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date: 23 March 2023

Nationalism and Foreign Policylocked

Nationalism and Foreign Policylocked

  • Harris MylonasHarris MylonasDepartment of Political Science, George Washington University
  •  and Kendrick KuoKendrick KuoDepartment of Political Science, George Washington University


Nationalism continues to be an important ideology that informs the way state elites formulate and implement foreign policy. The relationship between nationalism and foreign policy is complex: there are many relevant levels of analysis and multiple causal pathways linking nationalism and foreign policy. Scholars have identified national masses, elite policymakers, and the nation-state itself as units of analysis. The causal mechanisms that relate nationalism and foreign policy have also been wide ranging: nationalism has been treated as an independent variable that drives foreign policy decision making but also as endogenous to international factors and a country’s foreign policy. Moreover, the causal relationship between nationalism and foreign policy has also been conceptualized as an interactive one.

This eclecticism is noticeable in the study of nationalism and war. The war proneness of nationalism may be a function of the type of nationalist ideology being used. The nation-state as a product of the ideology of nationalism may be inseparable from war making. And the international system, ordered upon nationalist principles of self-determination and popular rule, may endogenously produce political violence. More recently, the role of nationalist protests in interstate crisis diplomacy has become more salient, especially in post-Soviet and China studies. Are nationalist protests manufactured by the government, or are governments forced to adopt certain foreign policies because of public pressure? The conundrum about nationalism being endogenous or exogenous again rears its head.

Nationalism studies is an interdisciplinary field, but within political science interest in nationalism has largely been confined to comparative politics. International relations theory does incorporate nationalism as an important independent variable, but too often this is done in an ad hoc fashion. All in all, there has not been enough systematic theorizing about nationalism in foreign policy analysis.


  • Political Values, Beliefs, and Ideologies
  • World Politics

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