Why Some Nationalist Movements Resort to Terrorism While Others Do Not?

Nationalism is considered to be the driving force that shapes an individual’s love for his/her country to a point where he/she may be willing to do anything in order to overthrow or change the existing regime perceived to be oppressive and/or corrupt. As a matter of fact, nationalism was used to justify a number of revolutions including the Cuban Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution. Nationalism can take various forms, including ethnic nationalism, which draws upon justifying a cause based on ethnic identity. Ethnic nationalism has been a dominant form of terrorism in the course of the 21st century and has also been referred to as ethno-nationalist terrorism, or simply nationalist terrorism. The main objective of this paper is to understand why some nationalist movements resort to terrorism while other do not. This paper explores the factors that influence the behaviour of nationalist movements in order to have an understanding of the different behaviours exhibited by nationalist movements, especially with regard to the decision on whether or not to use terrorism in pursuing its agenda. In this regard, this paper targets to provide insights into the causes of nationalist terrorism and examine whether there is a systematic relationship between the behaviour of nationalist movements (particularly the decision to utilize terrorism) and the ethnic policies adopted by governments. This paper argues that some nationalists do not use terrorism while others do because of the fact that nationalist movements operate in different political environments, have different capacities, have different levels in terms of the significance of ethnic/national identity, and the fact that governments responds differently to rebellious activities by the nationalist movements. In addition, the paper compares case studies of nationalist movements in Northern Ireland, the Basque Lands, and Wales.

The Link between Nationalism and Terrorism

Before delving into the behaviour of nationalist movements, it is imperative to explore how nationalism is linked to terrorism According to Tilly, ethnic nationalism gave rise to nationalist terrorism, which the author considers to be a type of terrorism that is primarily motivated by nationalism. The main objective of nationalist terrorism is achieving some form of self-determination, which may include obtaining greater autonomy, forming a separate state from the current state (separatism), and gaining dominance and superiority over the majority among others. A key feature of nationalist terrorism is opposition to imperialism and military opposition, which collectively constitute illegitimate powers. Staub points out that nationalist terrorism is usually associated with religious, ethnic, national groups as well as the feeling that the members of the group are being denied their rights, especially when others are enjoying those rights. Just like the notion of terrorism, the concept of nationalist terrorism as well as its application is very controversial. In this regard, the issues of debate centres on types of violence and war considered unacceptable, and what make an illegitimate power. Some nationalist movements perceived to be nationalist terrorists tend to regard themselves as freedom fighters and take part in a valid albeit asymmetric warfare rather than terrorist activities. Having explored the relationship between nationalism and terrorism, the following section explores the determinants of behaviour of nationalist movements, and particularly the factors that are likely to act as an incentive for a nationalist movement to use terrorism.

Understanding the Behaviour of Nationalist Movements

Gurr provided a model that can be used in understanding the existence of nationalist movements based on relationships between four factors, including the significance of ethno-cultural (national) identity for the leaders and members of the nationalist movement; the degree to which the nationalist movement has collective incentives to undertake national action; the degree to which the movement’s capabilities can be exploited for collective action; and lastly, the presence of opportunities in the movement’s political environment that can bolster its chances of achieving its objectives using national action. According to Gurr, the significance of ethno-cultural or national identity is influenced by a number of cultures, including the degree of cultural differentials in relation to other groups, the intensity of present and past conflicts with rival movements and the state, and comparative disadvantage or advantage.

The incentives available to nationalist movements to undertake ethno-cultural (national) action depend on a number of factors, including opposition to state control that is repressive, obtaining lost political independence, and overpowering comparative disadvantages in respect to other groups. Gurr hypothesizes that the significance of national identity and the incentives available to a nationalist movement to undertake national action play a significant role in influencing the movement’s capacity to undertake a collective action. In this regard, a nationalist movement’s capacity to undertake collective action is influenced by a number of factors, including the significance of national identity, legitimacy of the movement’s leadership, alliances with other movements, cohesion among members of the movement, territorial concentration, and shared incentives. Another crucial factor that influences the behaviour of nationalist movements is the opportunities present in the domestic political environment, which depends on a number of factors, including regime transitions as well as the establishment of novel ruling coalitions, changes from one regime form to another, particularly changes from autocratic regimes to democratic regimes, and disintegration of old states and the foundation of new ones. In addition, there are domestic political factors that are likely to inspire nationalist movements to protest, which include strong states having sufficient resources, democratic norms and institutions, traditions associated with the elite accommodating segmental interest , , ,. On the other hand, rebellion by nationalist movements is likely to be encouraged by authoritarian institutions and norms, weak states having limited resources, and elite relying on oppression as a means of control. Such an environment acts as an incentive for nationalist movements to use terrorist activities in pursuing their agenda. Another factor that is likely to influence a nationalist movement to undertake national action is international sources of support such as international doctrines associated with the rights of minorities, rights of indigenous, and nationalism, global and regional networks of other nationalist movements, contagion and dissemination of ethno-political conflict among other similar movements, and outside material and political support.

