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Legitimacy andthe Lhnits o f Nationalism China and the Diaoyu Islands Erica Strecker Downs and Phillip C. Saunders ~ Influenced by the resurgence of nationalism in the post-Cold War era, international relations scholars have produced a pessimistic evaluation of ways that nationalism increases the chances of international conflict. Three broad themes have emerged in the literature. The first focuses on the use of nationalism to divert attention from the state’s inability to meet societal demands for security, economic development , and effective political institutions.* Illegitimate regimes may seek to bolster their grip on power by blaming foreigners for their own failures, increasing international tensions.2The second looks at groups within the state that have expansionist or militarist goals. By propagating nationalist or imperialist myths, they can generate broad public support for their parochial interests ? The third emphasizes how political elites can incite nationalism to gain an advantage in domestic political competition.Nationalism can be used both to mobilize support for threatened elites and to fend off potential challenger^.^ This function can be particularly important in democratizing or liberalizing authoritarian regimes, which lack established political institutions to channel Erica Strecker Downs is a Ph.D. candidate in the Politics Department at Princeton University. She has worked on Chinese security issues for RAND. Phillip C. Saunders is a Ph.D. candidate at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. He has worked on Asian issues for the United States Air Force, RAND, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on priorities in U S . China policy since Tiananmen Square. The authors would like to thank Michael Dark, David Denoon, Herb Levin, Liu Baopu, David Reuther, Gil Rozman, James Shinn, Richard Ullman, Wang Xu,Lynn T. White 111, two anonymous reviewers, and a Beijing scholar for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. The Center of International Studies and the Council on Regional Studies at Princeton University provided financial support for this research. 1. Jack Snyder, “Nationalism and the Crisis of the Post-Soviet State,” in Michael E. Brown, ed., Ethnic Conpict and International Security (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 79101 . 2. Stephen Van Evera, “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War,” International Security, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Spring 1994), pp. S 3 3 . 3. Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991). 4. V.P. Gagnon, ”Ethnic Nationalism and International Conflict,”International Security, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter 1994/95), pp. 130-166. International Security, Vol.23, No. 3 (Winter 1998/99), pp. 114-146 0 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. 214 Legitimacy and the Limits of Nationalism I 115 popular participation and reconcile contending claim^.^ All three approaches focus on nationalism’sinstrumental value for insecure elites seeking to gain or hold onto power. Nationalism can not only aggravate ethnic relations within the state, but it can also spill over borders and increase the likelihood of international conflict.Once the public has been mobilized through nationalistic appeals, elites can become trapped in their own rhetoric and choose to pursue risky security strategies rather than jeopardize their rule by not fulfilling popular nationalist demands. Even though nationalist myths are primarily aimed at a domestic audience, other states may misinterpret them as a serious threat and respond in kind, giving rise to a security dilemma. Some scholars who have observed the Chinese government’s increasing reliance on nationalism since the 1989TiananmenSquare massacre have begun to apply this literature to China. Several have noted the potential for Chinese nationalism to interact with China’s growing relative power in destabilizing ways.6If China’s rapid growth continues, projections suggest that China will eventually have the world’s largest economy and develop military capabilities that could support a more aggressive poli~y.~ Economic development might not only improve Chinese capabilities, but also push China into aggressive efforts to control energy supplies needed for future development.8 David Shambaugh states that ”as China has grown economically more powerful in recent years, nationalism has increased exponentially,” and predicts that increased Chinese strength ”is likely to result in increased defensiveness and assertivene...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 114-146
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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