National Interest

What is the “National Interest” and how do we know what it is in any particular case? 

“If citizens are to support the government which prosecutes them, soldiers die for it, and foreign policies are to conform to it, what could be more appropriate than to ask: What is national interest”? (Beard, 1966: 3).

There are number of assumptions about what the national interest is thought to be, which are generally accepted by supporters and critics alike: That is to say, the claims are acknowledged even if their validity is challenged. At the very basis of the doctrine is the claim made by states that how major their differences, the members of a particular society have a number of crucial interests in common. For example, they have the same interest in protecting their national sovereignty and territorial integrity from external attacks. States normally give the highest priority to survival or what is technically described as national security. Rosenau (1964: 35) argues that “National interest is a concept which could be used to describe, explain and assess the foreign policies of nations”. In the early ages of the human history, the “National Interest” was usually coated and thus viewed through the prospective of religion and or morality. For instance, to engage in wars, rulers had to justify the action primarily in these contexts, while in the contemporary world few other important components have been added on to the list, which are strive for democracy, provision of human rights etc. As Morgenthau (1963: 12) argues, that “Of the seeming and real innovation which the modern world has introduced in to the practice of foreign policy, none has proved more baffling to both understanding and action the National Interest. Nothing even approaching a coherent philosophy of national interest has been developed”: Thus the National interests of a state are multi faceted which comprise of state’s survival and security along side the pursuit of wealth and economic growth and power being an important component. Many states, especially in modern times, regard the preservation of the nation’s culture as of great importance as well. Therefore national interests of a particular state are not constant and thus change with accordance to the domestic and international political, social and economical diversities. Those in power at times construct issues as of national importance, while other times their internal and or external forces; influence the identification of national interest. According to Burchill (2005: 21), “National Interest is a country’s goal and ambition whether economic, military or cultural”. The principle of national interest or interest of a state in itself does not provide us with any specific guidance whether in interpreting the behavior of states or in prescribing how they should behave, unless they are denoted under certain labels.  

In This piece, I elaborate on the Israel National interest and argue that “Support of Israel is not based on US but that of Israel’s national Interests which are obtained through state and non state actors”. I further argue that “National Interests” are a constant standard guiding principal for a particular state, which provides policy makers with a rational guide to their tasks. To support my argument, I state that the failure in abiding by the basic rules does not change the course reality. To enhance the above mentioned, Firstly, I will try to explain how Realists, constructivists and Liberalists approach National Interests in the present day context, then I will elaborate on the concept of National Interest in a particular case study (Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy), and finally I will put in some facts and figures together to support my argument.   


Realists present the conception of “National Interest” as an anarchic system. It claims that a statesman’s responsibility is to follow objectively and rationally the national interest in his interaction with other states, and that the national interest is determinable. “For classical realists the national interest is the basic guide of responsible foreign policy; it is a moral idea that must be defended and promoted by stat leaders. For neo-realists, however the national interest seems to operate like an automatic signal commanding state leaders when and where to move” (Jackson and Sorenson 2003: 87). Both classical and neo-realism share the very base of the notion, which is the assumption of pre-set realities to be put in front  as guiding principles in the form of national interest. 

Realists give priority to the’ nation state’ in their considerations, acknowledging it as the supreme political authority in the world” (Scott Burchill, 2005: 42). There for pursuit of the “National Interest” is the foundation of the realist school of thought. They perceive national interest as a static “culture free” black box and basic assumption towards a new project where the objective is to disentangle the formation and shaping forces behind interests, be they national, individual or societal. Morgenthau (1977: 9) argues that “national interests are permanent conditions which provide policy makers with a rational guide to their tasks. They are fixed, politically bipartisan and always transcendent changes in the government. The national interest is not defined by the will of a man or the partisanship of party, but imposes itself as an objective datum upon all men applying their rational faculties to the conduct of foreign policy”. He further concedes that “national interest will only remain the last word in world politics as long as the planet is politically organized in to nations” (Morgenthau 1952: 288). Building on Morgenthau’s claims, Donnelly 2000: 45) argues that “National interests are facts to be discovered rather than a matter of contingent and constructed preferences”. 


