The concept of a ‘national interest’ that guides all policy choices, domestic and foreign, may be an appealing ideal, but in practical terms national interest can be identified only in specific situational contexts. Some general definitions have been attempted such as Robert Osgood’s “state of affairs valued solely for its benefit to the nation”, or Hans Morgenthau’s “political traditions and the total culture context within which a nation formulates its foreign policy”. However, suffice it to observe that National Interest is a highly subjective concept. In this unit, we will examine the nature of this concept in relation to foreign policy.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- Explain the nature and meaning of foreign policy;
- Discuss National Interest in the context of foreign policy.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 The Meaning of National Interest
In his work, “The Restoration of American Politics”, Morgenthau uses the term national interest in many different ways to cover a bewildering variety of meanings. This seems to be evidenced by the following array of terms: common interest, and conflicting interest, primary and secondary interest, inchoate interest, community of interests, political and complementary interest, vital interests, legitimate interests, specific or limited interests, material interests, hard core interests, necessary and variable interests”. Upon further investigation, however, these terms were broken down into two general categories, the national interests of a simple nation and the degree of commonality of interests of a simple nation and the degree of commonality of interests among two or more
nations. Under the heading of the national interest we can group together several interests according to
- the degree OF primacy of the interest;
- the degree of permanence of the interest;
- the degree of generality of the interest. The degree or lack of commonality of interests between two or more states could be represented by conflicting interest, community of interests, identical interests and ideological interest. National interest is, however, frequently used as a concept that guides us in understanding the foreign policy of a particular country. There is therefore, some truth in Hans Morgenthau’s contention that “no nation
can have true guide as to what it must do and what it needs to do in foreign policy without accepting national interest as that guide”. The term therefore tends to be used to explain what a nation is doing or about to do as foreign policy or her external relations. Since foreign policy is something pursued for the sake of the national interest, the question as to what actually constitute a national interest, has to be related to what the foreign policies of a particular country is. The ultimate outcome that a state, whether that state is small or big, weak or strong, rich or poor consider in its vital interest could be classified into three:
- All nation-states are interested in self-preservation; i.e. national security as well as stability of the system.
- All nations are interested in economic wellbeing, economic stability and prosperity, the fight against unemployment, inflation, and unfavourable trade relations with others.
- Nation-states are also generally interested in prestige and power, which implies that weak or poor nations want to have some degree of prestige among the comity of nations. The priorities that a nation’s people collectively place on the achievement of these and other values are a product of their basic attitudes and beliefs, their perceptions of domestic and international pressure. National interest is the key concept in foreign policy. In essence, it amounts to the sum total of all the national values (national in both meanings of the word, both pertaining to the nation and to the state). Joseph Frankel says the notion of “national interest is based upon the
values of the national community, values which can be regarded as the product of its culture and as the expression of its sense of cohesion, values which define for man what they believe to be right or just”. Whether considered as independent, a mediating or dependent variable, or just a rationalization, national interest constitutes an element in the making of foreign policy to which, however, it may be defined. Therefore, the Brookings Institution’s definition of national interest as “the general and continuing ends for which the nation acts” appears to make commonsense to us.
3.1.1 Foreign Policy
A political and strategic interest of the United States that guides the identification of recipients of foreign assistance and the fundamental characteristics of development assistance. The national interest, often referred to by the French term raison d’ tat, is a country’s goals and ambitions whether economic, military, or cultural. The notion is an important one in international relations where pursuit of the national interest is the foundation of the realist school. A foreign policy is a set of political goals that seeks to outline how a particular country will interact with the other countries of
3.1.2 Japan’s Foreign Policy – Influences Structure Agency Norms
Norms shape behaviour of policy-making actors; norms are dynamic, open to manipulation, and change over time. Japanese policy-makers are subject to 4 ‘internationally-embedded’ norms and 3 ‘domestically- embedded’ norms:
Bilateralism – i.e. the belief that Japanese foreign policy should be conducted on a bilateral basis with the US (e.g. Yoshida) Asianism – i.e. belief that Japan should play its ‘traditional’ role of intermediary between Asia and the West; encourages Japan to develop and East Asian identity; reversal of Meiji policy (e.g. Ishihara)
Trilateralism – an emerging norm; 3-pillar system of economic interaction between EU-US-Japan (e.g. Obuchi)
Internationalism – belief in early-starter’s concept that a traditional/orthodox power should make full use of its material
capabilities to provide international public goods and uphold multilateral global institutions (e.g. Ozawa)
Antimilitarism – stems from WWII experience, belief in pacifism and aversion to taking on greater military responsibility.
Developmentalism – late-comer / catch-up-ism, in political and economic sense.
Economism – a combination of Antimilitarism and Developmentalism which rejects militarism, and adopts an “economics-first” policy.
The roblem occurs when there is tension between international and domestic norms; the former shapes a ‘normal’, pro-active foreign policy; whereas the latter shapes an ‘abnormal’ foreign policy.
Self Assessment Exercise
“National Interest” is a subjective concept. Discuss.
The meaning of National Interest is highly contentious and subjective, and often depends on the decision makers’ perceptions, or the interests of the dominant political and economic actors or elite in a particular society. They often determine what should be the National Interest as their interests play themselves out in the push and pull of politics. However, this is not to say that there are no commonly accepted interests of a country that should be protected at all times, such as the
We have discussed the meaning and nature of National Interest as it affects a country’s welfare, protection and projection of what it considers its National Interest.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
“National Interest is a key concept in the study of Foreign Policy”. Discuss.