The concept of National Interest continues to be Important to foreign policy makers despite its limitation as a theoretical and scientific concept. The concept and the term can be used in two different ways. First, as a criterion to assess what is at stake in any given situation and to evaluate what course of action is best, and second as a justification for decision taken.
Admittedly, the task of justifying decisions has become increasingly important with the rise of public opinion and the remarkable changes in communication and technology in the last century. Public opinion plays a very important role in National interest. Foreign policy is now conducted in much more open environment than used to be the case, and the public’s demand an “instant history” of what is taking place and why a particular decision was made has created pressure on leaders, Government officials, to explain and justify all of their important decisions and actions. It is not surprising that, under these circumstances, the national interest tends to become a somewhat shopworn part of the political rhetoric of every administration and at times a psychological crutch for leaders who become locked into disastrous policies.
National interest has been without value to important decision makers or policymakers who were determined to set reasonable objectives, to judge carefully what was at stake in particular situation, and to act prudently in any given situation. Any decision or policy which is made should not affect public or any nation, but the concept of National interest is so wide and complex that it is very difficult to monitor and execute the policies or decision taken by decision makers. In my opinion I would like to say that “if a nation wants to gain something, it has to compromise something”.
National Interest is similar in the respect to concepts such as the general welfare and the public Interest. Such concept cannot be employed as a utility function in precise policy analysis. They can be related to specific choice of action only through consideration of the sub goals to which they are presumably related. Thus, national interest encompasses a variety of sub goals that compete for the influence in the conduct of foreign policy.
Values and Interest as they affect Foreign policy.
The term National Interest used by some policy makers implies a choice among values standing behind those interests. As the concept of national interest is to be useful as a criterion for policy, it must specify some means by which leaders can determine which values, and therefore which interest, are to be included, and which excluded, from the set of national interests. The main question is for which values or interest should be given more preference. I think all the policy makers should see National Interest from the point of foreign policy.
In this case we will focus to distinguish different types of national interest, the first distinction leads us to a question of whose interest are principally involved in a given situation. The first interest we came across is self – regarding interest.
Self – regarding interest- means to achieve, protection, or extension of benefits to the states and its citizens. The main preference is given to the protection of the lives, liberty, and property of a given state and its citizens are self regarding from the view point of that state. The second interest which we can see is the other – regarding interest.
Other – regarding interest – refers to the benefits that accrue primarily to other states or their citizens, although actions on their behalf may bring indirect and intangible benefits to a countries own people. For egg. Soviet Union supporting Cuba against the Americans, the reason may be personal or gaining support from other nation. And the last which we came across is Collective Interest.
Collective Interest – Is different from both other types here we can see one cannot clearly separate benefit to oneself from those to others. All the people in the world may benefit from preservation of healthy atmosphere or a viable oceans environment, within a somewhat restricted area, all may benefit from maintenance of an orderly world economic system and arrangements to assure adequate global food supplies.
But most of the time the term National Interest is used only to refer to self – regarding interest, because the top priority is given to the people of the state in times of danger and war, the government should consider its people first over all the interest and protect he state.
Table.1. Types of National Interest (for United States)
Scope of interest principally Affected
Seriousness of Effects
Seriousness of Effects
Basic – self regarding (irreducible National Interest)
Secondary self regarding
International System Collectively
Other States or their Citizens.
Basic other regarding
Secondary other – regarding
Source: Alexander L. George. Robert O. Keohane
The table.1. Indicates the relationship of various state interests to one another, it should be clear that in order to pin down and restrict. “Irreducible National Interest” we have differentiated these types from other kind of interest that may lay legitimate claim to the influencing a nation- state foreign policy. Here we do not conclude that only irreducible national interest should influence foreign policy but, rather, that it is desirable to sort out the other kind of interests in addition to irreducible national interests having to be weighed in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy. It should also be clear from table.1, in combination with the argument above, that the notations Interests should determine policy is incompletely specified until we know which types of interests are being referred to and what importance they are to be given. Furthermore, apart from “basic self-regarding national interests”, no clear lexicographic ordering or these types of interests can be given. For reasons explicated above, it would not be justifiable to give self- regarding interests. In each case, the intensity of the interests needs to be considered along with the special degree of responsibility that a government has to defend the interests of its own citizens.
Irreducible National Interests.
