to win him the election. Esteban Pratviel of the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique says that Sarkozy would need more than 70 percent of Le Pen‘s supporters, and to simultaneously keep the centrist electorate. Le Pen herself refuses to do her opponents any favours, saying firmly that she would be casting a blank ballot in protest in Sunday‘s run-off election.

The National Front will not win this presidency, nor will many of their voters throw their support behind Hollande, who is the likeliest candidate, but they have certainly been granted new status in the French political dynamic. We haven’t seen the last of the National Front this year. Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion, stands a very solid chance of becoming one of the party‘s first MPs since the 1986 elections when parliamentary elections come around in June. The events of this presidential election both recognize the newly gained power of the far-right movement in France and further the process of mainstreaming its radical stances on immigration and economic policy. This rise in far-right support, both in France and across Europe, is one of the dangerous and potentially lasting side effects of a Europe struggling with economic crisis.

Ahmadinejad, Poster Boy, No Longer: Iran’s Internal Power Struggle

Unless there is a radial change, it would seem that ultimately, Khamenei, with the final say in just about everything, has beaten Ahmadinejad.



[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring a trip to Tehran in October 2011, I was astonished to see only one banner displaying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s picture (in comparison, the image of Iran’s current head of state, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was displayed just about everywhere, more often than not, alongside Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran). This did not seem to reflect the coverage the current Iranian President receives in the international media.

It would seem that definitely in Iran, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei’s recent rivalry has been a very public affair. Their conflict sheds light on the visible split within the conservative coalition in Iran: between those who support the supremacy of the clerical elite and the neo-conservatives led by Ahmadinejad and his supporters, who question that supremacy.

Following the controversial 2009 elections, Ahmadinejad had initially received the backing of Khamenei. But now, no longer the clerical elite’s poster-boy, Ahmadinejad has just about become its Macbeth. However, unlike Shakespeare’s Duncan, Khamenei has put up a formidable fight.

Several reasons can explain the souring of the relationship between the two leaders. It has been suggested that at the heart of the conflict is a convergence over two different visions of the Islamic Republic: Khamenei wants to understandably maintain the theocracy, whereas Ahmadinejad seeks to marginalise clerical rule and establish his own brand of conservatism. What is clear is that both parties want to justify their raison d’être.

With his own blueprint for Iran, Ahmadinejad has sought different ways to legitimise his power. One of Ahmadinejad’s chief supporters is his Chief of Staff and brother-in-law, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei. In seeking new ways to remain relevant, Mashaei and Ahmadinejad have looked to the past by trying to become champions of Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage. This was seen through their extensive promotion of an exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder, which dates back to the 6th Century BCE during the reign of Cyrus the Great. As an alternative source of legitimisation, Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage is a source of great pride to many Iranians. And as such, it is a potent challenge to the position of the jurists.

Make no mistake: Ahmadinejad is a nationalist. To say he is Iran’s present-day Muhammad Mussadiq – the Iranian Prime Minister who nationalised Iran’s oil in 1951 – is a step too far, although it could be claimed that nuclear power is Iran’s 21st Century national resource and therefore a symbol of its sovereignty. By claiming thus, a cynic could conclude that this is yet another way in which he seeks to remain relevant. Indeed, Khamenei has accused Ahmadinejad of making the nuclear issue a personal, rather than a national, crusade.

However, it should be noted that the rivalry between the offices of the Supreme Leader and the Presidency is not new. Indeed, it has already been suggested that Ahmadinejad has simply fallen into the all too familiar pattern of previous Iranian Presidents, who upon reaching their second (and final) term, realise that their position has been marginalised by the clerics. Indeed, Iran’s previous reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, experienced this: he faced opposition from the Supreme Leader and the more conservative factions within government. Although Khatami was willing for more engagement with Western nations, Khamenei always had the final say in foreign affairs. Ahmadinejad has found himself in a similar position.

