JUANITA DZIFA SENANU-AMEVINDNK514COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITYMSC POLITICAL SCIENCE- Geopolitics,Democracy Promotion, or Cultural Identity?AUTUMN SEMSTER, 2017 Table of content DOES THE NATIONALINTEREST CHANGE OVER TIME?Introduction”National interests are permanent conditions whichprovide policy makers with a rational guide to their tasks: they are fixed,politically bipartisan and always transcend changes in government” (Burchill, 2005, p. 36). The openingquote clearly sets the tone of the thesis of this essay which is that thenational interest does not change over time. For an effective elaboration ofthe stated thesis, the paper has been segmented into five sections. Havingalready defined national interest, the first and obviously the introductorysection begins with an overview of the concept and briefly explains nationalinterest in the eyes of Political Realism, here-in-after referred to as Realism.
The second section discusses in detail the arguments making up the thesis. Thethird section of this essay will identify a few of the dissenting views on thisthesis put forward by liberals and constructivists. In last paragraphs, thepenultimate section of the essay re-echoes its stance by responding to the fewdissenting views. By way of conclusion, the fifth and last section of thisessay summarizes the stance of this paper in one paragraph.
Insight into ‘National Interest’National interest is generally viewed as the behaviour of states rootedin the pursuit, protection and promotion of certain interests based on the assessmentof the current situation. In international politics, every country’s foreignpolicy is driven by what it perceives to be its national interest. According toHans Morgenthau, ‘The meaning ofnational interest is survival-the protection of physical, political andcultural identity against encroachments by other nation-states’ The national interest is an often debated and slippery concept that isused to both describe and prescribe foreign policy. It has been used bystatesmen and scholars since the 17th century to describe theaspirations and goals of sovereign entities in the international arena. Thenational interest is a controversial and an ambiguous term that has nouniversal definition but primarily serves as the “language of state action” (Weldes, 1999, p. 2).
The national interest is a concept used by political actors to whip support fortheir policies and to shape political behaviour. Thus, the national interest isused to explain, justify, oppose or propose policies and actions against otherstates. Analytically it is used to measure the adequacy of past, present andfuture foreign policies of states (Burchill, 2005). As already notedabove, the national interest is a nebulous term in international politics.Hence, for an in-depth examination of the question under discussion, there isthe need to employ the assumptions of an international political theory thatcan help explain the elements of national interest. An international politicaltheory primarily explains international-political outcomes, analyses conceptssuch as national interest, and clarifies the economic and foreign policies ofstates (Waltz, 1979).
There are severalInternational theories, they include, liberalism, social constructivism,Marxism, post-colonial theory etc. All these theories account for worldpolitics and explain various ideas in international relations but in differentways. However, the most important international theory that provides almost aperfect discussion on national interest is Realism. In International Relations, Realism is definedas “A tradition of analysis that stresses the imperatives states face to pursuea power politics of the national interest” (Burchill, et al.
, 2005, p. 30). Realism portraysNational interest as a key concept which when defined in terms of power sets politics apart as an independentrealm of action and makes a theory of politics thinkable. Realists define thenational interest in terms of strategic and economic potentials becauseinternational politics is understood to be a struggle for power among states. Realismargues that national interest contains two elements, one that is logicallyrequired and in that sense necessary, and one that is variable and determinedby circumstances (Burchill, 2005, p. 36). National Interest and RealismIn thesucceeding paragraphs, the paper contextualises the concept and makes a bettersense of the question by drawing on the assumption of all the varieties ofrealism to substantiate the stance that the national interest does not changeover time.
Firstand foremost, the desire to possess and utilize power is an unchanging interestof states. It is the view of realists and this essay that states are ledby human beings who have an innate desire for power and seek to enjoy anadvantage over others and to avoid domination by others. As units in the international system, statesalways compete for power and dominance over each other. Thus, while some statesseek power to pray on one another, others also strive to gain power at alltimes to ensure that other states do not exploit them. This makes the strugglefor power an all-time interest to be pursued because ‘States are almost alwaysbetter off with more rather than less power. In short, states do not becomestatus quo powers until they completely dominate the system’ (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 31).
This essay againargues that, in an anarchic international system of independent states with nocentral authority to guarantee their safety, security remains an unchangingnational interest: to all intents and purposes, security is a never-changingnational interest of countries because the international arena is a self-helpsystem with continual fear among states. In international politics states viewthemselves as vulnerable and their peers as potential threats, and due to this,security remains an all-time priority on the agenda of states. And whenevernecessary, states adopt diplomacy, balance power, form alliances and even go towar against other countries to defend and maintain their security. This essayagrees with realists that the international system is uncertain and as a result’The character of international politics changes as nationalinterdependence tightens or loosens. Yet even as relations vary, states have totake care of themselves as best they can in an anarchic environment’ (Waltz, 2000, p. 18). Thus, thesecurity of the state may be endangered by aggressive behaviour of others as aresult, states strive as much as they can to look out for means to “deter and,if need be, fend off an attack by others” (Frankel, 1970, p. 48).
Moreimportantly, the national interest of states is permanent because every statestrives at all times to maintain its sovereignty once attained. Maintainingone’s territorial integrity and the autonomy of the domestic political orderremains a permanent national interest of states in the sense that, recognitionby their peers and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations isonly extended to entities with territory and formal juridical autonomy. Thisessay together with realists maintain thatin thecurrent international system, sovereign autonomy and self-determination arecore values. The paper is not in dispute of the fact that states pursue somebasic social values, including, freedom, order, justice, and welfare. But inthe pursuit of these values they always make the protection of their existencea major priority. Josef Stalin, a former head of state of the Soviet Union putthe point well during a war scare in 1927 when he posited that: “We can andmust build socialism in the Soviet Union But in order to do so we first of allhave to exist” (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 38).
