What is the difference between a nation and a state, and does the difference matter for the study of International Relations? For one reason or another nowadays people commonly conceive the terms “nation” and “state” to be synonymous, when in actual fact they are not identical. The question implies that there is only one difference, or at least a main difference between a “nation” and a “state”, but I believe that there are a few differences of varying importance. I will attempt to define the differences between the two aforementioned terms and explain why they so important for the study of International Relations.
However, to find the differences between these two terms, it is necessary to define some key terms first. To best define a state, I think it necessary to explain how the concept of a state came about in the first place. Chris Brown writes that in medieval Europe “political authority was personal or group-based rather than necessarily territorial” (Chris Brown 2005), meaning that a certain inhabitant would be far more inclined to serve a local power house than show allegiance to a higher authority, which, real or imagined, would never really affect him.
It is only after the Peace of Westphalia was constituted that a new order arose. As defined by Chris Brown in his book Understanding International Relations, a state is a “territorially-based political unit characterized by a central decision-making and enforcement machinery (a government and an administration); the state is legally ‘sovereign’ in the sense that it recognizes neither an external superior, nor an internal equal” (Chris Brown 2005). I would add that even with all the above ingredients, sovereignty is only truly achieved by the recognition of you as a state by other states.
For example, North Cyprus believe that they should be a separate state, but they have to be recognized by other states in the UN as a state. There are a few modern day approaches to the study of a state. Firstly that of Marxism; some Marxist theorists argue that the state is comprised of statesmen who only concern themselves with the day to day affairs of the upper class and that political elite are of the same background as the capitalists and therefore would share the same interests. The Pluralists believe a state to be a battleground contested over by many different political groups.
They maintain that policies are put through and state decisions are made by constant negotiation and that therefore there would be no bias towards, for example, the upper class. However, Institutionalism stresses the importance combining both society and the economy to gain a batter understanding of the state as a whole. Moreover they reject the Marxist and Pluralist view of the state being purely society centered. A nation is a group of people who share the same cultural identity, but do not have their own defined territory to inhabit.
Whether this cultural identity is authentic or fake is up to debate, but as William Ralph Inge puts it “A nation is a society that nourishes a common delusion about its ancestry and shares a common hatred for its neighbors” (William Ralph Inge). Language is a key component of national identity; a nation and its people need a common language with which they can communicate. I would as far as to say that nowadays the most common way to differentiate between two cultures is to identify the difference in language.
Unlike the history of a nation, which can be twisted and convoluted, a language will always remain specific to a certain set of people, no matter what has happened since their birth. Benedict Anderson, in his book Imagined Communities argues that a nation is an “imagined community”, by which he means that in the minds of people the sense of unity is a fantasy. To furthermore promote the importance of language, I would argue that a language can not be “imagined”, it is something, which sets one nation apart from another. Religion can also be a defining factor in what a nation is.
If a group of people have a shared religion, it implies that they are united in their belief of a certain religion. As we can see, the nation is a very hard term to completely define, but the definition surely lies with the people i. e. the people are what define a nation and as long as those people identify themselves as part of a certain nation, the nation is defined. Michael Nicholson wrote in his book Nations and Governments, “members of a nation are those who identify with the nation and are accepted as members by those who identify themselves as such” (Michael Nicholson 2002).
Miroslav Hroch also picks out three defining elements of a nation “Three stand out as irreplaceable : (1) a “memory of some common past, treated as a “destiny” of the group-or at least of its core constituents; (2) a density of linguistic or cultural ties enabling a higher degree of social communication within the group than beyond it; (3) a conception of the equality of all members of the group organized as a civil society”(Miroslav Hroch 1996, esp. p 79) I would also like to define what International Relations actually is.
A popular definition is that International Relations deals primarily with states and the state’s relationship with other states, but I would argue that its definition has most definitely changed. In the past war was the dominant fear for all states and thus they focused on maximizing their security and so International Relations could be seen as dealing with the behavior of states. Nowadays, however, International Relations cannot be narrowed down to the behavior of states with other states, but instead has been broadened to deal with non-state organizations such as multinational corporations and churches.
Now I would like to invite the reader to my answer of the first part of the question. There are a few physical differences between a nation and a state. Firstly a state has defined borders, whereas a nation can be spread out over a few countries, like the Kurds for example. A state has a recognized and official central governing body, who has sovereign rule over the territory within the borders. In contrast, due to the fact that a nation is spread out over a few countries, one is under the rule of the government of whichever country one is in, despite what nation one may belong to.
Sometimes a nation and a state coincide and then a nation-state is formed. Recognition is also a difference in that a nation is not recognized by other states and therefore cannot hold international relations. Nationalism has been a very popular ideology in the modern world; the desire to belong. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the creation of a world comprised of nation-states was thought to be the solution to war and conflict. A nation-state is a concept in which a particular state is mainly inhabited by people of the same nation.
The idea behind the plan being, that if a nation could have their own sovereign territory, they would remain peaceful and hence war would be avoided. The problem with this was that in any one area of land there would be many nations and so however one split up the nations there would always be a minority and thus the plan was floored. However this did nothing to prevent Nationalism because humans will always need to belong, be it to a football team or to a nation. The Kurds are a perfect example of how nationalism has been the cause of so many wars.
The Kurds comprise of 25 million people, who are spread over Iraq, Iran and Turkey and are culturally different from their neighbors. They, like most nations, claimed that they were entitled to their own state, Kurdistan, and having lived in that area for over 2000 years most probably had valid grounds to make the claim. However, due to geographical issues such as Kurdistan being rich in resources, mainly oil and water, neither Iraq nor Turkey wanted to lose control of the area. Saddam Hussein even claimed that the Kurds were a “threat to the glory of the Arabs” (Kurds – A people without a state) and set out to exterminate the Kurdish people.
Alexander Wendt wrote “People create the state as means of political and legal settlement, but once created, the state becomes real for people”. I take this to mean that one is born into a nation, but one chooses to be part of the state. The reason that some nations, like the Kurds, want to become states, is because to become a state sets their nation in stone. A Kurdish kid is told stories about his heritage and learns Kurdish from its parents, but as he grows older he realizes that there is no recognized Kurdish state and therefore cannot identify himself with anything real.
He cannot become a citizen of the Kurdish nation as one can only be a citizen of a state and for this precise reason he would push for the Kurds to establish their own state. This push for official identity is what has caused wars and as Michael Nicholson wrote in reference to identifications, “even these seem less stable than national identifications which supersede all others and for which people seem perfectly willing to kill and die while totally convinced of the morality of doing so” (Michael Nicholson 2002) In conclusion I would like to sum up my points.
As I said in my introduction, the question implies that there is one main difference between a nation and a state. I would say that this main difference is identity; a member of a nation will only even have an official identity if his nation becomes recognized as a state. This difference is so vital for the study of International Relations because it is this very difference, which is, has and will be the cause of many wars. BIBLIOGRAPHY John Baylis and Steve Smith (editors),”The Globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations”, Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2005, 3rd Edition.
Chris Brown, “Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today”, Blackwell Publishers, 2002, Malden, MA Chris Brown, “Understanding international relations third edition”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 Michael Nicholson, “International Relations: a concise introduction, States, nations and governments 2nd edition, Chapter 2, 2002 Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is what a state makes of it: the social construction of power politics, 1992 ARTICLES The Kurds: A nation without a state, http://www. studyworld. com.