The following are definitions of key political terms. These are meant for very basic understanding.
State, Sovereignty, Country, Nation, National Identity, Nation-State
A State is a political unit that has sovereignty over an area of territory and the people within it.
Sovereignty is the legitimate and ultimate authority over a polity (i.e., a political unit). For example, India has 29 states and is sovereign over all these 29 states. There is no other higher political authority over the geographic region that is controlled by India. The 29 Indian states are political subdivisions. These 29 states do not have independent sovereignty like the Indian State. It is convention to capitalise the term ‘State’ when referring to State in terms of a sovereign political unit, and not to capitalise the term ‘state’ when referring to a political subdivision of a State, such as ‘the state of Manipur’ versus ‘the State of France.’
We often hear the term country as well. A country is simply another word for State. India can be referred to as either a ‘country’ or a ‘State.’ People use the terms interchangeably. However, in Political Science, and especially in the area of international relations, the term ‘State’ is used as it is more precise and less ambiguous, as ‘country’ can refer to other things, such as a rural environment.
Another important term in political science is ‘nation.’ A nation is a large group of people with strong bonds of identity – an “imagined community,” a tribe on a grand scale. The nation may have a claim to statehood or self-rule, but it does not necessarily enjoy a State of its own. In other words, not all nations have States.
National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity, though disputes arise as to who is truly a member of the national community or even whether the “nation” exists at all (do you have to speak French to be Québécois? are Wales and Tibet nations?).
[Nations seem so compelling, so “real,” and so much a part of the political and cultural landscape, that people think they have lasted forever. In reality, they come into being and dissolve with changing historical circumstances – sometimes over a relatively short period of time, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Why, then, does national identity give rise to such extremely strong feelings? And why would so many be ready to “die for the nation” in time of war? Because of migration, most modern states include within their borders diverse communities that challenge the idea of national homogeneity and give rise to the community of citizenship, rather than membership in the nation. In the age of global transportation and communication, new identities arise to challenge the “nation,” but the pull of nationalism remains a powerful force to be reckoned with – and a glue that binds states together and helps many people (for better and for worse) make sense out of a confusing reality.]
Modern States tend to try to develop a sense of nation within their territorial boundaries. It is believed that a state consisting of a nation of people is more cohesive and easier to govern as there is a common set of beliefs, values, culture, and history. In fact, States that are able to successfully create a nation out of its population are called Nation-States.