National Interest is more Significant than Ideology in Shaping Foreign Policy
Ideologies shape the foreign policy of a state when the state is in need of a justification of its actions in international relations. When those reasons are already present, then the main concern becomes how the nation will involve itself in the relations with other nations to ensure that it stays true to the reasons of engagement. The reasons of engaging in international relations are the national interests of a country. Foreign policy is the exact guideline that a nation uses to engage other nations or group of nations. The foreign policy is shaped by the national interest of the state to guarantee state prosperity and survival. Where ideologies form the national policy then the state is left at the mercy of its enemies who are free to attack or deprive it of its livelihood as long as they play within the ideology limits of the foreign policy. This essay demonstrates that only national interest can shape foreign policy because they guarantee prosperity and survival. The paper looks at the definitions of ideology and national interests, and then explores the concept of national interests as applied by the US and other countries.
An ideology is an attempt to improve the society or at least lay a claim to improve the society. It is very similar to religion and differs only in the outcome. In fact, people advocating for a certain ideology mimic religious fanatics, forcing or persuading non-believers to view their ideology as the truthful one compared to other ideologies. Opponents of ideologies view it as a justification of dictatorship. In most cases where ideologies shape the affairs of a nation, the leader takes the ideology sarcastically and pursues a policy of national interests. Ideology is accepted when it fits the reasons for a particular action and it can be dropped like a hat when it is no longer suitable. Revolutionaries who go as far as ignoring their own national interests usually propagate ideologies. Such revolutionaries are untrustworthy when it comes to the maintenance of a formidable foreign policy. In most cases an ideologist will change into a pragmatist once they assume power. Therefore, foreign policy cannot be shaped according to an ideology because ideologies do not explicitly enforce and protect national interests (Schwab (ed.) 1981).
The formation of foreign policy of any nation is a matter of choosing ends and means to achieve those ends to fulfill the interest of a nation in any particular time. There needs to be a basic formulation of the ideal that a country wishes to have in its business of interacting with other nations (Frankel 1970). Such ideals form the interest of the country in question. There are factors that shape the goal of a country in its relations with other countries or group of countries. The factors are in most cases dynamic, changing with the change of the environment of their formulation. In this view, the formulation of a foreign policy tends to consider the long-term effect of the policy and instead of being specific, provides a general guideline to given the involvement of a country in the relations of the world and also influences the stand which a country takes on these matters (Brands 1999).
Formulation of foreign policy is a learning process, affected by past event that concern a country directly and indirectly (Goldstein & Keohane (eds.) 1993). States engage in international relations using the guidelines contained in their national interests. Therefore, foreign policy is a reflection of the national interest of any country. The national interest forms the fabric of foreign policy, it is the goal of the country’s foreign policy and therefore, universally, national interest shapes foreign policy. However, the national interest of a specific country is unique to that country and changes with the public interests that shape the country (Bandyopadhyaya 2006).
The concept of national interest maybe thought to be clear and objective representing what is good for the whole nation in international relations (Rice 2000). A deeper look reveals that the concept of national interest is difficult to transform into a working strategy. There are a few persons that can see national interest specifically for what it is, however a majority of observers cannot accept a given notion of national interest and argue over the details of the its description (Roskin 1994).
From philosophy, national interest originated from the fifteenth century world of Machiavelli. He argued that a person may have sufficient moral goals but without a matching power and will to use the power, one cannot accomplish anything. His overriding aim was for Italy to be unified and liberated from foreign occupiers. Clausewitz, another philosopher contributes to the issue of national interest understanding by saying that, all states are motivated by their need to survive and be prosperous. To protect their interests, states must rationally agree to war; no other reason should warrant war. Moreover, unending war is not wise because it does not serve any national interest (Roskin 1994).
National interests that govern foreign policy in a democratic state are theoretically influenced and shaped by public opinion. In transitional states, public opinion is less concerned with international relations and therefore national interest and foreign policy is left to the discussion of a political and economic elite. This is usually necessitated by the public preoccupation with socio-economic problems within the country. These preoccupations include economic development, literacy levels and a low political consciousness (Morgenthau 1950).
