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Opinion - National interest versus foreign policy objectives

2020-11-03  Staff Reporter

Opinion - National interest versus foreign policy objectives

From the establishment of modern states in 1648, through the Treaty of Westphalia, the simplification of these states trying to understand each other and their attempts to relate to one another took place through various “early” forms of diplomatic communication. Diplomacy was a “showpiece” to how states interacted with one another. 

Foreign policy had been practised way before the Treaty of Westphalia, though. With the formulation of states, these “old” but new forms of communication had to be cemented and bound in relations with states. States required a method to align and structure themselves to achieve what they saw as vital to their existence. 

Within any academic discipline, there are many schools of thought and theoretical lenses that individuals can use to explain a state’s behaviour. For the purpose of this piece, many of my presumptions will be based on the realist school of thought within Foreign Policy Analysis. In essence, a foreign policy is a document which outlines the aim/objectives that a state recognizes as vital to promoting its national security and economic prosperity. 

Therefore, foreign policy, are the general or broad objectives that guide a nation’s interaction with other states in the international arena. Foreign policy has many internal and external factors that influence its conception. 
As part of the realist school, national interest is the utmost tenet of a foreign policy. Interactions amongst states are guided by the fact that a state only enters into discussion with another state to achieve something that it wants. If country A believes that country B has vast minerals and resources, it will engage with that country in such a way that country A achieves the utmost extraction of those minerals from country B. This is where diplomatic skill and practice come into play. 

At the forefront, foreign service becomes key agents in implementing and enforcing a nation’s foreign policy. Retracting, to national interest of a state, states all have key areas of focus within the international arena. Therefore, a states’ national interest becomes the beacon within its foreign affairs and its foreign policy. If any interaction threatens that national interest the state is required to protect that national interest by all means, from a realist standpoint. 

Realist thinkers also encourage notions of power, expressed by the nation-state within international relations. States that have the most power, hold larger amounts of influence within the international community. States that have greater military capacities, greater economic capabilities, have it “much” easier to impose their national interest in other countries. 

So, seeing that the states interactions are based on their national interest and the varying levels of power it wields, foreign policy becomes increasingly important. Objectives, explained by many academics in the field are explained as short, medium- and long-term objectives, which are all key in achieving the ultimate goal of a state’s national interest. 

Therefore, in becoming successful in implementing and achieving national interests, a foreign policy must be concise and to the point. A state needs to realize its position within the larger community of states. This rings true, if state A does not wield the economic might to achieve its goals in state C, it should not attempt to engage state C, as hopefully stipulated in its foreign policy. With this being said, foreign policy also allows the state to gauge its ability to achieve what it has set out for itself. 

Finally, as a key tenet to achieving national interest in the international community, a state should have a well thought out plan (foreign policy) to achieve its objectives, and hopefully ensure the progression of the state, within the broader dynamic of the community of states. 
* This article reflects my personal understanding and opinions; the substance of this piece is not associated to any position of any institution or organisation. The views contained herewith are my own. 

2020-11-03  Staff Reporter

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