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Robert Putnam, in his two level games had pointed out that policymakers had to negotiate with both domestic and international constituencies before reaching a policy decision. The gap between the two levels is now more stark than ever in Hambantota. Sign in. Get started. Latest Jobs Write for us About Takshashila. The Pearl Faces the Pinch. Hamsini Hariharan Follow. Indian National Interest An Indian public policy watering hole. Join the conversation today. Hosted by the Takshashila Institution. Indian National Interest Follow.


An Indian public policy watering hole. Write the first response. Discover Medium. Make Medium yours. Yet our "sole superpower" status means the US will continue to use its influence, and perhaps its military forces, to save lives, right wrongs, and keep the peace. We are in an era in which US interventions may be seen as important but not vital. In such instances, US leaders, supported by public opinion, may be willing to use military force for humanitarian reasons.

Interests are a starting point, not an end state. At its simplest understanding, the national interest demands the willingness of a state to uphold its morals and national values with the commitment of its blood, treasure, time, and energy, to achieve sometimes specific and sometimes inspecific ends. National interests reflect the identity of a people--their geography, culture, political sympathies, social consensus, as well as their levels of economic prosperity and demographic makeup.

The Two Faces Of National Interest by W. David Clinton

Thus, national interests are little more than a broad set of often abstract guidelines that allow a nation to function the way it believes it best should function. National interests also answer the fundamental but essential question: "What are we willing to die for?

Hans J. Morgenthau, the classic realist thinker, saw two levels of national interest, the vital and the secondary. Vital interests also negate compromise and represent issues over which the state is willing to wage war. Secondary interests are more difficult to define but do involve compromise and negotiation. But how a nation identifies with such vital and secondary interests has to do with the kind of national identity--or polity, as Aristotle termed it--a people want to assume for themselves.

This identity can also change over time.

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America, for example, is no longer the isolationist nation it once prided itself on being--and has not been isolationist since the s. In , representatives at the Bretton Woods conference established the core principles for economic order that are embodied today in the World Trade Organization; that same year, political leaders at Dumbarton Oaks presented aspects of a vision for future order in their proposals for a United Nations. What America became committed to in the postwar order were a broader internationalist conception of vital interests that were in many ways antithetical to the isolationist preference favored by the founders of the American Republic.

George Washington's farewell address revealed a preference for national interests for America that seems oddly out of place in today's environment: "Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.

Moreover, domestic concerns also shape foreign policy applications. Realist arguments that presume clear distinctions exist between internal domestic and external strategic national interests are, at best, flawed. At their most basic and abstract level, US national interests in the contemporary world are simple to describe: to assure the security and prosperity of the American people in the global environment.

What matters most, perhaps, about this claim is the phrase "in the global environment. The ability to distinguish core strategic interests from significant interests that might require the US to commit its blood, treasure, time, and energy to achieve objectives is almost never easy. Indeed, the misrepresentation of what constitutes a national interest may well embody the central strategic dilemma the United States faces in this next century.

It was no accident that political scientist Arnold Wolfers, five decades ago, referred to the concepts of "national security" and "national interest" as "ambiguous symbols. More frequently than is often admitted, policymakers cannot know exactly how a potential crisis may affect the real national interest. Even seemingly objective and clear threats are difficult to sort through. The connection between Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and Serbia's refusal to sign the Rambouillet agreement may involve a difficult chain of causes and events that must be dealt with in relation to the idea of "interest":.

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Different people see different risks and dangers. And priorities vary: reasonable people can disagree, for example, about how much insurance to buy against remote threats and whether to do so before pursuing other values such as human rights.

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In a democracy, such political struggles over the exact definition of national interests--and how to pursue them--are both inevitable and healthy. Foreign-policy experts can help clarify causation and tradeoffs in particular cases, but experts alone cannot decide. Nor should they.

The national interest is too important to leave solely to the geopoliticians. Elected officials must play the key role. The following three-tiered approach to assessment of interests as a basis of action for policymakers, strategists, and force planners is meant to illustrate this necessarily complex process. The first tier resembles Donald Neuchterlein's hierarchy of intensity and applicability. Issues such as "favorable world order" or "promotion of values" can enter the realm of vital, core strategic interests more often than commonly thought. Witness Kosovo, for example: NATO nations, by effectively declaring war against Yugoslavia on 24 March , were acting both in the "self-interest" of NATO and European security and, equally, in support of human rights and individual freedoms.

The intervention marked a watershed event that suggested human beings are indeed more important than the state:. This is probably the first war that has not been waged in the name of "national interests," but rather in the name of principles and values. If one can say of any war that it is ethical, or that it is being waged for ethical reasons, then it is true of this war.

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  • Kosovo [unlike Kuwait] has no oil fields to be coveted; no member nation in the alliance has any territorial demands; Milosevic does not threaten the territorial integrity of any member of the alliance. And yet the alliance is at war. It is fighting out of concern for the fate of others. It is fighting because no decent person can stand by and watch the systematic, state-directed murder of other people. It cannot tolerate such a thing. It cannot fail to provide assistance if it is within its power to do. This war places human rights above the rights of state.

    And although some believed there emerged from the war in Kosovo a so-called "Clinton Doctrine," in which the world community would have an obligation to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide whenever able, the mandate itself seemed far from certain. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was far less sanguine when speaking a few days after the President first pronounced support for the new doctrine: "Some hope.

    I would caution against such sweeping conclusions.

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    • Every circumstance is unique. Decisions on the use of force will be made. And the above examples, rather than trying to imply the vacillation of decisionmakers, only suggest how difficult it is initially to distinguish between core strategic and significant value interests or what others have termed "vital" and "secondary" interests. Thus, aside from determining a first-tier order that provides the decisionmaker a useful, systematic means to think about interests, there should be a second tier for assessing how aspects of such interest will affect policy decision, implementation, and overall strategy.

      Figure 2 is meant to illustrate this difficulty. Two pertinent examples of how focus, influence, importance, and attention to interests develop over time can be drawn from American involvement in the Balkans during the s. In , as Bosnia-Herzegovina descended into complete chaos and Great Britain and the United States came to loggerheads over whether or not NATO should intervene in the former Yugoslavia, President Clinton declared that "Europe must bear most of the responsibility for solving" problems in the Balkans.

      Put another way, American interests had moved from not only significant interest to core strategic or, from "secondary" to "vital" but also from a general to a specific focus. This second-tier "taxonomy of interest" can also point to some difficult recognitions and seeming weaknesses in applying strict categorizations of interests in all specific instances. The United States, for example, felt the sting of the "Kosovo effect" in late when Russian decisionmakers informed the Clinton Administration that they were following the example of NATO intervention in the Balkans.

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      Declaring the interest need to protect both sovereign Russian territory as well as the "human rights" of Russian citizens, the Russians unleashed their airpower to systematically destroy the capital of Chechnya and the outlying region, leaving tens of thousands of refugees and a ruined Chechnyan infrastructure. Although perhaps apocryphal, one Russian diplomat is said to have asked a US State Department official what the difference between Kosovo and Chechnya was, and to have received the reply: "You [Russians] had nuclear weapons.

      Such contentious responses to the application of American power in support of American interests prove useful in appreciating the complexity of national interests under strategic uncertainty. Distinguishing how such second-tier categories of interest consequence conflict with initial first-tier interest assessments further sharpen the recognition that interests are not always in harmony, policy decisions are difficult and often nuanced, and strategy can, at times, seem hypocritical.

      While we do not hesitate to impose economic sanctions against Myanmar for its atrocious human rights record, we refrain from similar sanctions against the People's Republic of China for obvious reasons: Our economic prosperity interests of core strategic importance, specific focus, and enduring influence would almost always predominate over "lesser" interests of significant value importance, general focus , and uncertain duration. In an ideal world, support for human rights would not conflict with "absolute" interests that Americans would be willing to die for.

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      In Iraq in , rightly or wrongly, Americans were willing to accept to up to 10, casualties, but would not have been willing to accept as many casualties in stemming the wide-scale genocide of the Tutsi population by Hutus with over , deaths in for one specific reason: Americans are reluctant to accept casualties, or even to intervene, when their only foreign policy goals are "unreciprocated humanitarian interests. Finally, a useful third-tier approach to addressing potential interests, strategic impact, and decision should include a methodology for assessing the relationship of factors that will affect the relative position of first-tier selected interests.

      This methodology is simple and logical, and can also reveal how seemingly "lesser" interests can quickly affect "core" interests. A North Korean invasion of South Korean territory, for instance, requires little consideration of how an event will affect core strategic interests. See Figure 3. Understanding levels of importance, the relationship between specific and general aspects of this perceived importance, and how a potential chain of linked events might lead to a "reaction" that will affect core strategic interests should help better determine whether or not an issue requires action for the sake of interest.

      The necessary choices a decisionmaker could face might include the following: How plausible are postulated outcomes? How long is the chain of interrelated events? How far removed are these events from core strategic interests? How, specifically, will the issue affect obvious and not so obvious relationships to which the United States is committed? If the United States does not act on a specific issue, what are plausible second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-order consequences?

      Ultimately, addressing these consequences against potential interests is essential.