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Traditionally, a nation-state is a specific form of state, which exists to provide a sovereign territory for a particular nation, and which derives its legitimacy from that function. The state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity. The term "nation-state" implies that they geographically coincide, and this distinguishes the nation-state from the other types of state, which historically preceded it. If successfully implemented, this implies that the citizens share a common language, culture, and values â€” which was not the case in many historical states. A world of nation-states also implements the claim to self-determination and autonomy for every nation, a central theme of the ideology of nationalism. (For ambiguities in the usage of terms such as nation, international, state, and country, see Nation).
The nation-state model in practice
Political science uses the term "nation-state" for most existing sovereign states, even if their political boundaries do not coincide with ethnic boundaries.
In some cases, the geographic boundaries of an ethnic population and a political state largely coincide. In these cases, there is little immigration or emigration, few members of ethnic minorities, and few members of the "home" ethnicity living in other countries.
Iceland is often seen as strong example of a nation-state. Although the inhabitants are ethnically related to other Scandinavian groups, the national culture and language are found only in Iceland. There are no cross-border minorities â€” the nearest land is too far away.
Japan is also traditionally seen as a good example of a nation-state, although it includes minorities of the ethnically distinct RyÅ«kyÅ« peoples in the south, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos and Brazilians, and on the northern island of HokkaidÅ, the indigenous Ainu minority; see also Japanese Demographics and Ethnic issues in Japan. Both Iceland and Japan are island nations.
The notion of a "national identity" also extends to countries which host multiple ethnic or language groups. For example, Switzerland is constitutionally a confederation of cantons, and has four official languages, but it has also a 'Swiss' national identity, a national history, and a classic national hero, Wilhelm Tell. 
Many historical conflicts have arisen where political boundaries do not correspond with ethnic or cultural boundaries. For example, the Hatay Province was transferred to Turkey from Syria after the majority-Turk population complained of mistreatment. The traditional homeland of the Kurdish people extends between northern Iraq and eastern Turkey, and western Iran. Some of its inhabitants call for the creation of an independent Kurdistan, citing mistreatment by the Turkish and Iraqi governments. An armed conflict between the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Turkish government over this issue has been ongoing since 1984.
Belgium is a classic example of a disputed nation-state. The state was formed by secession from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830, and the Flemish population in the north speaks Dutch. The Flemish identity is also ethnic and cultural, and there is a strong separatist movement. The Walloon identity is linguistic (Francophone) and regionalist. There is also a unitary Belgian nationalism, several versions of a Greater Netherlands ideal, and a German-speaking region annexed from Prussia in 1920, and re-annexed by Germany in 1940â€“1944.
China covers a large geographic area, and uses the concept of "Zhonghua minzu" â€” "a Chinese people" â€” although it also officially recognises the majority Han ethnic group, and no fewer than 55 national minorities.
Where part of the national group lives in a neighbouring nation-state, it is usually called a national minority. In some cases states have reciprocal national minorities, for instance the Slovaks in Hungary and the Magyars (ethnic Hungarians) in Slovakia.
National minorities should not be confused with a national diaspora, which is typically located far from the national border. Most modern diasporas result from economic migration, for example the Irish diaspora.
The possession of dependent territories does influence the status of a nation-state. A state with large colonial possessions is obviously inhabited by many ethnic groups, and is not a mono-ethnic state. However, in most cases, the colonies were not considered an integral part of the motherland, and were separately administered. Some European nation-states have dependent territories in Europe. Denmark contains virtually all ethnic Danes and has relatively few foreign nationals within it. However, it exercises sovereignty over the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
History and origins
The origins and early history of nation-states are disputed. A major theoretical issue is: "which came first â€” the nation or the nation-state?" For nationalists themselves, the answer is that the nation existed first, nationalist movements arose to present its legitimate demand for sovereignty, and the nation-state met that demand. Some "modernisation theories" of nationalism see the national identity largely as a product of government policy, to unify and modernise an already existing state. Most theories see the nation-state as a 19th-century European phenomenon, facilitated by developments such as mass literacy and the early mass media. However, historians also note the early emergence of a relatively unified state, and a sense of common identity, in England, Portugal and the Dutch Republic.
In France, Eric Hobsbawm argues, the French state preceded the formation of the French people. Hobsbawm considers that the state made the French nation, and not French nationalism, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, the time of the Dreyfus Affair. At the time of the 1789 French Revolution, only half of the French people spoke some French, and between 12% to 13% spoke it "fairly", according to Hobsbawm. During Italian unification, the number of people speaking the Italian language was even lower. The French state promoted the unification of various dialects and languages into the French language. The introduction of conscription, and the Third Republic's 1880s laws on public instruction, facilitated the creation of a national identity, under this theory.
The theorist Benedict Anderson argues that nations are "imagined communities" (the members cannot possibly know each other), and that the main causes of nationalism and the creation of an imagined community are the reduction of privileged access to particular script languages (e.g. Latin), the movement to abolish the ideas of divine rule and monarchy, as well as the emergence of the printing press under a system of capitalism (or, as Anderson calls it, "print-capitalism"). The "state-driven" theories of the origin of nation-states tend to emphasise a few specific states, such as France and its rival England. These states expanded from core regions, and developed a national consciousness and sense of national identity ("Frenchness" and "Englishness"). Both assimilated peripheral regions (Wales, Brittany, Aquitaine and Occitania); these areas experienced a revival of interest in the regional culture in the 19th century, leading to the creation of autonomist movements in the 20th century.
Some nation-states, such as Germany or Italy, came into existence at least partly as a result of political campaigns by nationalists, during the nineteenth century. In both cases, the territory was previously divided among other states, some of them very small. The sense of common identity was at first a cultural movement, such as in the VÃ¶lkisch movement in German-speaking states, which rapidly acquired a political significance. In these cases, the nationalist sentiment and the nationalist movement clearly precede the unification of the German and Italian nation-states.
The idea of a nation-state is associated with the rise of the modern system of states â€” often called the "Westphalian system" in reference to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). The balance of power, which characterises that system, depends for its effectiveness upon clearly defined, centrally controlled, independent entities, whether empires or nation-states, which recognise each other's sovereignty and territory. The Westphalian system did not create the nation-state, but the nation-state meets the criteria for its component states (assuming that there is no disputed territory).
The nation-state received a philosophical underpinning in the era of Romanticism, at first as the 'natural' expression of the individual peoples (romantic nationalism â€” see Fichte's conception of the Volk, which would be later opposed by