Adam Smith (1976: 17) argues that “national interest is simply the accumulation of each individual’s self interest- a natural state produced without conscious thought or planning”. Carr represents the liberal school of thought and there for his conception of the national interest revolves around a symbiosis of particular and community interest. It achieves thus synthesis by maintaining that the highest interest of the individual and the highest interest of the community naturally coincide, which means that in pursuing his own interest, the individual pursues that of the community, and in promoting the interest of the community he promote his own. This is the famous doctrine of the “harmony of interest”.   


Chfetz Al (1999: 2) argues that “We do not know what we want if we do not know who we are. This insight holds for foreign policy as much as it does for personal preferences”. Constructivists accept that there is no external, objective reality as such when it comes to human relations. Their key idea is that the social world, including the international world is a human construction. As Jackson (2000: 33) argues that “national interest is not something ‘out there’, as behaviorists and positivists believe. Rather, it is an inter-subjective domain: It is meaningful to the people who made it and live in it and who there for must be able to understand it”. Constructivists argue that shared ideas, beliefs and values exert significant influence on social and political actions, and that in fact they shape both the social identities of political actors and in turn, the interests they express. As Chafetzet Al (1999:  8) argues that “Identities inform interests which, in turn, determine actions”. 

Israel Lobby and United State’s Foreign Policy

What are United State’s national interests in blindly and rhetorically supporting Israel morally, financially and militarily? Is US really pursuing its national interest through its generous and unconditional support of Israel, or is US promoting Israel national Interest? Are US and Israel national interests as thoroughly interlinked and in-separable as those of a single nation or community or is it in fact the Israeli Lobby that constructs the United State’s (the world only Super power) national interests?

According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the Israel lobby is so good at what it does that its influence has swamped any rational assessment of actual U.S. interests. “Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. interests and those of the other country–in this case, Israel–are essentially identical,” they argue. 

Whether granted, constructed or marketed; As Mearsheimer and Walts (2006) argue, “The US national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy. For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering US support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized US security. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries is based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives. As we show below, however, neither of those explanations can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the United States provides to Israel”.

Constructivists “counter argue” the realist stand and come up with the argument that if even without an Israel lobby, would the U.S. not support Israel, just as it supports Colombia and Egypt, which are the second and third largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid respectively, even though those countries don’t have lobbies with anything near the heap of the Israel lobby. They further elaborate that though the billions that the US gives to Israel seem exorbitant, the US spends far more annually to maintain its military bases throughout the Arab world, not to mention its many military installations throughout Europe and Asia. In that sense, US support of Israel is a bargain, and the Israel lobby serves the useful purpose of protecting the US government’s investment. In short, they proclaim that the growing U.S. support for the Israeli government, like US support for allies elsewhere in the world, is not motivated primarily by objective security needs or a strong moral commitment to the country. Rather, as elsewhere, US foreign policy is motivated primarily to advance its own perceived strategic interests.

Alexander Wendth representing constructivist school of thought argues “A Social theory of International Politics” that “I define national interest as the objective of state society complexes, which consist of four needs: Physical survival, autonomy, economic well being and collective self esteem”. Could any of the four objectives be seen as a stronger driving force in United State’s presumably blind support of Israel which is seemingly based on compulsions and obligations?