The current struggle between the President and the Supreme Leader has played out over the appointment of ministers, accusations, undermining of the other’s power bases, and arrests of supporters. The struggle over ministers was a main symptom of the conflict. **In April 2011, Ahmadinejad made efforts to remove Khamenei’s intelligence minster, Heydar Moslehi but he was overruled. A month later, Ahmadinejad removed the ministers of oil, industry and mining, and social welfare; but when he sought to take on the oil ministry, the Guardian Council, Iran’s highest legislative body, regarded it as an illegal move.

In retaliation to Ahmadinejad’s disobedience, Khamenei’s supporters have branded Ahmadinejad and his followers as a “deviant movement”. The Supreme Leader has even gone so far as to suggest the abolishment of the office of the President. **Recently, the Iranian Parliament summoned Ahmadinejad where he was scrutinised over his policies, as well as his supposed confrontation with the Supreme Leader. As the first President in the Republic’s history to be questioned in such a manner, Ahmadinejad’s credibility continues to be attacked.

With the Presidential election coming up, Ahmadinejad continues to desperately seek ways in which he can legitimise his position and political legacy: it is rumoured that he is grooming Mashaei as his successor. Another possible candidate to the Presidency, Tehran’s current mayor, Mohammad Qalibaf, has openly sided with Khamenei. Indeed, one would have to in order to be considered as a possible candidate for the election. Unless there is a radial change, it would seem that ultimately, Khamenei, with the final say in just about everything, has won the conflict. Ahmadinejad, despite all his efforts, can only hope for the best for his political legacy.

What International Relations Theory Means To Policy-Makers

International relations: balance of threat, soft power and the international political economy.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he study of IR as an academic subject cannot overlook the political implications of its own theoretical frameworks (Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, English school) and, in so doing, it has to take account of the usability of such theories for policy-makers and those interested in applying them to the contemporary issues of international politics. For the purpose of this article, three main concepts belonging to the study of International Relations are going to be briefly depicted: the balance of threat, soft power and, that wide and fascinating subject commonly referred to as International Political Economy.

Balance of threat

Introduced during the last years of the Cold War by Stephen M. Walt, and firstly published in an article entitled Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power (1985), the balance of threat theory provides an original explanation for the balancing behaviours in the bipolar world. By refining and reformulating some classical assumptions about the central role of power, Walt makes a central contribution to the development of neorealist theories of international relations.

According to balance of threat theory, states choose allies in order to balance against the most serious threat perceived. In addition to the importance of aggregate power (comprised of territorial size, population and economic capabilities), the threat is also composed of geographical proximity, offensive (or military) capabilities and perceived intentions. As the state that poses the greatest threat is not the most endowed with military strength, Walt argues that the more a state perceives a rising state as possessing these qualities, the more likely it will be to deem it as a threat and balance against it accordingly. Admittedly, such a theory has been also inspired by a variety of studies carried out in those years by R. Jervis on the importance of psychological factors and it can be viewed as the first but unaccomplished attempt to introduce the role of ideas in IR within the realist framework.

Applied to the US-Soviet international confrontation, balance of threat theory explains why a more powerful coalition formed in response to a threatening coalition and why alliances form in response to regional threats still today. For instance, taking China as a potential threat for the US, the former currently lacks powerful offensive capabilities, although possesses a great deal of aggregate power, is relatively geographical proximate (the Pacific Ocean) and has enacted increasingly non-cooperative political actions since the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008.

Soft power

What precisely does Joseph Nye mean by soft power? According to him, military and economic power are at odds with such a definition, as they are peculiar examples of hard power that can be used to induce others to change their decisions. As a result, soft power can be defined as an alternative source of indirect strength in world politics based on the attraction and admiration towards values, material and economic prosperity, and openness provoked by an external country.

