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Taking Nationalists Seriously: Historical Grievances and Revisionist Warfare

March 21, 2022
Lars-Erik Cederman, Guy Schvitz, et al.


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Lars-Erik Cederman, Professor, Guy Schvistz, Postdoctoral Researcher, and Seraina Rüegger, Affiliate, all of ETH Zurich, analyze the role of nationalism in the changing world order.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, came as a rude shock to most western observers. In fact, to many it was as surprising as the collapse of the Soviet Union or the terror attacks of 9/11. Why these repeated surprises? Is it because history is inherently “chaotic,” or are analysts using the wrong conceptual map? Much points to the latter. Indeed, the most influential approaches to international politics fail to make sense of Russia’s radical revisionism.

Liberals have been slow to grasp the shift from globalization to geopolitics. From their welfare-oriented and border-less perspective, the Russian assault on Ukraine appears truly puzzling. After the end of the Cold War, liberals anticipated that democratization would spread into Eastern Europe, accelerated by the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union.

Realists criticize liberals as being hopelessly naive about the power realities of world politics, pointing to their alleged failure to realize that NATO’s expansion could provoke Russia. Yet, viewing Putin as a security-driven actor, realists such as John Mearsheimer have expected Russia to refrain from moves beyond the 2014 annexation of Crimea. It would seem that this underestimation of Russian revisionism stems from realism’s tendency to overlook the role of nationalism and its subversive impact on international borders.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.