Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let's say that a country has decided to start a nuclear weapons program in violation of its treaty commitments under the Treaty for Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. A state that violates such a treaty obligation threatens the national security of the United States for fairly obvious reasons.
You could advise the President to take a unilateral approach - go at it alone - in addressing the threat or you could advise a multilateral approach. A multilateral approach means the President will work with other countries and international organizations, such as the United Nations, to address the threat. Likewise, you could recommend use of military force to handle the threat, economic sanctions to discourage and punish the treaty violations, the opening of diplomatic negotiations or a combination of all of these means.
Collision & Balancing
After spending a few weeks in office, it will be clear that the ideals, mission and national interests of the United States sometimes conflict and make execution of foreign policy hard. Values and interests sometimes collide. Sometimes it's in the security interest of the United States not to support democratic governments and even support dictators. Even individual national-interest objectives can conflict.
We may have to sacrifice some economic security to provide for a strong defense, such as prohibiting the export of certain defense technologies. Likewise, we may turn a blind eye to human rights violations to keep from antagonizing a trade partner vital to our economic interests. At the end of the day, it's the job of policymakers to balance our national values and mission against our day-to-day pragmatic national interests.
Let's review what we've learned. Policymakers should be cognizant of our national ideals, mission and interests when developing and implementing foreign policy. National ideals are the beliefs, values and principles that help form the basis and justification for a nation's course of action in the world. A nation's mission involves long-term broad and often grandiose objectives that a nation wishes to achieve in light of its ideals, while a nation's interests involve its pragmatic political, security, economic and ideological objectives. While these three components are sometimes perfectly aligned, sometimes there are conflicts and policymakers must balance them to achieve the best policy for the country given the circumstances.
When this lesson ends, you should be able to:
- Define ideals
- List fundamental principles of the United States
- Discuss what a foreign policy mission is
- Explain what the national interest is
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