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Basis, Method of Definition and Classification of National Interests


1.3. Basis, Method of Definition and Classification of National Interests

of force in politics, of „power politics“ or, more pessimistically, the domination of the rules of the jungle in the international arena.

1.3. Basis, Method of Definition and Classification

and sociological, political and geopolitical, as well as economic and informational factors. Each category of factors from this list contains a series of constituent elements that contribute in different manners to the development, identification, and definition of national interests. Depending on the particular situation, some of these elements may acquire a determinant and even an absolute character. At the same time, we ascertain that some elements may be common for different factors.

a) The geographic factor is the most stable factor, which determines na- tional interests and policy for their achievement. The following might be men- tioned as primary elements of the geographic factor:

– The geographic-climatic-natural zone in which the state is situated;

– Territorial dimension and configuration, distances and geographic limits;

– Access to the sea and navigation;

– The situation and character of natural frontiers;

– The condition of the communication networks and connections to the primary arteries of international transportation;

– Relief, soil and vegetation;

– Availability and volume of natural resources and the reserves of raw mate- rials;

– Others.

Therefore, the continental dimensions of the United States for example, situated almost completely in a moderate climatic zone, protected by two oceans from any military aggression, as well as the insufficiency of its own oil reserves may be considered as geographic elements with determined or even absolute values in the definition of national interests of this country.

Another example along similar lines is that Russia lost its advantageous ac- cess to the sea in the southwest and northwest. This fact has a major influence on the definition of its national interests and of its foreign policy in general, as well as on the relationships with Ukraine and the Baltic states, especially Li- thuania.

In the same context the example concerning the issue access of a segment of the Republic of Moldova to the main European navigational artery – the Danube – can be viewed as a problem of national interest over several years. This territory, extending to several hundred metres, has brought many hopes concern- ing not only the potential for certain favourable conditions for the development of economic-commercial relations with European states, but also the potential for access to the sea, with all the major consequences of this fact – the main one for the Republic of Moldova being the freedom for energy resource supplies.

b) The political factor may be considered the most unstable and variable factor determining national interests. Its constituent elements of may be divided in subcategories with reference to international, external and internal political factors.

Elements Related to the International Political Factor:

– The situation, character and tendencies of developments in international relations;

– Character and degree of influence of international (universal) values;

– Evolution of the superpowers, the relationship between them and their influence on international relations;

– Share and influence in international structures;

– Global and regional security guarantees;

– Global and regional treaties and alliances, communities and spheres of influence;

– Geopolitical significance of the region and the state;

– Others.

Thus, we could mention the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act as examples that design a special code of behaviour in international relations and compel each state to tamper its own ambitions – however only at a declarative level.

Another example is the collapse of the USSR and the disappearance of the bipolar world. These events have launched multiple processes and turbulent tran- sformation all over the planet, have imposed multiple states to redefine their national interests and their security strategies. The example of the so-called

„white books“ of security and defence is not less eloquent; these are conceptual documents of strategic significance, which became traditional in western demo- cratic states and reflect, in their majority, the true national interests in a particular historical period.

Thus, in France the first White Book of security and defence, which explicitly determined its national interests, was adopted in 1972 under the predominant influence of the ideology of the Cold War. In the second White Book, adopted in 1994, shortly after the disappearance of the bipolar world and under the circum- stances of an overwhelming uncertainty regarding the future of the international relations, the explicit definition of national interests disappeared, being replaced by the redefinition of certain objectives/major political interests and by the de- termination of new risks and threats. Presently, with the decrease of the probabi- lity of revival of old threats and the determination of clearer strategies and security structures in the new international context, a new White Book is in the process of production, where the chapter regarding the definition of national interests has all the chances of reappearing.

Elements Regarding External Political Factor:

– Treaties and alliances to which the state is party;

– Guarantees of external security;

– Degree of external dependence;

– Degree of participation in integration processes;

– Phase of the power cycle where the closest great power is located and the importance of a small state viewed through the prism of the strategic interests of the great powers;

– The attitude of the great powers, of the main states in the region, as well as of international organisations and different alliances;

– Relations with neighbouring countries, mutual and contradictory interests, claims;

– Degree of access to external energy resources and raw materials of vital importance;

– Degree of possibility of conflicts with neighbouring states or those located in an immediate proximity;

– Situation of the national borders (confirmation, recognition, transparency, control);

– Others.

Among the most articulate examples, we might mention the struggle of Cen- tral European countries for security guarantees; this fact influenced the inclusion of the idea of joining NATO in their list of national interests.

Elements Referring to Domestic Policy:

– Stability of the constitutional order and of state institutions;

– Degree of independence, sovereignty and integrity, territorial and adminis- trative integrity;

– Type of governmental regime, form of government and dominant ideology;

– Degree of political stability, level of democratisation;

– Degree of political coherence and consistency;

– The existence of interest groups, external influence;

– Internal vulnerabilities;

– Criminality and level of corruption;

– Public opinion, options and orientations of political elites, governing elites and the population;

– Situation of the spiritual, scientific potential, etc.

