In international relations, national interest is an effort to describe the underlying rational for the behaviour of states and statesmen in a threatening international environment, that preserves and protects one’s values against others. Every country seeks to promote and further its national interests of the country. The primary interests of each state are self-preservation, security and well being of its citizens.
The word -Interest” derives from a Latin word, that means, “it concerns, it makes a difference to, it is important with reference to some person or thing”. It is a condition of wanting to know or learn about.
- Some Scholars like Raymond Aron are of the opinion that it is a meaningless theory. However, some of the definition given below will help in clarifying the concept of National Interest.
- “The general and continuing ends for that a nation acts.” (Brooking’s Institute)
- “A general long term and continuing purpose that the state, the nation and the government all see themselves as serving.” (Abdul Said).
- “The goal that might be pursued by nations in their foreign policy can run the gamut of objectives any nation has ever pursued or might possibly pursue”. (Van Dyke)
- “It is not only a political necessity but also a moral duty for nations but one guiding star, one standard for thought, one rule for action the National Interest”. (Fred A. Sondermann)
- Self-interest is not only a legitimate, but a fundamental cause for national policy: one that needs no cloak of hypocrisy. As a principle, it does not require justification in general statement although the propriety of its application to a particular instance may call for demonstrations. It is just as true now as ever that it is vain to expect governments to act continuously on any other ground than national interest. They have no right to do so, being agents and principals”. (Alfred T. Mohan)
Development of the Concept of National Interest
The concept of National Interest is comparatively a new concept. In the ancient and the medieval times also the states pursued certain substantial interests on the basis of that their relations were conducted. In the early Middle Ages the laws of Christianity formed the basis of these relations and the states were expected to ensure that their laws etc. conformed to these principles. However, with the emergence of the secular power, Church began to be looked upon as the enemy of National Interest and the National Interests were equated with the interest of the prince of the ruling dynasty. At that time the national interest meant the interest of a particular monarch in holding fast to the territories lie already possessed, in extending his domains and in aggrandizement of his house. But in course of time the popular bodies challenged the authority of the monarchs and asserted themselves. This resulted in the growth of democracy and the honour of the Prince was replaced by the honour of the nation. Thus, the concept passed from the feudal and monarchical system to the republic democratic system and soon gained a common usage in the political and diplomatic literature. In short term, “National Interest” gained currency with the emergence of the national state system, increase in popular political control and the great expansion of economic relations.
Kinds of National Interest
According to Thomas W. Robinson, the national interest can be classified into six categories i.e.
- Primary interest
- Secondary interest.
- Permanent interest
- Variable interest
- General interest
- Specific interest.
The primary interests of a nation include the preservation of physical, political and Cultural identity of the state against possible encroachments from outside powers. These interests are permanent and the state must defend these at all costs. No compromise of these interests is possible.
The Secondary Interests though less important then the first one is quite vital to the existence of the state. These include the protection of the citizens abroad and ensuring of diplomatic immunities for the diplomatic staff.
Permanent Interests refer to the relatively constant and ” long4erm interest of the state. The change in the permanent interests, if any, is rather slow. An example of this type of national. interest. is provided by the determination of Britain to maintain freedom of navigation during the past few centuries for the protection of her overseas Colonies and growing trade.
The variable Interests refer to those Interests of a nation that a nation considers vital for a national good in a given set of circumstances. In this sense the variable interests can diverge from both Primary and Permanent Interests. The variable Interests of a state are largely determined by the Personalities, Public opinion, Sectional Interests, Partisan Politics and Political and Moral folk ways.
The general interests of a nation refer to those positive conditions that can be applied to a large number of nations or in several specified fields such as economic, trade and diplomatic intercourse etc. for example it was the general national interest of Britain to maintain balance of the European Continent.
The Specific Interests although the logical outgrowth of the general interest -are defined in terms of time or space. For example, Britain has considered it a specific national interest to maintain the independence of the lower countries for the sake of preservation of balance of power in Europe.
In addition to the above six types of national interest Prof. Robinson refers to three other interest that he describes as, “International Interest”. These include the identical interests, complementary interests and conflicting interests that are as under.
- The Identical Interests: The Identical Interests refer to Interests that are held in common by a number of states. For example, both United States and Britain have been interested that Europe should not be dominated by any single power.
- The complementary Interests: The Complementary Interests of the nations refer to those interests that though not identical, can form the basis of agreement on some specific issues. For example, Britain was interested in the independence of Portugal against Spain because she wanted to control the region of the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, Portugal was interested in the British maritime hegemony because this was a safe means of defense against Spain.
- The conflicting Interests: The Interests other than identical and complementary interest fall in the category of conflicting interests. It may be noted that the conflicting interests are not fixed and undergo a change due to the force of events and diplomacy. Thus, the present time conflicting interests may become complementary interests. Likewise, complementary interests and identical Interest can also get transformed into conflicting Interests
Methods for Promotion of National Interest
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- Coercive Measures
- Foreign Aid
- Tariff, Restriction and Quotas
- Diplomatic Negotiations
- Economic aid