National Interests: Grand Purposes or Catchphrases?   [open pdf - 61KB]

There are two basic schools of thought about how national interests should be defined: One school, the avatars of which might be realist statesmen like Otto von Bismarck in the nineteenth century and Richard Nixon in the twentieth, holds that national interests should be defined in terms of a state's tangible power and sphere of influence relative to those of other states. The single most important form of tangible power for this realist school is military (cannons and rifles in Bismarck's era, nuclear missiles and bombers in Nixon's); the statesman's ultimate challenge is to maintain a balance of military power that is favorable to his or her state. The other school holds that national interests should be defined more broadly to encompass intangible, but nevertheless highly prized, values like human rights, freedom from economic deprivation, and freedom from disease. In their vastly different ways, Woodrow Wilson and V. I. Lenin might be thought of as exemplars of this school. Both leaders employed the military power of their states to promote, respectively, the values of national self-determination and economic egalitarianism.

Author:Miskel, James F., 1946-
Publisher:Naval War College (U.S.)
Copyright:Public Domain
Media Type:application/pdf
Source:Naval War College Review (Autumn 2002), v.55 no.4, p.96-104
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