Obviously, the national interests of a colony or of a state with an authoritar- ian regime (of course if these are expressly declared) differ from the national interests of an independent and democratic state. The succession of extremist political forces may cause the simultaneous declaration of completely opposite objectives or interests in a short period.

A rather eloquent example that reflects the influence of domestic policy on national interests is the case of the United States, if we recall its evolution from the isolationism of the first half of the last century to the policy of intense promotion of democratic values on the international arena. If we recall, the national defence of the United States, starting from the 1960s, already included the defence of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Mexico, as well as the entire Carib- bean Sea.

In the same context, we may mention the example regarding the emergence of the so-called strategic course of the Russian Federation’s relations with mem- ber countries of the CIS (1995), which is a consequence of the influence of domestic political forces nostalgic for imperial ideas.

c) The importance of the economic factor consists in the fact that beside the major influence on the definition of national interests, this factor also rep- resents the basis or the primary foundation for their accomplishment. The follow- ing could be considered as fundamental elements of the economic factor:

– Situation and trends of economic development (positive, stagnating or negative);

– Basic economic indices: GDP and GDP per capita, living standard, power indices and weaknesses, internal and external debt;

– Economic security and availability of economic resources;

– Structure and organisation of the economy, state and private sector, indus- trial and financial capacity, technical and scientific potential;

– The state of commercial relationships, level of autonomy and economic dependence, evaluation of integration processes;

– Primary economic partnerships for supply;

– Outlets, economic exchanges, implanted enterprises, zones and objectives of interest, foreign investments and external investments, etc.

Dispersed distribution and differentiated access to economic resources of the planet is and will be in the future among the determinant elements of the economic factor and, as a consequence, of the national interests and of the policy for their implementation. Despite the fact that in some cases the states have great difficulties in understanding each other regarding the principles of justice and equity in this field, the problem is even more complex and far from being solved and enforced.

Thus, not a single supranational institution can force the USA, Japan or the European Union to stop their discriminating and protectionist measures regarding agricultural or industrial products originating from developing countries, and the so-called „development strategies“ proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations often remain simple declarations.

d) Another factor that predetermines national interests is the economic factor, consisting of the following fundamental elements:

– Historic conditions of the creation of the state and present borders;

– Prior wars and military conflicts held within the country and in the vicinity;

– Traditional alliances;

– Interpretation of historical facts by different actors from the region;

– Historical evolution of the relationship between the small state and the closest great power; etc.

Motivating the importance of the historical factor in the definition of na- tional interests we can express a multitude of examples regarding each particular country. Not a single state, society or individual can deny or neglect the impor- tance of the historical factor in the achieved results and present situation, in the definition of the future objectives and in the selection of the strategies of their accomplishment – simultaneously confronting a major challenge of the historical factor via a subjective interpretation.

The attempts by diverse actors to overcome the deficiencies of this factor, for example by declaring the inviolability of the borders as a fundamental principle of European security, did not achieve optimal results and definitely cannot ex- clude the influence of the historical factor on national interests.

As an example, we can mention the case of Transdnistria, where different protagonists give priority to different historical facts and treat historical events differently. Thus, the official Chisinau point-of-view interprets the events from 1992 as a military conflict for the re-establishment of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova within the border limits existent prior to 31 December 1990;

however, the point-of-view of the authorities from Tiraspol is of military aggression against a independent state – unrecognised but created on a territory that does not belong to the Republic of Moldova from the historical point of view.

e) The fundamental elements of the demographic and sociological factors are:

– The number and density of the population, birth-rate and age groups;

– Number and relations between different ethnic groups, the situation of languages and minorities;

– The level of social equity and the standards of living;

– Migration trends of the population;

– The presence of foreign citizens and refugees;

– Diversity of religions, relationships between different confessions and the relationship between state and religion;

– National culture, moral values of the society, social agreement, national character, traditions and patriotism;

– Education, the level of education, lifestyle;

– Cultural and scientific potential;

– The place of women in the society;

– Sanitary situation; etc.

The elements of demographic and sociological factors become more promi- nent and their influence on the national interests becomes more obvious. We recall the demographic explosion in a series of states from the Third World, the birth-rate issue in China, the relations between the Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo, the situation of Magyar minority in Transylvania, the confrontations bet- ween the Christian world and Islam, the disagreements between Orthodox Chris- tians and the Catholics, the differences between the culture and mentality of Arabic nations and western European ones, the epidemiological and sanitary situation in some African countries, etc.

f) Information Factor

– Diversity, quality and capacities of domestic means of information and foreign ones with access to national territory;

– The covered territory and the level of influence;

– The affiliation to one or several information spaces, fluxes, vectors and the majority of informational messages;

– The level of openness of different fields and the access to information;

– The degree of subordination, control, independence and commitment;

– The safety of informational resources, etc.