Here we consider only self-regarding interests, and we take of United States as the standpoint, with its particular constitutional system, as one point of departure. The first step is to distinguish “basic: from “secondary” self-regarding interests. Such distinctions among values are to some extent inherently subjective, but the familiar trade of economic well being provides a good place to start. We therefore identify the fundamental values, to which the term “irreducible national interests” seems appropriate. Some of the fundamentals are.
Physical survival – This refers to the survival of the countries citizens, not necessarily to the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereign independence of the state. In an age of thermonuclear weapons, this value is, of course always in danger.
Liberty – Here refers to the ability of inhabitants of countries to choose their own form of government and to exercise a set of individual rights defined by law and protected by the state. For United States, liberty can be regarded as referring to preservation of the “democratic way of life.” Liberty, unlike, physical survival, is a matter of degree. Irreducible National Interests are therefore best regarded not as including all claims to liberty, but more narrowly to the preservation of a significant degree of national autonomy and the maintenance of a non arbitrary structure of law.
Economic Substance – Government have always regarded economic substance vitally important to preserve the ability of their citizens and keep the flow of income in the nation. Increasing the economic welfare is the key goal of the government, but this interest partially influences irreducible national interest to increase the per capita income. For egg, there was substantial agreement within United States. For many years after WWII that these three fundamentals values or irreducible national interest should shape the basic purpose and objectives of American foreign policy.
The “national interest” is a mixture of statement resulting from the principles that a nation prizes most-liberation, freedom, defense (military) national economy social values and security. Interests are usually expressed in terms of physical survival, economic, and political power. The list always expands, and is ultimately shaped by subjective preferences and political debate. As an object of political debate, the concept of national interest serves to propose, justify, or denounce policies. Because the national interest is the foundation for both the National Security Strategy and its supporting National Military Strategy, it is essential that military leaders understand the political context from which the details of the national interest emerge. The guiding concept of national interest is more often assumed than analyzed in the dynamic context of domestic and international politics.
What’s good for the nation as a whole in international affairs. (What’s good for the nation as a whole in domestic affairs is the public interest.) National interest lies at the very heart of the military and diplomatic professions and leads to the formulation of a national strategy and of the calculation of the power necessary to support that strategy. The concepts of national interest is very complex and difficult to turn into working strategy. It requires one to perceive the world with undistorted clarity and even to anticipate the second- and third-order effects of policies. Few are so gifted. Instead of bringing clarity and cohesion, many quarrel over what the national interest is in any given situation. The author of this monograph will argue that the concept of national interest still has utility, not as an objective fact but as a philosophical argument in favor of limiting the number of crusades a country may be inclined to undertake.
Interest Defined as Power.
Before identifying what is National Interest the state must see what is more important for the foreign policy .The decision makers or the policy makers should ask the question first weather the decisions made would preserve and improve the state’s power, or the decision taken would ultimately weaken the states power? A policy of “improving” the state’s power is not to be confused with territory growth,
Overseas development, for example, might emerge to increase the states power by the influx of new riches. But it may also reduce the states power by spreading it too little and engaging too many enemies. A big territory may actually reduce the states power. Like the Spanish Habsburgs put themselves out of business. Hitler flung away German power and ruined the state. There are times when the policymakers should move slowly to engage the armed forces in the threat or practice of war. When there is question of war the decision must be taken wisely and analyze which interest is best for the nation, because war involves people of two nations. When the borders or existence of the state are threatened by an expansionist or imperialist neighboring state, one must arm and form alliances, and it is best to do so earlier rather than later. Accordingly, one of the great tasks of the policymakers is to scan the possibility for expansionist or imperialist threats. Any state or nation engaged in expanding its power is pursuing a “policy of imperialism,”. When state see danger from the other nation or if the other nation is politically or economically strong it is better to form alliances. This saves lot of manpower and money of the nation. The state should not wait for the other nation to deliberately violate some point of international law; we can see the invasion of Poland, for that might be too late. Britain and France, more intent on the detail of international law, failed to understand the imperialist force behind German moves in the late 1930s. Eventually the most dangerous policy is one of declaring certain interests to be vital but then not backing up your words with military power. This is a “policy of bluff” and tends to end badly, in one of two ways: either your adversary sees that you are bluffing and continues the conquests, or you slowly attempt to back up your words, in which case you may have to go to war to convince the other nation that you were not bluffing. One terrible example is the U.S. policy of angry words at Japan in the 1930s over its conquest of China, words unsupported by military power or any inclination to use it. Tokyo could simply not believe that China was a vital U.S. interest; the Americans were bluffing.