According to (Roskin 1994), national interest is a composite declaration obtained from values that are paramount to a nation survival such as liberty, freedom and security. National interest is mostly given as physical survival, the prosperity of the nation, and its political sovereignty. These are not conclusive attributes, the list continues based on the subjective preferences and political debates in the nation. National interest is mostly arrived at after political debates and is intended to propose, justify or denounce policies. Since the foreign policy of countries is dynamic as outlined above, countries has neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, instead they have core interests that decide whether other countries are their friends or foes.
International relations show a spectrum of views on the characteristics of national interest. The extreme idealists on one end whose view is that national interest is the same as national power and the measure of power is the material strength of the country. Such material strength is composed of the military and economic strengths. Extreme idealists on the other end, identify national interest as the universal moral aspiration of humankind. This includes notions of eternal peace and the willingness to sacrifice material power of a nation for the overall uplifting of humanity. Within the limits of the two extremes are moderate views. The moderates form a synthetic conception of national interest that combines aspects of idealists and realists (Bandyopadhyaya 2006).
From a realist perspective, foreign policies are pursued to safeguard national interest, which is identified as the power of the state. Therefore, in this view, diplomats engage in international relations with the hindsight question of whether their involvement will increase or weaken their power. So the foreign state of a nation can be judged rationally and empirically irrespective of the values it purports to stand for. Foreign policy interpretation in the realist view has no room for the specific national ideologies such as communism, Islam or vegetarianism (Karam (ed.) 2004). Only one question looms above all, does the diplomat in question uphold the interest of the state to survive and be powerful? The policy becomes rational when the question is answered in the positive (Kirkby 1973).
When it comes to policies, a state does not have the luxury to declare that certain interest are vital yet the state cannot substantially demonstrate the importance with a strategic military power. This mistake does not go without pay. The adversary of the state will see the mistake and continue with their conquest against the state, or the state will find itself in a compromising situation of having to convince its adversaries that it had serious intentions of its statement. When coming up with foreign policies, states ensure that they convey only that which they can back up (Kirkby 1973).
National interests fall into two categories, vital and secondary interests. The vital interests concern the very life of a state. Therefore, they cannot be compromised; a threat to vital interest is a call for war. Secondary interests on the other hand, can be compromised and are general and hard to pin point. They present no real threat to a state’s sovereignty (Roskin 1994). Secondary interests have a capacity to form debate to such a scale that they become vital interests. When the foreign policy describes a national interest as secondary then the country can negotiate a compromise of the interest with other countries in order to obtain a mutually advantageous deal. This is only possible when neither party to the negotiation is pursuing an expansionist aim, if that is the case then a compromise of the secondary national interests will not yield a viable resolution of the matter.
Moreover, in the realist view of national interests, there are temporary and permanent interests. In addition, they distinguish between specific interests and general interests, complimentary and conflicting interests. Defending human rights in another nation on another continent is mostly a permanent, general and secondary interest because each nation upholds humanity in its values and therefore has a long-term commitment to human rights. Such commitments come without conflicts with any other country that is likely to destroy relations and weaken the state’s power.
Two states never have identical national interest; however, their national interest may be similar in some aspects. For example it might be both India’s and the United States interest to oppose domination of terrorist groups in Pakistan but the intensity of the interest for India as a neighbor are different than those of the US, which views the situation in terms of world peace necessary for its prosperity (Bandyopadhyaya 2006).
Diplomats seek to find and grow complimentary interests to allow two or more countries to work together. When there is no ground for complimentary interests, nations cannot cooperate and therefore the work of their diplomats is to minimize any damage that may arise out of their conflicts. Knowing that national interests change, it is very normal for enemy state to suddenly become friends and have complimentary interests (Reynolds 1994).
Since natural interests are defined first by the international matters that affect the survival of a state, geographical components cannot miss. The geographical components include the country, natural resources and strategic positioning in harnessing resources or in warfare (Hill 2003).
The realist perspective was responsible for the continued assault on Vietnam by the US. During the period, the perspective had become main-stream and the attack was justified because the expansionist communist movement was swallowing one country after another and was threatening to disrupt US defense, politics and economic interests in Southeast Asia (Roskin 1994).
