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[[Image:Flag of Mozambique.svg|thumb|right|250px|Flag of Mozambiquemarker — independent since 1975, with the Kalashnikov as symbol ofthe 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 are conflicts fought by indigenous military groups against an imperial power in the name of self-determination, thus attempting to remove that power's influence, in particular during the decolonization period. They are often founded in guerrilla warfare or asymmetric warfare, sometimes with intervention from other states.

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. However, according to Gwynne Dyer, the tactics and strategies used against colonial powers were almost invariably failures when used against indigenous regimes.

Some of these wars were supported by the Soviet Unionmarker, which claimed to be an anti-imperialist power and by communist parties worldwide. In January 1961 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pledged support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world.

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.

Legal issues

International law generally holds that a people with a legal right to self-determination are entitled to wage wars of national liberation. 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. This difference in classification leads to varying perceptions of which laws of war apply in such situations. 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.


Maccabean Revolt

The Maccabean Revolt (167 BC-160 BC) was a war of national liberation fought by the "Judean peasantry." It secured the independence of the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom from the Seleucid Empire.

First Jewish–Roman War

The First Jewish–Roman War (66-73 BC) was a war of national liberation. Jewish freedom fighters attempted to liberate the Jewish people in Judeamarker from occupation by the Roman empire. The effort failed.

Bar Kokhba revolt

The Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-135 BC was a war of national liberation fought to free the Jewish people and homeland from the oppressive Roman Empire.

Decolonization of the Americas

Following the American War of Independence (1775-1783), the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), which led to the proclamation of Haitimarker as the first independent black republic in 1804, and the South American wars of independence from Spainmarker led in the 1810-1820s by famous Libertadores such as Simón Bolívar in North and José de San Martín in the South, led to the decolonization of most of the Americas. Brazilmarker's independence was declared in 1822 by Dom Pedro I.

The Greek War of Independence

The Greek War of Independence, (1821–1829,) was fought to liberate Greece from a centuries-long Ottoman occupation. Independence was secured by the intervention of a combined British-French fleet at the Battle of Navarinomarker.

Irish War of Independence

The Irish War of Independence of 1919-1921 led to the independence of most of Irelandmarker (26 counties out of 32).

First Indochinese War

The First Indochina War (1946-54,) secured the independence of Vietnam from French imperial domination, although liberation from the French was sought as far back as the 1920s by the Viet Quoc.

Jewish Revolt against the British Mandate in Palestine and 1948 Arab-Israeli War

The Jewish revolt launched by the Lehi and Irgun against British occupation in Palestine led to the termination of British rule in the country and to the establishment of the State of Israelmarker.

Israelis refer to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as the War of Independence (as it was the culmination of the Jewish revolt against England and many of the Arab participants were armed with British weapons) and consider it to be a war of national liberation for the Jewish people. Israelis and many others also view political Zionism to be a movement for Jewish national liberation.


The Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) was one of the most famous national liberation wars. The African National Congress (ANC)'s struggle against the apartheid regime is also part of these wars.

Cuba, led by Fidel Castro, supported national liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique.

The Portuguese colonial wars finally led to the recognition of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissaumarker as independent states in 1975, following the April Carnation Revolution.


The Panthay Rebellion of 1856-1873 succeeded in expelling the Qing Dynastymarker and establishing a Sultanate of the Muslim Hui people in what is now southwestern Yunnan Provincemarker, but the Qing managed a successful re-conquest.

On-going national liberation conflicts

The following current conflicts have sometimes 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 Russiamarker.
  • Some Iraqi insurgent groups, and certain political groups believe that the Iraq War is a war of national liberation against the US-led coalition.
  • 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). It is the only non-African national liberation movement to hold observer status in the OAU, and was one of the first national liberation movement granted permanent observer status by the United Nations General Assembly pursuant to a 1974 resolution. The PLO also participates in UN Security Council debates; since 1988, it has represented the Palestinian people at the UN under the name "Palestine".
  • The Polisario Front has sought the independence of Western Saharamarker since 1975 and considered its guerilla war against Morocco as national liberation war, while Morocco considered it a secessionist movement. 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 Kosovomarker declared (on 2 July 1990) an independent "Republic of Kosovo" from the Republic of Serbiamarker's Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohijamarker. 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 Pristinamarker and Belgrademarker 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.
  • A revolt broke out in Tibet in 1959 against Communist rule.

See also


  1. See for example Gérard Chaliand various books; French interview here.
  2. Malanczuk, 1997, p. 336.
  3. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus, By Richard A. Horsley, John S. Hanson, Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999, p. 22
  4. History of the Second Temple Period, Paolo Sacchi, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, p. 239
  5. Between Rome and Jerusalem: 300 Years of Roman-Judaean Relations, Martin Sicker, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001, p. x
  6. Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism, Michael Walzer, Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 154
  8. The Chinese Sultanate, Atwill, David G.. Stanford University Press, 2005
  9. Sakwa, Richard (2005), Chechnya: From Past to Future, p. 208. Anthem Press, ISBN 184331164X, 9781843311645
  10. Evangelista, Matthew (2002), The Chechen wars: will Russia go the way of the Soviet Union?, p. 142. Brookings Institution Press, ISBN 0815724985, 9780815724988
  11. Dunlop, John B. (1998), Russia Confronts Chechnya, p. 93. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521636191, 9780521636193
  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.


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