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"National liberation movement" redirects here. For specific groups known by that name, see National Liberation Movement.

Flag of Mozambique; 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

Wars of national liberation or national liberation revolutions are conflicts fought by nationalities to gain independence. The term is used in conjunction with wars against foreign powers to establish separate sovereign states for the rebelling nationality. From a different point of view, these wars are called insurgencies, rebellions, or wars of independence.[1] Guerrilla warfare or asymmetric warfare is sometimes used by national liberation movements, often with intervention from other states. More specifically, wars of national liberation can refer to those fought during the decolonization movement, primarily in the third world against Western powers and their economic influence, and was a major aspect of the Cold War.[2] According to political scientist Gérard Chaliand, guerrilla wars against European powers were always a political success, although they may have been in some cases a military defeat.[3] 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 either vocally or materially supported by the Soviet Union, which stated itself to be an anti-imperialist power, supporting the replacement of western-backed governments with local or other non pro-western parties.[1][4] However, this did not always guarantee Soviet influence in those countries. According to certain activists and theorists,[5] the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China presented themselves as models of independent nationalist development outside of Western influence. As such they were regarded as a threat to Western power as they could politically, economically and militarily assist other movements such as in Vietnam. In January 1961 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pledged support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world.[6]

This concept of "imperialism" and its relations to colonies had been theorized in Vladimir Lenin's 1916 book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism while 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.

Legal issues

International law generally holds that a people with a legal right to self-determination are entitled to wage wars of national liberation.[7][8] While Western states tend to view these wars as civil wars, Third World and communist states tend to view them as international wars.[7] This difference in classification leads to varying perceptions of which laws of war apply in such situations.[7] 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.[7]

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 the anti-guerrilla forces past the point where such forces are 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 foreign regimes and quite unsuccessful against indigenous regimes. Foreign 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, foreign 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 1919-1922 which led in 1922 to the renewed independence of most of Ireland (26 counties out of 32). However the rebellion also led to the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).

The Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949) followed with the Liberation of Irian Jaya (1960-1962) and the liberation of East Timor (1975), The First Indochina War (1946–54), Vietnam War (1959–75), and the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) were all considered national liberation wars by the rebelling sides of the conflicts. The African National Congress (ANC)'s struggle against the apartheid regime is also another example. These wars were in part supported by the Soviet Union, which claimed to be an anti-imperialist power, although it has been argued that the Soviet Union practised colonialism also.[9][10] Since the 1917 October Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, 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 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.[11] 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).[12] 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.[13][14] The PLO also participates in UN Security Council debates; since 1988, it has represented the Palestinian people at the UN under the name "Palestine".[15]

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.[16][17][18]
  • 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 Kurdish–Turkish 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, countries and the African Union), while Morocco considered it a secessionist movement. Polisario had been recognized by many countries, the African Union and 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 the fact that an Albanian state already exists is excluded and that ethnic-Albanians in Kosovo seek their own separate nationhood.


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Conflicts which have been described as national liberation struggles:

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rubinstein, Alvin Z. (1990). Moscow's Third World Strategy. Princeton University Press. p. 80. ISBN 0-691-07790-8. 
  2. 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". p. 369. Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  3. See for example Gérard Chaliand various books; French interview here.
  4. Ballard, Chet; Gubbay, Jon; Middleton, Chris (1997). The Student's Companion to Sociology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 36. ISBN 0-7567-7867-0. 
  5. "International Politics: What is "independent nationalism" and why is it "unacceptable"?". Quora. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  6. Little, Wendell E. (1980). "Wars of National Liberation—Insurgency". Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Malanczuk, 1997, p. 336.
  8. Higgins, Noelle (April 2004). "The Application of International Humanitarian Law to Wars of National Liberation". Archived from the original on 2004-10-14. Retrieved 2010-07-15. 
  9. Beissinger, Mark R. 2006 "Soviet Empire as 'Family Resemblance,'" Slavic Review, 65 (2) 294-303; Dave, Bhavna. 2007 Kazakhstan: Ethnicity, language and power. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.
  10. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 32, No. 1, Oct., 1953 - Soviet Colonialism In Central Asia by Sir Olaf Caroe
  11. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (2005). "24 "The Cold War Comes to Africa" (hardcover). The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World. Basic Books. pp. 432–433. ISBN 9780465003112. 
  12. 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).
  13. Shultz, 1988, p. 100.
  14. Wilson, 1990, p. 119.
  15. Boczek, 2005, p86.
  16. Sakwa, Richard (2005), Chechnya: From Past to Future, p. 208. Anthem Press, ISBN 1-84331-164-X, 9781843311645
  17. Evangelista, Matthew (2002), The Chechen wars: will Russia go the way of the Soviet Union?, p. 142. Brookings Institution Press, ISBN 0-8157-2498-5, ISBN 978-0-8157-2498-8
  18. Dunlop, John B. (1998), Russia Confronts Chechnya, p. 93. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-63619-1, ISBN 978-0-521-63619-3


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