An idealist perspective of national interest usually encompasses ideologies that are globally recognized, to advocate for the cause for involvement of a nation (Neack 2008). For example, the slaughter of civilians in another country appeals to idealists because it signifies a loss of stability that is left alone might grow to become a vital threat to the survival of the particular nation. Idealists incorporate a world interest in their formulation of foreign policies and are more willing to compromise the standings of their states for the sake of world ideals. In extreme cases, an idealist campaign in foreign relations would make a nation interests be overly altruistic such that the nation is left defenseless. Foreign policy heavy on altruism will compel a nation to be involved in more than a dozen causes around the world that would necessitate numerous alliances that fritter away the power of the state with no clear tangible outcome.
National interests only concern the nation’s position in international relations. The expansion of the thinking to include interests of other nations or the interests of a group of nations in the world becomes another concept distinctly different from national interest. Otherwise, a nation will find itself fighting for peace in the world all over. In proper analysis of a state’s foreign policy and engagements, diplomats should ask if the proposed effort is for the good of the country of is intended to carry out an idealistic abstraction.
State’s National Interest and Foreign Policy
Weldes (1996) uses the Cuban missile crisis to evaluate the main issues that pertain to international relations. The author recognizes the importance of the event and its role in the standoff between two countries with opposing ideological systems. The United States and the Soviet Union in 1962 because of the missiles present in Cuba. The standoff achieved an epic importance in the records of the United States foreign policy. The author engages the reader to what aspects of the event make it so important that it is considered a crisis, and given its classification as a crisis, what then was its influence on the national interest of the United States. The analysis of the Cuban missile crisis by Weldes (1996) gives the reader an opportunity to see the role of national interest, how it shapes the practice of international relations.
The reason why the Soviet missiles in Cuba caused a crisis according to the United States was that the missiles presented a dire threat. The United States feared that the proximity of the missiles, of its enemy, to its territory made it so easy for the Soviet Union to attack the United States without providing the United States an opportunity for retaliation since the Soviet Union is significantly far from the United States. The main issue coming out of the crisis was not the facts of the potential attack, but conceptions of the Americans on the symbolism of the missiles in Cuba (Weldes 1996).
Rice (2008) notes that, in the post-Cold War era, the knowledge of where the foreign interests of the United States become clear, after the veil of uncertainty of an imminent war had been lifted. There were numerous changes that were shaping the United States foreign policy that were not very clear, nevertheless they continued to occur. The September 11, 2001 terrorism attack of United States brought in an aftermath that can be equated to the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941. The United States literally changed into a different world. As a result, there has been a continuous change of the American foreign policy shaped by new ideologies and interests brought up by the attacks. The relation of the US and other world emerging powers has however maintained the same significance. The US has pursued a policy that ensures it maintains the right relations with the big powers of the world such as Russia, China as well as the emerging powers like India and Brazil. In Addition, to maintain international order, the United States maintains an alliance with its traditional allies in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
The only change in the US policy is how the country views its relations with other states. It is notable that with globalization, some states strengthen will those weak in democratic structures are exposed as well as their likelihood of collapsing and their problems spilling over to influence other similar states and destabilize the global order (Smith, Hadfield & Dunne (eds.) 2008). The US highlights the importance of democratic state creation as the most important element of its national interest. It advocates for the adoption of democracy in the Middle East to enforce a stability and peace in the region, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries it considers the most unstable (Ball 2006).
To increase the influence of its policies abroad, the US has relied on its strength and core values of realism and idealism. Its relationship with Russia and China has been on the grounds of common interests rather than common values. In Russia, the US has a common ground of a strategic framework for Russia to use its power responsibly. In the case of China, the US insists that it bears the full responsibility of being in the international community (Hastedt 2009). The US feels that China has to do more in its actions and support for issues in Darfur, Burma and Tibet. Therefore, the US relation with China mainly aims to influence the outcome of China’s actions on the above matters and other emerging issues of international relations (Hunt 1987).
The US cannot engage in a hostile relationship with China or any other warlike country threatening its allies on the pretext of human rights. Human rights, although forming moral values of the United States national interest, come in as secondary, permanent and general. The destruction of human rights in a distant land away from the US may signify a threat to global peace; however, such a threat does not threaten the existence of the US.
Using the above realist view, the US foreign policy on the Cuban missile crisis comes out as a folly given that tolerance of a Soviet puppet state within its neighborhood was irrational given the security threat in question. The reader wonders why the US engaged in Vietnam, which sits on the other side of the globe when its own neighborhood Cuba was threatened. The issue presents the dilemma that diplomats face on any given time, deciding what interest is the most important.
