May 15, 2011

defining "national interest"

Recently, a reader noted,
I am having a lot of trouble defining "national interest". I feel like definitions are going to be extremely important for this resolution.
I agree that it's difficult to precisely define "national interest"--and that a good definition is critical for the universal human rights resolution.

Here's my brief attempt to un-muddy the waters.

National interest is usually defined in terms of the actions or policies that advance a nation's economic, cultural, or political standing. In the introduction to Michael Roskin's incisive analysis of the phrase, Col. John Mountcastle offers a decent summary:
The "national interest" is a composite declaration derived from those values that a nation prizes most--liberty, freedom, security. Interests are usually expressed in terms of physical survival, economic prosperity, and political sovereignty. The list invariably expands, and is ultimately shaped by subjective preferences and political debate. As an object of political debate, the concept of national interest serves to propose, justify, or denounce policies.
Roskin himself begins,
The student new to international relations is often at first intoxicated by the concept of "national interest." It seems crisp, clear, objective: what's good for the nation as a whole in international affairs. (What's good for the nation as a whole in domestic affairs is the public interest.) National interest lies at the very heart of the military and diplomatic professions and leads to the formulation of a national strategy and of the calculation of the power necessary to support that strategy. Upon reflection, however, one realizes how hard it is to turn concepts of national interest into working strategy.
The boundary between international and domestic concerns can be fuzzy, since the two are often (or always?) intertwined. Also, it's possible that national interest-seeking is a zero sum game--that one nation's interest rises only as another's falls, or, in other words, we have to define a nation's interest relative to other nations' interests.

Roskin traces the history of the phrase from Machiavelli to Morgenthau and beyond, summing them up in the overall concept that a nation's sole interest (from a practical and empirical perspective) is in preserving its own power. Roskin also notes the difference between vital and secondary interests, which could be important to clarify the debate.

For the LDer interested in this resolution, Roskin's essay is quite useful. Check it out.


G said...

Wow! This post is amazing! As always, thanks!

May I ask which search engines or how you research? I can never seem to find good articles.

Jim Anderson said...

You're welcome, G. I have access to several databases through the local library (ProQuest is a favorite). In this case, I searched, guessing that someone in the State department, military, or other government branch would've written an analysis of the concept at some point. Turns out I was right.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your great posting!

Also I had a question about the plan text in Ld. The varsity people on my team always talk about plan text on the aff and it seems that the plan text is not topical. So could you please describe how the plan text( like saying the US should eliminate PMC and your aff) be topical?

Jim Anderson said...

One quick question for clarity's sake: is this in reference to the private military firms resolution?

Anonymous said...

If your asking the question about plan text the answer is no because I trying to give an example so my question wasn't confusing. But I can understand a example from the Pmf resolution.


Jim Anderson said...

Thanks. I wanted to be sure I didn't give you a misleading answer.

You have to be careful with plans in LD. In the NFL tournament, they're not going to get you very far, since the NFL's version of LD is traditional values debate.

However, in more progressive contests, plans and counterplans are out there--and they tend to follow some of the same logic of Policy debate. For a plan to be topical, it has to fit within the scope of the resolution.

For the PMF resolution, it'd be more likely that the Neg would have a plan text, because the Aff is merely affirming the status quo. In this case, the Neg plan might be to abolish PMFs, which would clearly be topical, since that's what the resolution is about.

However, if the Neg plan was to merely abolish domestic PMFs, then it would not be topical, because the resolution concerns PMFs' use "abroad."

The Wikipedia discussion of topicality is a decent intro to the concept, aimed at Policy debate, but applicable to plans (and arguments in general) in LD.

Does that clarify things, or am I missing the point?

Anonymous said...

I guess you somewhat answered the question. The question that remains is that on the aff I seen people create plan texts(i.e on the juvi resolution jrob had an aff that said we should have a sytem with more rehab then punishment. ) So can a aff plan text be topical?

Jim Anderson said...

It may be topical (i.e., it squares with a valid interpretation of the resolution), but the greater question is, is it sufficient to affirm the resolution "as a general principle?"--which, at least in the NFL world, is the burden of the Aff.