Rather than threats, coercion or payments, a country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies as factors capable to influence states’ behaviours of the international system. One of the first thinker to have elaborated a similar theoretical perspective was Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s. Speaking about the process of Americanization in the Western world, he clearly understood that lifestyle, or even different industrial models of production (such as Fordism) and the consequent cultural reflections in structuring society, could play a relevant role in determining other state’s preferences and imitations. Political and social values, and culture in addition, are prominent elements, as lamented by the French Socialist politician Hubert Védrine, of the American power, because they can “inspire the dreams and desires of others, thanks to the mastery of global images through film and television and because, for these same reasons, large numbers of students from other countries come the United States to finish their studies”. Nye’s conviction is that the transformative character of power will, in this century, rest on a mix of military, economic and soft drivers.

As a matter of fact, the current struggle against international terrorism has increased the relevance of soft power. While the US is unrivalled militarily, it cannot monitor every corner on the globe and, for this reason, it has to appeal to a mutuality of interests with other states, creating an attraction of shared values and adopting the so-called “smart strategy” invoked and put in practice by the Secretary of State Clinton: indeed, a smart power strategy combines hard and soft power resources under the aegis of public diplomacy and multilateralism.

International Political Economy

International political economy (IPE) was developed as a significant subfield in the study of International Relations in the 1970s. At the beginning of that decade, the global economy suffered a period of turbulence following an unprecedented period of stable economic growth, which also benefited less developed countries. The unilateral choice of the Nixon administration to change the value of the dollar (expressed in terms of the price of gold), brought about the removal of the system of fixed exchange rates, starting the gradual loss in effectiveness of the Bretton Woods financial system.

Insofar as the IPE is focused on the interrelationships between public and private power in the allocation of scarce resources, Susan Strange described its method of analysis as concerned with the social, political and economic arrangements affecting the global systems of production, exchange and distribution, and the mix of values reflected therein. As an analytical method, political economy is based on the assumption that what occurs in the economy reflects, and affects, social power relations. According to Gilpin, there are three principal categories of theoretical approaches to IPE: liberalism, nationalism and Marxism.

The liberal approach to IPE, currently considered the mainstream among academics, goes back to Adam Smith’s thesis of the “invisible hand” of market competition. This approach emphasizes that   specialization and competition (as drivers for maximizing welfare) should be applied also at the international sphere,  through developing the notion of production according to comparative advantage. The win-win situation that results from countries specializing and trading according to their comparative advantage creates a harmonic and interdependent structure of international interactions, in which the role of the international institutions is essential in determining positive outcomes.

Modern economic nationalism, firstly developed by Hamilton in 1791 and List in 1844, conceives the world economy as a zero-sum game where the gains by one economy inevitably must come at the expense of another. According to such a vision, national governments should provide their national firms with a protected domestic market and by promoting their exports. State intervention, protectionist policies, application of tariffs should be theoretically removed once an industry could compete in the international market. Many contemporary theorists of the nationalist approach to IPE have underlined the importance of a dominant state that, in certain historical periods, such as during the Great Depression, could have avoided the collapse of the international financial system by ruling the same as an economic hegemon.

Finally, the Marxist or critical perspective is focused on distributional issues, the constraining effects of domestic and international structures and the social classes as the basic unit of analysis. Due to the instability and conflictual nature of the global capitalism, the international economic relations are seen as a zero-sum game where two prevalent forms of political clash occur: within the states between capitalists and workers, in the international arena between imperialists and exploited states. According to Lenin, the under-consumption capitalist states were compelled to wage external wars in order to expand their internal market, rendering international conflict an unavoidable result. Today, neo-Marxists look at globalization and its major institutions (WTO, IMF) as the elites’ attempt (wealthy and industrialized countries) to constitutionalize neo-liberal principles.


Although introductory, this piece has no pretension to be exhaustive. As a matter of fact, each of the issues briefly presented can rely on impressive lists of academic studies and on-going researches. For sure, balance of threat, the concept of soft power and IPE do not represent just useful tools for understanding current world politics, but also theoretical approaches which deserve more attention and purposeful contributions by policy-makers.