The power interests of the United States in relation to China make it less feasible to confront China in a warlike manner. China is a significant lender of the United States, therefore to an extent its relations with the US is important. China owns more than $50 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds. By becoming key stakeholders of the United States economy, hence its survival, countries such as South Korea, China, Taiwan and Germany influence the foreign policy of the US such that it cannot be harmful to their national interests. The decision to protect national interests by investing in the US economy is only driven by realism of the bargain power that is to be obtained thereafter in international matters (Huntington 1997).
As more countries become stakeholders in the US economy and development, they dilute its national interests and make its prosperity in specific areas their national interests. Transition states like China and India are become more involved in the politics of the US having key roles in the financing of political candidates in order to influence the foreign policy of the US. Such an engagement cannot be ideological, given the nature by which ideologies change among political groups. Only the desire to have a say in global matters to assure a countries prosperity economically and politically can motivate the scale of involvement illustrated above (Huntington 1997)
The relationship of the US with the transition states of Russia, India and China is shaped by the desire to ensure that the US supply of raw materials for its prosperity is not threatened. The emergence of the transition states as global economic giants threatens to disrupt the global supply of essential raw materials like oil and steel. Therefore, while the US will claim in its foreign policy that it is advocating for a peaceful world, in reality it is safeguarding its economic interests. To this end, the US has facilitated Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization so that there are no protective measures that can lock the US out of the key market of an emergent Russia in global trade.
India is seeking to be able to support its growing appetite for energy as its economy is growing; therefore, it has announced plans to develop nuclear power. The US recognizes the growing influence of India as a world power and is at the forefront of forming an alliance of ensuring world peace and economic prosperity so that it does not miss the opportunity of trade with India, as well as the benefit of having a global powerhouse on your side.
After the cold war, the hegemony of world affairs by two principle powers was lifted (Fawn 2004). Countries that were previously without a national interest because of their puppet status for the two super powers, the US and the Soviet Union, now have a say in the formulation of their foreign policies. Each country relates to another in terms of its survival (Fox 1982). The first form of collaboration among countries is trade, and when trade flourishes then countries may move into political partnerships. World affairs are no longer shaped by two opposing ideologies. Individual countries have to assess their involvement in different causes to determine if their engagement increases their power. The US national interest has also had to be compromised as countries realize that the world’s most powerful country has its nose into so many affairs that its cannot fully influence specific issues to take a given course (Bush 2002).
The growing influence of China as a global economic powerhouse is attributed to the narrow focus of China’s foreign policy. The country has decided to put a blind eye on all issues other than economic that affect its trade partners. The decision to only concentrate on economic outcomes of its relations, shows that china is maintain a realist view of national interest, the expansion of power. Purely economic partnerships allow China to get raw materials and have a market for its finished goods. The turning of a blind eye on ideologies ensures that China experiences very little direct hostility. In addition, China does not have a clean slate at home in human rights and other significant global ideals. Its zero involvement policy allows the country to avoid most hostilities that can be threats to its prosperity.
On the other hand, the US involvement in the murky waters of world peace ensures that it is fighting numerous wars all over the globe. As a result, its national interest is become too broad to define and predict. The assumption that world peace is achievable in the current world is an ideology that the US is pursuing. Its quest for world peace and social equality is creating foes and friends alike ensuring that the state does not realize any goal of its involvement. Ideologies behind the wars fought by the US change long before the wars are over, and even with the end of wars, it becomes difficult to guarantee that there will be a lasting peace (Hastedt 2009).
For a transitional state, survival and prosperity are more important than global ideals of peace and stability. Therefore, such states use the realist perspective of viewing their national interests. These states have specific goals that shape their national interests. National interests are unique to every state; however, they might be similar in the ends they advocate. Therefore, two states might find it suitable to be allies to achieve the same goal. Given the dynamic nature of national interests, interstate relations may at one point be constructive and the next destructive. The importance of alliances to guarantee political survival as characterized in the Cold War era is over and has been replaced by globalization and world governing bodies. The individual survival of countries in an increasingly competitive world has pushed states to position themselves to gain maximally from globalization. Therefore, the most important item for a nation is survival is getting raw materials for its economy and a market for its finished goods. The economic issues that determine the health of a state are the new national interest of any transitional economy and are the key factors that determine the state’s foreign policy.
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