What is National Interest? How is it Determined?

What is National Interest?

National Interest is a vague and ambiguous term that carries a meaning per the context in which it is used by the statesmen and policy-makers for justifying the actions of their states. While Morgenthau equated it with “survival — the protection of physical, political and cultural identity against encroachments by other nation-states”, Charles Lerche defined it as the “general, long term and continuing purpose which the state, the nation, and the government all see themselves as serving.” For this article, we can agree with the Brookings Institute which defines it in the following way

Importance of National Interest

The importance of clearly defining the national interest of a country in terms of long-term goals and objectives based on an objective assessment of the current situation can not be over-emphasized. Such a declaration performs several key functions.

How National Interest is Formulated?

Although its precise definition may differ from country to country and from time to time, the framework for the determination of the national interest of a country essentially consists of four interrelated and interdependent propositions. Each proposition has four objectives and each objective, in turn, may have several goals (SMART goals-specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). To achieve these objectives and the goals, elected representatives make a comprehensive national policy consisting of various socioeconomic and political policies. Foreign policy is one such component of this national policy.


Throughout history, every nation-state has been facing multifarious challenges, big or small. Ranging from survival and security to economic growth and global image, these challenges can stem from any source- internal dynamics or external situations, or a combination of both. Some of these may be due to their own historical and structural contradictions or just due to global fault lines, threatening their very existence. A timely, appropriate and adequate response to these challenges is the essence of the national interest.


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