Vital and Secondary Interests.
There are two levels of national interest, the vital and the secondary. To protect the first, which concerns the very life of the state, there can be no compromise or uncertainty about going to war.
Vital national interests are relatively easy to define. Security as a free and independent nation and protection of institutions, people, and fundamental values. Vital interests may at times extend overseas should one detect an expansionist state that is distant now but amassing power and conquests that later will affect you. Imperialist powers that threaten your interests are best dealt with early and always with adequate power. Secondary interests, are those over which one may seek to compromise, are harder to define. Potentially, however, they can grow in the minds of policymakers until they seem to be important. If an interest is secondary, mutually beneficial deals can be negotiated, provided the other party is not engaged in a policy of expansion. If the other state is engaged in expansion, compromises on secondary interests will not calm matters and may even be read as conciliation. Additionally, Realists distinguish between temporary and permanent interests, specific and general interests, and complementary and conflicting interests. Defense of human rights in a distant land, for example, might be permanent, general, and secondary.
The state should have a long-term commitment to human rights but without any dispute with a specific country, certainly not one that would damage your states overall relations or weaken your nations power, here in the case of China we could see human rights issue. A hostile China, for example, offers the United States little help in dealing with an aggressive, nuclear-armed North Korea. Which are more important, human rights in China or restraining a warlike country which threatens U.S. allies? More often than not, political leaders must choose between competing interests. Two countries, even allies, seldom have identical national interests. The best one can hope for is that their interests will be complementary. The United States and Albania, for instance, may have a common interest in opposing Serbian “ethnic cleansing,” but the U.S. interest is a general, temporary, and secondary one concerning human rights and regional stability. The Albanian interest is a specific, permanent, and possibly vital one of forming a Greater Albania that would include Serbian-held Kosovo with its Albanian majority. Our interests may run parallel for a time, but we must never mistake Albanian interests for U.S. interests
TYPES OF NATIONAL INTEREST
Table 1. Examples
No Soviet Missiles in Cuba.
An open World oil supply.
Support for Iraq in opposing Iran.
No Hostile powers in western hemisphere.
No Japanese Trade barriers .
Universal respect for human rights.
Russian Cooperation in Bosnia
Russian support for Serbs.
It is sometimes hard to predict how another country will define its national interest. Every country is different in terms of political, economical, and geographical, every nation has their own set of interests. Each nation sees things through different eyes. For egg, in the case of Hungary in the 1990s it been very cooperative with the West and ready to join NATO. In 1994, however, when the United States and France proposed air strikes to control Serbian weapons atrocities in Bosnia, Hungary stopped the U.S. use of its territory for AWACS flights. An American looking at this refusal is confused. “But don’t they want to be on our team?” A Hungarian looking at the refusal says, “We’ll have to live with the Serbs for centuries; that border is a vital, permanent interest for us. Some 400,000 ethnic Hungarians live under Serbian control in Voivodina as virtual hostages. The Americans offer no guarantees of protection, but they expect us to join them in an act of war.
Sorry, not a good deal.” (The AWACS flights were quickly restored as the crisis passed.) The diplomat’s work is in finding and developing complementary interests so that two or more countries can work together. (Better diplomatic spadework would have signalled in advance the difference between Hungarian and U.S. interests in 1994.) Often countries have some interests that are complementary and others that are conflicting, as when NATO members cooperate to block the Soviet threat but clash over who will lead the alliance. The French-U.S. relationship can be described in this way. Where interests totally conflict, of course, there can be no cooperation.
Here it is the diplomat’s duty to say so and find ways to minimize the damage. Do not despair in this situation, as national interests can shift, and today’s adversary may be tomorrow’s ally. Much national interest thought has a geographical component; that is, a country, waterway, or resource may have a special impact on your national interest. Britain, for example, had a permanent, specific, and often vital interest in the Netherlands. Who controlled the Low Countries had the best invasion route to England. (For the blue-water types: the northerly winds that sweep between England and the Continent allow a sailing vessel to take a beam reach, the fastest point of sail, west from Holland to England. Here the winds, in facilitating rapid invasion, helped define England’s national interest.) Whether the threat was Habsburg emperors, French kings, or German dictators, Britain felt it had to engage to secure this invasion springboard.