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Wars of national liberation or national liberation revolutions are conflicts fought by nations to gain independence. The term is used in conjunction with wars against foreign powers (or at least those perceived as foreign) 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. Guerrilla warfare or asymmetric warfare is often utilized by groups labeled as national liberation movements, often with support from other states.
The term "wars of national liberation" is most commonly used for those fought during the decolonization movement. Since these were primarily in the third world against Western powers and their economic influence and a major aspect of the Cold War, the phrase itself has often been viewed as biased or pejorative. 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 communist or other non pro-western parties. However, this did not always guarantee Soviet influence in those countries. In addition to and increasingly in competition to the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China presented themselves as models of independent nationalist development outside of Western influence, particularly as such posturing and other longterm hostility meant they were regarded as a threat to Western power and regarded themselves as such, using their resources to politically, economically and militarily assist movements such as in Vietnam. In January 1961 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pledged support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world.
The Communist concept of "imperialism" that was used to underline Soviet and Chinese involvement in these struggles 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.
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 these wars 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.
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.
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), 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 itself also practised colonialism. 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. 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.
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 movements 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 following current conflicts have sometimes also been characterized as wars or struggles of national liberation (such a designation is often subject to controversy):
Conflicts which have been described as national liberation struggles: