International Affairs · Public Policy

The Philosophy of National Interest

Over the years, nations have conducted unpopular international operations and domestic procedures on the grounds of National Interest. The civil society continues to question any decision taken by governments solely based on a matter of national interest, especially if it relates to government spying on citizens. The reality is that National Interest is often an incomprehensible or rather a convoluted and complex labyrinth of logic which attempts to define the most valuable propositions or assets for a nation.

National Interest has often been confused as being an organic mix of domestic and international concerns of a government. It is, in fact, akin to a chemical mix of variables compartmentalised in an unstable chamber. Although attempts at de-linking one situation from the other are often undertaken, there are instances when the subjects may transcend these compartmentalised bodies. The compartmentalised bodies referred to here are: Domestic National Interest and International National Interest.

Domestic National Interest is associated with the stability of the country – economic, social and political. Multiple facets surround each of these arenas with some, like terrorism, even transcending this Domestic and International compartmentalisation. Domestic National Interest is heavily wedged in the Government’s ability to keep the population happy while according due priority to maintenance of internal security.

Policies meant to support economic development and growth are juxtaposed with job creation to achieve these said levels of stability. The government’s heavy expenditure on policing and law and order provides it with the means to encroach upon certain rights of citizens in order to maintain the security of the state and the government. The combination of these aspects ensures the three points of stability with intelligence gathering proving to be the most effective tool of securing these points of importance.

International National Interest is the anthology of all geo-political and international economic aspirations of the government of a country. International National Interest of a country can change with a change in government, unlike Domestic National Interest which remains constant for all rational governments.

An effective government strategy has been to leave the National Interest definition ambiguous and open to speculation. The theory behind this strategy is the idea of plausible-deniability. However, time after time, governments continue to draw from the concept of National Interest to undertake and sanction actions which may draw criticism from wide sections of the society in the country and even internationally.

It is important to accept the limited role a nation has to play in determination of national interest. The Government of the said nation carries out the determination of national interest. Hence, accepting national interest as the interest of the citizens of the country is misleading and false. The agenda of governments and citizens is starkly different. Governments are smarter and more vested in the continuation of the State than average citizens. The citizens, or rather ordinary civilians of a country, have absolutely no direct role in the determination of national interest. Although Governments like projecting national interests like protecting the civilians of the country, an alternate understanding of this process would lead us to believe that a Government’s legitimacy is entrenched in its ability to protect the citizens. Without elections, the people have no role to play in the national interest conversation during the life of the government but can attempt to initiate changes by changing the government.

 Nevertheless, enough room is allowed for private individuals and citizens of the state to influence the said determination. Lobbies are a critical part of the national interest determination process. However, lobbies are only representations of different segments of society. They can be labelled as a unit trying to secure the interests of citizens with the government. The success rate of such attempts may vary depending upon the economic strength of the lobby.

Governments interact with entities trying to influence their national interest policy based on their economic strength. The interaction is rarely two way in nature. However, the government’s interaction is also moulded by the threat perceptions it has to its survival. No interaction is initiated if a change in national interest position by the government will lead to foreseeable danger to its establishments or existence. They are fiercely cautious during the initiation of any procedure to change existing policies specifically affecting any national interest. Therefore, major changes in foreign policy majorly occur only when there are changes in governments.

Therefore, National Interest is linked to the maintenance or continuance of the Government. Thus, National Interest needs to be understood synonymously with Government Interest as the chances of these interests being divergent are extremely low or almost nil. National Interest is only a more acceptable synonym as it hints towards the inclusion of the various elements of the nation and their interests; hence, the usage.

About the Author

picDhruva Mathur

Dhruva is a 20 year old fresh graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai with Majors in Economics and Political Science. He blogs at An Indian Youngster  and tweets at @Dhruva_Mathur and is followed by Kevin Rudd, Foreign Affairs and European Council on Foreign Relations among others. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and debating. He is a Social Liberal with a Right tilt for economics oriented towards development.

Leave a Reply