Foreign Policy—National Interests

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  • by Anup Shah
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I dread our own power and our own ambition; I dread our being too much dreaded....We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing and hitherto unheard-of-power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.

Edmund Burke, describing his fears for the former British Empire

Hegemony has many faces. In the early 1990s Washington set itself three objectives: to maintain the global balance resulting from the end of the cold war, to ensure its technological lead and military supremacy, and to create an economic environment favorable to its own interests. For the most part, these objectives have been achieved. Admittedly, international balances are not static and hegemony does not mean absolute freedom of action. But no country or group of countries appears able to constitute a political counterweight to the US in the foreseeable future, let alone call into question its primacy in the hierarchy of nations. As political pundit Thomas Friedman puts it: In the globalization system, the United States is now the sole and dominant superpower and all other nations are subordinate to it to one degree or another. In other words, they ought to accept America’s benevolent global hegemony.

The States we are in1, le Monde, April 2000

Every nation has a foreign policy to ensure that its needs are represented in the global community. However, throughout history, including recently such as during and after the Cold War, power has used in the international scene to push forward national interests and agendas, sometimes without any regard to the nations and people they may directly or indirectly affect.

This has sometimes resulted in a rise in resentment against some of these nations who are then seen as bullies, getting away with many acts of hypocrisy.

In the increasingly smaller global community, national interests do not necessarily mean that they are good for the international community.

Former US National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, gives an example of why many worry about real objectives of those with power:

For the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, (Basic Books, 1997), p.40

It is sometimes difficult to decide when national interests and international concerns should be addressed in a balanced way.

The United Nations2, an international body to tackle various global concerns, as an example, has been constantly abused by those who have the power to act unilaterally when the international community's views and opinions do not agree with their own national interests.

The foreign policy3 of some Western States have been harshly criticized4 by many who claim that the objective is to simply ensure that they remain as the power5 and authority6 in the world and to ensure that the "new world order" goes along the lines of Western ideals, with little consideration for other cultures7.

For more on foreign policy (this is just a start as this topic is so huge!) check out some of the following:

  • This section of the web site used to provide articles on some examples of foreign policy at work. However, those article have grown in their own right, and formed part of the Middle East section of this web site8.
  • Foreign Policy in Focus9
  • The Noam Chomsky Archive10. Noam Chomsky is a prominent social critic and professor at MIT. He is critical of foreign policies of USA. Deterring Democracy11 is an example of one of many online books and articles to be found at the site.
  • This link to some resources from Edward Said12 presents information especially about the stereotypes and perceptions of the Middle East by the West.
  • Center for Defense Information13, an independent military monitor based in Washington D.C. run by retired military generals, admirals, colonels etc who present a very open and objective critique of the military policies of USA and the world. They have a TV series called American Defense Monitor which presents information on the military’s effect on the political system, the economy, the environment, and society as a whole. They also look into foreign policy, international affairs, armed intervention, and nuclear and conventional weapons. They have some useful web material, including:
    • Many other transcripts on a variety of military issues14
    • They also maintain a weekly archive15 of their newsletters that are very informative
    • Their Defense Monitors16 provide insight into some complex issues especially about American military policies
    • The Foreign Policy, International Affairs and Intervention documentaries17
  • The Peace Pledge Union18 is a great web site with hundreds of statistics on wars and conflicts as well as covering many issues related to wars and arms trade.
  • The Institute for Economic Democracy19 has some excellent research and in-depth analysis into the histories that have led to the current disparities between the developing nations and the developed nations. This is a must check out site!

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Foreign Policy — Projecting Power

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