An inference that can be made from Gurr’s model of nationalist movement is that terrorism is considered to be a strategy that nationalist movements can use, just like revolutions and protests. Based on Gurr’s views, it can be argued that the tendency of a nationalist movement to resort to terrorism is likely to be influenced by resources, mobilization capabilities, and political opportunity. In other words, a nationalist movement with a high mobilization capacity is likely to resort to terrorism, especially when there are political opportunities in the region/country that the movement operates. In addition, the decision to utilize terrorism can be influenced by the manner in which the government treats the nationalist movement as well as how the movement has responded to government’s treatment in the past. The figure 1 in the Appendix shows the etiology of nationalist movements by Gurr, which can help in understanding why some nationalist movements may resort to terrorism in order to achieve their objectives. Therefore, a nationalist movement may resort to terrorism if the government responds to its activities by means of repression policies.

The nature of nationalist terrorism is influenced by interactions between multiple factors, including rebellion, the capacity of the movement, repression, the movement perceptions of rebellious activity, importance of ethnic or national identity, opportunities in the domestic political environment, comparative disadvantages, cultural-economic-political discrimination, the decision structure used by the government, international support, and legitimacy of a regime. It can be argued that nationalist movements with a strong ethno-cultural identity have a capacity to initiate a collective action and are motivated by the need to regain lost political independence, while movements in an oppressive regime, movements operating in domestic environments with numerous opportunities for a national action, and movements operating in authoritarian states that are weak and have scarce resources, are likely to resort to terrorism.

Akcam and Asal extended Gurr’s model of nationalist terrorism by trying to develop causal relationships that may exist between the factors identified above that are likely to influence the behaviour of a nationalist movement. According to Akcam and Asal, the magnitude of a movement’s capabilities influences its likelihood of rebellion and, perhaps, its likelihood of resorting to terrorist activities. Governments have a tendency of employing repression policies on nationalist movements in order to reduce rebellious activities. According to Staub, repression policies are capable of reducing the resources that a nationalist movement can dedicate to rebellious activities such as terrorism. Repression from the government also reduces other variables that are likely to increase the capacity of a nationalist movement, such as territorial concentration, international support to the nationalist movement, and its leadership. The government can opt to kill or capture leaders of nationalist terrorist movements, which can exert pressure on countries supporting the nationalist movement and, subsequently, reduce the territorial concentration of the nationalist movement. Despite the fact that repression policies adopted by the government can reduce rebellion from nationalist movements, other effects as a result of repression are likely to increase rebellious activities by nationalist movements. For instance, the presence of collective disadvantages is likely to create opportunities through which leaders of nationalist movements can mobilize their members for rebellion. In addition, discrimination policies adopted by the government are likely to result in collective and geographical disadvantages. Therefore, discrimination and repression policies adopted by the government can result in an increase in comparative disadvantages for a particular ethnic group. In addition, discrimination policies adopted the government can draw upon the government’s perceptions of rebellion, which has been found to be closely associated with the type of regime. Despite the fact that rebellion acts as a means of conveying a political message by a particular ethnic group, an increase in rebellion can lead to an increase in discrimination towards the rebellious group. According to Post, Ruby & Shaw, the manner in which the government responds to rebellious activities undertaken by nationalist movements influences the type and level of rebellious activities undertaken by the movements.

In addition, the magnitude of previous and present conflicts that a nationalist movement has with the state as well as other rival movements can act as an incentive for the movement to initiate rebellion , ,. Despite the fact that conflicts may have taken a long time ago, nationalist movements usually take a long time to recover from them. In fact, there are some instances where such conflicts are certainly not forgotten; a case in point is the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. In addition, the importance of ethnic or national identity plays a significant role in influencing the capacity of a nationalist movement. The ethnic/national identity is influenced by cultural differences and how the movement perceives a rebellious activity. With regard to cultural identity, Marshall & Gurr argues that a greater cultural difference between the dominant group and the ethnic group (forming the nationalist movement) increases the importance of ethnic/national identity. With respect to how the movement perceives a rebellious activity, Soeters asserts that the magnitude of previous and present conflicts with the state is likely to increase the importance attached to ethnic/cultural identity of a nationalist movement.