The contemporary phase of development of the society is characterised by the rapid increase of the role of information that represents the totality of infor- mation, information infrastructure, the subjects that deal with collection, cre- ation, distribution and utilisation of information, as well as the system regulating the social relationships that appear as a result. The informational factor is a factor that forms and creates social life with a major, permanently increasing influence on spiritual values, the creation of human potential, political life, economy, secu- rity, etc.

As we notice, there is a multitude of constituent elements for each situ- ational factor, a mutual conditioning among the factors and elements and a multidirectional influence of some elements. Altogether, these influence the com- plex character of the process of definition of national interests, the diversity of approaches and definitions, the difficulty of approach of the relative or absolute priorities, and subjective character. Inevitable is the fact that national interests, once defined, reflect in a codified way the relative level of perception of the general situation of a certain state. A simplified chart representative of the way national interests are created can have the following configuration:

Structure and Classification of National Interests

Once defined, national interests can be classified or grouped in several ways.

The most frequent classification of national interests is based on domains: eco- nomy, foreign policy, domestic policy, society, information, military, etc.

Another way to classify national interests can be inherited from the principles and methods of the philosophy of „political realism“ defined by German political scientist Hans Morgenthau. According to Morgenthau, there are four models of classification:


Geographical Informational

Demographical Social



National interests

– Depending on the importance (level) of national interests, we distinguish vital national interests and secondary national interests;

– Depending on the time (duration) – permanent interests and temporary interests;

– Depending on the character – general national interests and specific na- tional interests;

– Depending on the degree of compatibility – complementary interests and conflicting interests.

The following could serve as an example as a graphic representation of this model:

Importance Vital Economic self-sufficiency

Secondary Political relations with countries of a neighbour com- munity.

Duration Permanente Friendship, relationships with neighbouring countries.

Temporary Participation in peacekeeping operations.

Type General Maintenance of neutrality or nuclear power status.

Specific Development of energetic base.

Compatibility Complementary Support of the efforts in protecting universal human rights.

Conflicting Improvement of the situation of fellow countrymen li- ving in other countries.

Another example of classification of national interests could be the one accepted long ago in the United States under the name of the Nuechterlein Matrix 6, which delimits the national interests from the strategic ones and exam- ines them in four distinct blocks:

– From the perspective of defence needs of the country;

– From the perspective of economic prosperity of the country;

– From the perspective of creation of a favourable world order;

– From the perspective of propagation of democratic values;

For the evaluation of the importance of national interests the Nuechterlein matrix uses four criteria:

– Necessary and compulsory for survival;

– Of vital importance;

– Of major importance;

– Of minor importance and peripheral.

6 Donald E. Nuechterlein, America Recommitted: United States National Interests in a Restructured World, 1991 University Press of Kentucky

National Interests and Security

Researching the variety of theoretical and practical approaches of the con- cept of national interests, we notice a tight and permanent connection between the notion of national interest and the notion of security. From the theoretical point of view, the link is explained by the very logical necessity of a complemen- tary and complex approach of these two notions. Thus, there is no logical sense in the definition of a national interest whose achievement does not imply a certain rational effort on behalf of the nation and, therefore, is lacking risks or threats.

From the practical point of view, the connection between the notion of national interest and the notion of security is explained by the new European traditions. In the former socialist countries, especially in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the concepts of national interests and security or the pro- tection of these were not recognised in the Soviet times from the reason that the basis of Marxist doctrine was based on an internationalist orientation. These concepts were in a way overridden by the inspiration of a higher goal – the union of proletarians from all over the world.

Of course, in the practice this doctrine was not an obstacle for the Commu- nist leadership to act in accordance with its own vision of the interests of the socialist block and when the hopes regarding the victory of the global socialist revolution were shattered, these hopes were replaced with other patriotic slogans.

These, however, were referred and were based not on national interests, but on the necessity of consolidation of peace and socialism, as well as of the USSR as a basic pillar.

The major changes that have occurred on the European continent since 1990 up to the present, conditioned by the collapse of the bipolar system, have imposed the quest for new models of behaviour and cohabitation of European nations, which is related, first of all, to the concern for an international security and the harmonization of national interests. As a consequence during these ten years, it has become a tradition of European states, particularly of the new democratic states, to explicitly formulate their national interests in a document of synthesis under the main motto of „security.“ Thus, certain concepts or strat- egies of security, „white books“ of defence emerged that define or create national interests and strategies for their accomplishment and protection.

Often it is very difficult for an analyst to define the real dimensions of national security of a particular state: „Security inevitably means different things at different places, depending on what people have to protect and the nature of the threat.“7

Indeed, the complex character of the problems explains why it is so difficult to formulate a theory of national security that has to choose between the realist concepts of power and the idealist concepts of peace.

7 Peter Mangold, National Security and International Relations (London Routledge 1990)