Wars of national liberation

"National liberation movement" redirects here. For specific groups known by that name, see National Liberation Movement.
Flag of Mozambique, currently one of the poorest and least developed countries in the World, — independent from Portugal since 1975, after the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, with the Kalashnikov as symbol of the armed struggle against the Portuguese empire, the book as symbol of instruction and a farm instrument as symbol of economic growth

In Marxist terminology,[1][2] wars of national liberation or national liberation revolutions are conflicts fought by oppressed nationalities against imperial powers to establish separate sovereign states for the subjugated nationality. From a Western point of view, these same wars are called insurgencies or rebellions, or more positively, wars of independence.[1] More specifically, wars of national liberation refer to the wars fought since the October Revolution of 1917, especially those fought during the decolonization movement, and never those fought against a communist party. They were founded in guerrilla warfare or asymmetric warfare by national liberation movements, often with intervention from other states. This struggle became a major battlefield of the Cold War.[3]

According to political scientist Gérard Chaliand, guerrilla wars against European colonial powers were always a political success, although they may have been in some cases a military defeat.[4] However, according to Gwynne Dyer, the tactics and strategies used against colonial powers were almost invariably failures when used against indigenous regimes.[citation needed]

Some of these wars were supported by the Soviet Union, which claimed to be an anti-imperialist power even as it sought to replace western colonial governments with local communist parties operating under Soviet control. In January 1961 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pledged support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world.[5]

In fact, since the 1917 October Revolution, the revolutionary objectives of communism were shared by many anticolonialist leaders, thus explaining the objective alliance between anticolonialist forces and Marxism. The concept of "imperialism" itself had been which had theorized in Lenin's famous 1916 book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. For example, Ho Chi Minh — who founded the Viet-Minh in 1930 and declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945, following the 1945 August Revolution — was a founding member of the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1921.

Socialist and Communist led movements were in most cases politically organized as multi-party national liberation fronts.


Legal issues

International law generally holds that a people with a legal right to self-determination are entitled to wage wars of national liberation.[6][7] While Western states tend to view wars of national liberation as civil wars, Third World and communist states tend to view them as international wars.[6] This difference in classification leads to varying perceptions of which laws of war apply in such situations.[6] However, there is general agreement among all states today in principle that the use of force to frustrate a people's legal right to self-determination is unlawful.[6]

Strategies and tactics

Wars of national liberation are usually fought using guerrilla warfare. The main purpose of these tactics is to increase the cost of occupation of the colonial power past the point where the colonial power is willing to bear. Wars of national liberation generally depend a large amounts of public support, with ordinary civilians providing crucial support. Finally, wars of national liberation are often embedded in a larger context of great power politics and are often proxy wars.

These strategies explain why they are quite successful against colonial regimes and quite unsuccessful against indigenous regimes. Colonial regimes usually have a threshold beyond which they would prefer to go home rather than to fight the war. By contrast an indigenous regime has no place to go to, and will fight much harder because of the lack of alternatives. Moreover, colonial regimes usually have relatively few active supporters, who can often be easily identified, making it possible for guerrilla armies to operate. By contrast, indigenous regimes often have much more popular support, and their supporters are not as easily recognized, making it much harder to conduct guerrilla operations.

Decolonization period

The first separatist rebellion within the former British Empire not to end in defeat since the American Revolutionary War was the Irish War of Independence of 1919-1921 which led to the renewed independence of most of Ireland (26 counties out of 32). This was the first of many later successful anti-colonial rebellions during the 20th century.

The First Indochina War (1946–54), the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) and the Vietnam War (1959–75) were some of the most famous national liberation wars. The African National Congress (ANC)'s struggle against the apartheid regime is also part of these wars. These wars were in part supported by the Soviet Union, which claimed to be an anti-imperialist power. In fact, since the 1917 October Revolution, the revolutionary objectives of communism were shared by many anticolonialist leaders, thus explaining the objective alliance between anticolonialist forces and Marxism. The concept of "imperialism" itself had been which had theorized in Lenin's famous 1916 book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. For example, Ho Chi Minh — who founded the Viet-Minh in 1941 and declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945, following the 1945 August Revolution — was a founding member of the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1921. In January 1961, over three years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident which would mark the United States' increased involvement in the Vietnam War, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev would pledge support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world. In the same decade, Cuba, led by Fidel Castro, would support national liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique. The Portuguese colonial wars finally led to the recognition of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau as independent states in 1975, following the April Carnation Revolution.

