Ideals, Interests & Needs of Protecting the American Public

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  • 0:02 Three Important Factors
  • 1:01 National Ideals
  • 2:11 National Mission
  • 3:59 National Interest
  • 5:49 Collision & Balancing
  • 6:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Foreign policy is often a place where values, reality and necessity collide. In this lesson, you'll learn about the concepts of national ideals, national mission and national interests and see how they work together and sometimes even in opposition.

Three Important Factors

Imagine that you are the Secretary of State of the United States. You are a member of the President's cabinet and you are the President's lead adviser on foreign policy. The President turns to you when he has to make tough choices.

When formulating your recommendations to the President, you need to take into account the nation's ideals, its mission and its interests. These three factors help guide foreign policy decision-making by providing a foundation from which to make sound decisions. Sometimes these considerations are aspirational, like ideals and the national mission, and sometimes they are based on simple pragmatism, like considerations of the national interest. Let's take a look at each in some detail.

National Ideals

When making any recommendation to your boss, you need to consider whether your proposed recommendation aligns with the nation's ideals. Ideals are beliefs, values and principles that guide conduct. Fundamental principles of the United States include:

  • Individual rights, including life, property and freedom of speech, press, political association and religion
  • Tolerance for different groups and different ideas
  • Equality before the law
  • Democratic representation

In an ideal world, all foreign policy actions are seamlessly in sync with the values and principles of the United States and applied consistently in both domestic and foreign policy matters. But this is not always the case. For example, the U.S. has a long history of supporting undemocratic regimes around the world.

National Mission

As Secretary of State, you also must keep in mind the overall U.S. mission abroad when making your recommendations to the President. A foreign policy mission is the long-term objectives that a country wants to pursue abroad. A country's foreign mission usually closely aligns with its values.

The current mission statement of the U.S. Department of State in 2014 explains that its mission is to 'Create a more secure, democratic and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.' You should note that this mission is stated in broad, even grandiose terms with little specifics. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because it gives policymakers and leaders room to maneuver in the chaotic sea of international relations.

An example of the U.S. national mission is 'spreading democracy.' You can see that this mission ties in nicely with our national value of representative democracy. However, pragmatism may dictate that we don't support all democratically elected governments. Hamas, for example, was democratically placed into power in the Gaza strip and held the majority of seats in the Palestine Parliament after the 2006 elections. However, it is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and a threat to Middle East stability.

National Interest

The third factor you must consider before making recommendations to the person sitting in the Oval Office is the national interest. While national ideals are usually abstract and the national mission vague and grandiose, the national interest is generally more practical and down to Earth. The national interest is a country's pragmatic political, security, economic and ideological objectives. It's important for you to understand that the national interest, just like the overall national mission, is an end, not a means. An example may help to clarify.

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