Case Studies

Northern Ireland

The ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland has lasted since 1968 and is typified by two rival nationalist movements associated with two communities found in the country. The first community mainly comprises Irish Republicans, who are mainly Roman Catholics and consider themselves to be the nationalist community. Irish Republicans are descendants of native Irish inhabitants. They consider their ethnic identity to be Irish and want the six counties in Northern Ireland, which are at present part of the UK, to leave the UK and be united with the Republic of Ireland. Some of the nationalist movement advocating for this ideology is the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which had the main objective of ending the rule of Britain in Northern Ireland and create a united Ireland, reuniting Irish Republic with 32 counties. The Irish Republic Army has taken many forms, including the Official IRA that existed during 1922-1972, the Irish National Liberation Army that existed between 1972 and 1998, the Provisional Irish Republican Army that existed during 1969-2005, the Continuity Irish Republican Army, and Real Irish Republican Army that were formed during 1986 and 1997 and still exist. The other community comprised of Protestants and are referred to as loyalists or unionists. Unionists are descendants of English and Scottish settlers in Ulster. The loyalists are the majority in Northern Ireland and consider their ethnic identity to be British. Some of the nationalist movements linked to this ideology are the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association. The ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland can be attributed to discrimination against Catholic, nationalist Irish minority, the Protestant loyalist majority as well as the issue of Northern Ireland relation with the UK.

The Basque Lands

The conflict in Basque Country, referred to the Spain-ETA conflict, involved a political and armed conflict between the Basque National Liberation Movement, France, and Spain. The Basque Liberation Movement comprised a number of Basque nationalist organizations that had the main objective of seeking independence from France and Spain. The nationalist movement in Basque was centred on Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), a Basque separatist nationalist organization that was established in 1959. Since its establishment ETA has evolved from an organization seeking to promote Basque culture towards a paramilitary organization, having the objective of achieving the autonomy of the Greater Basque Country. In addition, ETA played a large role in the Basque National Liberation Movement and played a crucial role in the Basque Conflict. ETA has engaged in kidnappings, killings, and injures of thousands of people. The European Union, the United States, France, Britain, and Spain consider ETA to be a terrorist organization. The Basque conflict has been considered the longest armed and violent conflict in contemporary Europe.

Wales and Brittany

Nationalism in Wales places emphasis on the uniqueness of the history and culture of Wales and the Welsh language, and advocates for more self-determination as well as autonomy from the United Kingdom. There are a number of nationalist movements in Wales, including Cymru Goch (Welsh Socialists), which was founded in 1987 with the main objective of achieving a Socialist and free Wales; Cymru Annybynnol (Independent Wales), which is a political party established in 2002 with the main objective of advocating for the independence of Wales; and Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society), which is a pressure group formed in 1962 to advocate for the rights of the Welsh language. Other nationalist movements in Wales include Cymru Liberation Movement, The Society of the Covenant of the Free Welsh, and Voice of Gwynedd. Despite the fact that Welsh nationalism has been constitutional, there have been cases of violent nationalism such as The Republicans, Movement for the Defence of Wales, and the Free Wales Army.

Comparison

In all the three cases except for Wales, it is evident that nationalist movements have relied on terrorism as a part of their rebellion in an attempt to achieve their agenda; nevertheless, there are cases whereby Welsh nationalism was characterized by use of violence. Four similarities can be drawn from the cases regarding nationalist movements. First, nationalist movements comprise ethnic minorities in a large population, especially in a nation-state that is established. Second, nationalist movements operate in geographic regions where they intend to alter the status quo. Third, nationalist movements usually target governments, especially government actions that resulted in grievances for the group, which in most cases is oppression and the need to be independent. Lastly, these nationalist movements tend to portray themselves as an oppressed population seeking independence and self-determination.

Conclusion

From the discussion presented in this paper, an inference that can be made is that the behaviour of nationalist movements, especially the decision on whether or not to make use of terrorism as part of their rebellion, is influenced by a number of factors, including the capacity of the movement, repression, the movement perceptions as regards rebellion activity, importance of ethnic or national identity, opportunities in the domestic political environment, comparative disadvantages, cultural-economic-political discrimination, the decision structure used by the government, international support, and legitimacy of regime. In this regard, nationalist movements operating under authoritarian regimes with adequate resources, are comparatively disadvantaged, discriminated politically, economically, and socially, and are more likely to make use of terrorism than nationalist movements that have less capacity, operate under democratic regimes with adequate resources ,and are not comparatively disadvantaged. In addition, nationalist movements with a strong ethno-cultural identity and capacity to initiate a collective action are motivated by the need to regain lost political independence, while movements in an oppressive regime, movements operating in domestic environments with numerous opportunities for a national action, and movements operating in authoritarian states that are weak and have scarce resources, are likely to resort to terrorism.

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