On-going national liberation conflicts

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is an "official" national liberation movement, meaning that it holds official recognition of its legal status as such from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations (UN).[8] It is the only non-African national liberation movement to hold observer status in the OAU, and was one of the first national liberation movements granted permanent observer status by the United Nations General Assembly pursuant to a 1974 resolution.[9][10] The PLO also participates in UN Security Council debates; since 1988, it has represented the Palestinian people at the UN under the name "Palestine".[11]

The following current conflicts have sometimes also been characterized as wars or struggles of national liberation (such a designation is often subject to controversy):

  • Many Chechens and foreign observers consider the First and Second Chechen Wars to be wars of national liberation against Russia.[12][13][14]
  • Some Iraqi insurgent groups, and certain political groups believe that the Iraq War is a war of national liberation against the US-led coalition.
  • Most Kurds believe the Turkey-PKK conflict to be a war of national liberation of Kurdish people in Turkey.
  • The Polisario Front has sought the independence of Western Sahara since 1975 and considered its guerilla war against Morocco as national liberation war (like many foreign observers & the African Union), while Morocco considered it a secessionist movement. POLISARIO has been recognized by many countries, the African Union & the United Nations as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people. The hostilities are frozen since the 1991 cease-fire following the settlement plan agreement.
  • As a result of the politics of the former Yugoslavia, a group of ethnic-Albanian politicians in Kosovo declared (on 2 July 1990) an independent "Republic of Kosovo" from the Republic of Serbia's Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. After the dissolution of SFRY, an unofficial referendum was held for independence in 1992 that passed and began a conflict between the Albanian separatists led by the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Yugoslav military and paramilitary armed forces. This lasted until 1999 when a peace was brokered and the province came under UN administration under the terms of UNSCR 1244. International negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade are in progress on the future status of Kosovo. The conflict would only count as a war of national liberation if you exclude the fact that an Albanian state already exists, and that ethnic-Albanians in Kosovo seek their own separate nationhood.


Conflicts which have been described as national liberation struggles:

See also


  1. ^ a b Rubinstein, Alvin Z. (1990). Moscow's Third World Strategy. Princeton University Press. p. 80. ISBN 0691077908. 
  2. ^ Ballard, Chet; Gubbay, Jon; Middleton, Chris (1997). The Student's Companion to Sociology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 36. ISBN 0756778670. 
  3. ^ McNamara, Robert S. (1965-08-30). "Buildup of U.S. Forces in VietNam, Statement by Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, Before the Subcommittee on Department of Defense Appropriations of the Senate Committee on Appropriations on August 4, 1965". Department of State Bulletin: 369. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon4/ps3.htm. Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  4. ^ See for example Gérard Chaliand various books; French interview here.
  5. ^ Little, Wendell E. (1980). "Wars of National Liberation—Insurgency". Air University Review (September–October). http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1980/sep-oct/little.html. Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  6. ^ a b c d Malanczuk, 1997, p. 336.
  7. ^ Higgins, Noelle (April 2004). "The Application of International Humanitarian Law to Wars of National Liberation". Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. http://www.jha.ac/articles/a132.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-15. 
  8. ^ Mitchel, 2000, p. 40. Other "official" national liberation movements in the OAU at that time included the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC).
  9. ^ Shultz, 1988, p. 100.
  10. ^ Wilson, 1990, p. 119.
  11. ^ Boczek, 2005, p86.
  12. ^ Sakwa, Richard (2005), Chechnya: From Past to Future, p. 208. Anthem Press, ISBN 184331164X, 9781843311645
  13. ^ Evangelista, Matthew (2002), The Chechen wars: will Russia go the way of the Soviet Union?, p. 142. Brookings Institution Press, ISBN 0815724985, 9780815724988
  14. ^ Dunlop, John B. (1998), Russia Confronts Chechnya, p. 93. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521636191, 9780521636193


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