Representing the Liberal school of thought, Stephen Zunes (16 May 2006), claim that “the Israel lobby is “‘not” a major factor in the formulation of overall U.S. Middle East. He argues that, U.S. policy in the Middle East over the past several decades is remarkably similar to U.S. policy toward Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. If the United States can pursue such policies elsewhere in the world without pressure from the Israel lobby, why is it necessary to explain policies in the Middle East”? They claim that it has long been in Washington’s interest to maintain a militarily powerful and belligerent Israel dependent on the United States and that real peace could undermine such a relationship. The United States has therefore pursued a policy that attempts to bring greater stability to the region while falling short of real peace. Stephen Junes (May 2006) argues that “the United States wants a Middle East where Israel can serve a proxy role in projecting U.S. military and economic interests. This symbiosis requires suppressing challenges to American-Israeli hegemony within the region”. Junes further concedes and states that there is no question in the importance of Israel Lobby in United State’s foreign policy. However, he claims that it is primarily an issue of the Israel lobby working at the behest of U.S. foreign policymakers, not U.S. foreign policymakers working at the behest of the Israel Lobby.

I will refute the arguments made by liberalists and constructivists through quoting a number of famous statements, made by prominent figures on United State’s political arena, who seemingly used to denote the set of rules and thus play important role in shaping the US foreign policies. In his famous book (Palestine Peace Not Apartheid), The US former president, Jimmy Carter accepts the bitter reality in a repentive manner and states that “For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices. “It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians.” Tom Hayden a US congressman for over 20 years, concedes in his famous article “I was Israel’s Dupe” (July 2006) that “Twenty five years ago I stared into the eyes of Michael Berman, chief operative for his congressman-brother, Howard Berman. I was a neophyte running for the California Assembly in a district that the Bermans claimed belonged to them. “I represent the Israeli defense forces,” Michael said and I thought he is joking. They were considering “renting” me the Assembly seat, Berman said. But there was one condition: that I always be a “good friend of Israel.” The very recent exchange between presidential candidate (and former Alaska Senator) Mike Gravel and PBS’s Ray Suarez could be considered yet another valid instance to strengthen my argument. In his statement, Mr. Gravel stated that the “American Israel Political Action Committee” is pushing confrontation with Iran. He states “I keep declaring that the Walt and Mearsheimer are historic, that it has blasted down a wall in the American discourse. I keep getting more evidence. What is most significant about this is that the question of Israel’s interest versus America’s interest in confronting Iran is out on the table, on public television”. Responding to Jeffrey Blank fort’s rebuttal of Noam Chomsky’s allegations, James Abourezk, formerly US senator from South Dakota, in his book “Advise and Dissent” (2006) writes “Now, upon learning that his first assumption is that Israel is simply doing what the imperial leaders in the U.S. wants them to do, I concur with you that this assumption is completely wrong”. He further elaborates; “I can tell you from personal experience that, at least in the Congress, the support Israel has in that body is based completely on political fear—fear of defeat by anyone who does not do what Israel wants done. I can also tell you that very few members of Congress, at least when I served there, have any affection for Israel or for its Lobby. What they have is contempt, but it is silenced by fear of being found out exactly how they feel. I’ve heard too many cloakroom conversations in which members of the Senate will voice their bitter feelings about how they’re pushed around by the Lobby to think otherwise. In private one hears the dislike of Israel and the tactics of the Lobby, but not one of them is willing to risk the Lobby’s animosity by making their feelings public”.

Israel continue to promote its national interest through the state and non state actors using all the available means and resources, through using the world’s only super power in the course. But why is the US at the giving end? What does the United States of America achieve in return to its overwhelming support of Israel? Why is US prioritizing Israel’s national interest that to her own? Has the United State’s of America really been hijacked and a small poor state thousands of miles away from its border use it as ransom for its very own evil or virtual interests? These questions are still there to be answered. Paul Findley, who represented Illinois in the United State’s House of Representatives for twenty two years writes in “Iowa City Press Citizen” (October 2007) that there is an open secret in Washington. He claims that he has learned it well during his twenty two year tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He states “All members swear to serve the interests of the United States, but there is an unwritten and overwhelming exception: The interests of one small foreign country almost always trump U.S. interests. That nation of course is Israel”.