Lesson 3, Topic 1
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The Nation State

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The nation state is the main actor in international politics. By definition, international politics is about politics between (inter) nations. 

A nation state can be defined as a political community governed by a state with complete authority over a defined territory.

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The nation state has three key characteristics:

  1. Sovereignty: the state has absolute legal authority over the nation state, not a foreign power.
  2. Mutual recognition: the nation state is recognised by the overwhelming majority of nation states, and today, it usually must also be recognised by the United Nations to qualify as a nation state.
  3. Territory: a fixed land mass with a permanent population.

For all intensive purposes, the term country and the term nation state can be used interchangeably. The latter is the more technical and specific term, but the meaning is more or less the same.

The nation state has its own interests, and interests that are shared with other countries. Some leaders decide to build allies and work with those with whom they have a common interest, and some leaders chose to look inwards and “go it alone”, pursuing national interest alone, and some try to do both. President Macron called this combination of looking inwards and outwards as “patriotism”; living up to global responsibilities, but while not sacrificing national interest. The extremely inward looking are nationalistic, and the extremely outward looking are internationalist.