In the words ofMearsheimer, “Survival dominates other motives because, once a state isconquered, it is unlikely to be in a position to pursue other aims” (2001, p. 30).Further to the above, the interests of states to protect specificnational assets, such as strategic maritime routes, port access, and naturalresources is permanent and do not change with transient governments. This essaystrongly contends that every country has some assets that others desire andwill want to have control over.
In order to prevent the scrambling of suchstrategic assets and resources, states make it their permanent nationalinterests to secure them for their citizens. It must be stated that suchnational interests are not open to political reinterpretation (Burchill, 2005, p. 27).It is very much justified therefore, to argue that “The idea of interest isindeed of the essence of politics and is unaffected by the circumstances oftime and place” (Morgenthau, 1985, p. 10).Moreover,the pursuit of economic prosperity remains an unchanging national interest ofstates. It is the contention of this paper that countries perpetually pursueeconomic prosperity to enhance the welfare of their citizenry. States securethe allegiance of their citizens by catering for their economic interest.
Thepursuit of such economic fortunes is again an all-time interest of statesbecause they use the acquired wealth to equip and empower their military forceswhich in turn enhances their defence capabilities Mearsheimer, furtherelaborate this position by arguing that, “greater economic prosperityinvariably means greater wealth, which has significant implications forsecurity, because wealth is the foundation of military power” (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 38).By way of discussing some dissenting views, the paper first considers thecontention by Liberals that the national interest of states changes over timebecause states co-operate to create a market society as a means to promotedevelopment and economic growth. Liberals assert that free trade and marketforces overwhelm social relations and change political actions culminating inthe change of the national interest of states (Burchill, 2005, p. 131).
For instance, they argue that previously, many states protected theirindustries. However, in today’s world, all of such countries have gotten rid oftheir protectionist policies to allow for free trade.Another criticism of the position of this essay is one advanced by Constructivistthat national interests are determined through social interaction and as aresult they change as the experiences of social interactions vary over time. Incontrary to the thesis of this essay, Constructivists assert that the nationalinterest of states change over time due to the fact that such interests areinfluenced by the social ideas of the day and as such, are regularly shaped andreshaped through socialisation. According to Constructivist, shared ideas,beliefs and values greatly impact on social and political action.
Thus, tothem, social values and ideas shape both the social identities of politicalactors and, in turn, the interests they express (Burchill, 2005, p. 193).Last on this score is the view by Constructivist that state interests areshaped by internationally shared norms and values that structure and givemeaning to international political life. Constructivists like Martha Finmorecontend that the national interests of states are defined in the context ofinternational norms and understandings about what is good and appropriate.According to these Constructivists, normative context influences the behaviourof decision-makers and of the mass publics who may choose and constrain thosedecisionmakers. The normative context also changes over time, and as thesenorms and values change, they create co-ordinated shifts in state interests andbehaviour across the system. Thus, countries adjust themselves to accept newnorms and values that may be set by international organisations and through interactionswith other states (Burchill, 2005).
In a response to the above criticisms, this paper asserts that, the nationalinterest of states does not change over time, rather the approaches chosen bystates to maintain these interests are varied constantly depending on thestructure and the prevailing-situations of the international system. Criticspoint to the creation of institutions and established norms as some of thethings that influence states to change their national interests. However, it isthe position of this essay that these institutions only serve as the mediathrough which powerful states project their national interests. Realistsagree that states sometimes operate through institutions and benefit from doingso. Nonetheless, it must be understood that powerful states create and shapeinstitutions so that they can maintain or increase their share of world power.A clear instance is the veto power wielded by the permanent members of theUnited Nations Security Council who were the victors of the Second World Warand founding fathers of the United Nations. The point must be stressed thatpowerful states like the U.S usually get their way on issues they considerimportant through international institutions.
In times that they are not ableto secure their interests, they ignore the institution and do what they deem tobe in their own national interest (Mearsheimer, 2001, p. 216).Again, by way ofanswering critics, it is important to state that, as long as states possessunequal power, national interest remains a permanent goal in the sense thatstates that have attained certain heights on the world stage will always makeit a point to maintain their status in the international system while thehave-nots will also continue to struggle to attain their desired status. Carrand other Realists argue that some states are better off than others and thesecountries will always defend and sustain their privileged position whiles thehave-nots, will struggle to change that situation. (Jackson & Sørensen, 2012, p.
39).ConclusionIn short, this paper admits that economic co-operation, social valuesand international norms and other circumstances in the international system could affect thedirection of the national interest of states. However, these factors do notchange the national interest of countries. These assertions and manyothers made by Constructivist and Liberals are problematic and inadequate toreverse the position of this essay because both theories acknowledge the stateas an important actor in international politics. By far this paper hassucceeded in arguing that as long as the state remains the pre-eminent actor inan anarchical international system where there is the need to exert influence,maintain survival in order to pursue other goals, seek security to ward offimminent attacks, pursue economic growth in order to secure the wellbeing ofthe citizenry, and to secure strategic national assets, national interestremains a permanent thing that political actors will continue to adoptdifferent means to achieve.
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