Moral Justification Behind Pursuit of the National Interest?

Author: Jeff_Goldblum ,

Topic's posts

Posts in total: 21
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    Are states morally justified in pursuing the 'national interest'? If so, how?

    Alternatively, should we remove morality from the question of international affairs entirely?

    Personally, I have trouble identifying a solid justification for pursuing the national interest. I think a lot of my trouble with this stems from the fictive nature of states. According to the accident of one's birth, a state may serve them or kill them to serve another. I have more thoughts on the origin and limits of moral justifications for pursuit of the national interest, but I don't feel super strongly about them (or else I'd do a debate on it). What do you think?
  • Greyparrot
    Greyparrot avatar
    Debates: 2
    Forum posts: 10,176
    3
    3
    8
    Greyparrot avatar
    Greyparrot
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    States should pursue a national interest for pragmatic reasons only and never a moral one.


  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    The point of a nation is to serve its people by looking out for its interests and preserving their rights. If doing something for another country can measurably help your nation's citizens, do it. If it helps the others at a cost to your people, don't do it. 


    It generally comes down to: is it an investment or cost to your country-people. It wouldn't only be immoral to bring a cost your people, it would be a failure of government.

    Unless there are no needs expressed by your people, such as hunger and poverty, under what right can you take THEIR money and give it out to other people?
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @Greyparrot
    Is it morally permissible or required for the state to stick to pragmatism?
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    The point of a nation is to serve its people by looking out for its interests and preserving their rights.
    <br>
    This is pretty much where I see states acquiring their moral right to pursue the national interest. States are social constructs created by 'the people' to serve their interests. In other words, governments are contractually obligated to pursue the national interest.

    One could attack this line of reasoning by arguing that the very concept of states is wrong, but I don't think I'm able to do that effectively.

    But how far do you think this justification takes us? Can a government do anything to further the national interest, no matter how repugnant?
  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I can't think of a repugnant act that would further our interests. 

    You would suffer international backlash for committing human rights abuses, and getting sanctioned isn't in the national interest.
  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    And then it really comes down to whether you are an individualist or collectivist. Are you okay with violating the rights of small groups for the good of the rest of people? Or, do you think that infringements on personal liberty are against the national interest?

  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    And then it really comes down to whether you are an individualist or collectivist. Are you okay with violating the rights of small groups for the good of the rest of people? Or, do you think that infringements on personal liberty are against the national interest?
    I don't see how the individualism/collectivism frame applies here. It seems like in-group/out-group is the better frame. Is it ok to severely hurt the out-group (foreigners) to pursue the interest of the in-group (members of the state)?

    Maybe I misunderstood your point, though.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    Now that I re-read things a bit, I think I get where you were coming from. Were you referring to the behavior of a state in its own domestic affairs? I guess I never made explicit that when I talk about 'pursuing the national interest' I'm talking about international affairs.

  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I don't see how the individualism/collectivism frame applies here. It seems like in-group/out-group is the better frame. Is it ok to severely hurt the out-group (foreigners) to pursue the interest of the in-group (members of the state)?
    I was referring more to the domestic idea of 'national interest'. Can you hurt some people in your country to help others and still consider it in the national interest?

    Now that I re-read things a bit, I think I get where you were coming from. Were you referring to the behavior of a state in its own domestic affairs? I guess I never made explicit that when I talk about 'pursuing the national interest' I'm talking about international affairs.

    Ah yes. I think it is still important to consider exactly what the 'national interest' is. Who is considered when an act is determined to be in the 'national interest'?

    As I said, typically committing atrocities incurs international outrage, which gets you sanctioned. That is not in the national interest. War is generally not in the national interest. Could you provide a realistic example of doing something immoral that would benefit the aggressive country?
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    Requested example:

    During the Cold War, the US overthrows a legitimately elected leader of a foreign country, because that leader espouses socialist rhetoric and is perceived to be a (potential) ally of the USSR.

    This action could be considered wrong, because the people of the foreign country have a right to democratically elect their leaders. Yet, it could be considered in the US national interest, because containing Communism preserves American safety and influence in the long-run.

    Another example:

    The US generally turns a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's dismal human rights track record, because being on good terms with the Saudis is in our national interest, whereas pressuring them to make reforms is not.
  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Good examples. I would say both are justified.

    I mean, socialism has historically killed millions of people, so we were probably honestly working in their interests as well. Pinochet, for example, overthrew the socialist leader because people were starving. He implemented policies that led to good economic growth. But honestly, with how corrupt those countries are, many of the leaders were likely not democratically-elected in the first place.

    On the second example, it isn't our responsibility to end all human rights abuses in the world. If we can benefit from simply not ending something that we have no responsibility to end, then good on us. Saudi Arabia is making progress though. Women can drive now, so I guess that is cool.

  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    For the purpose of this discussion, would you agree to the following definition of "the national interest"?

    "Any international behavior the government believes would benefit the nation."
  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Yeah, that definition works.

  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Did you send a message?

    I would generally say that, from the perspective of the country committing the act, it would darn near always be justified.

    Let us use the Cold War perspective of politicians at the time. Their thoughts were: should we allow potential communist domination of the planet, which will destroy our people's way of life, subject our people to starvation, and rob them of their rights. Or, should we overthrow a leader to prevent that?

    Should we steal this country's resources to make money, or should we let our people starve and live in squalor? 

    That type of thing. If you are someone who isn't in one of the countries involved, you can make your decision on if you thought it was justified. But if you have the chance to improve the life of your country-men, you cannot really be faulted for trying. From an outside perspective, you can be utilitarian about it if you want, but if the US uses a policy that supports our interests, I will support it.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    Cool. I think that might help me provide an example that could be useful in helping answer the question I posed in post #5.

    Alright, here's another attempt at a plausible example:

    States A and B are engaged in a war. They want the war to end, and start negotiating a peace settlement. State A believes it would be in the national interest if they could get State B to cede some economically valuable territory in the peace settlement. State B refuses to agree to this, instead offering a white peace.

    Rather than accept the white peace, State A decides a little more fighting, in order to wear down State B's will to resist the demand of ceding territory, is in the national interest. Therefore, State A keeps the war going. Hell, maybe they even intensify it a little, sprinkling in some heavy bombing of civilian population centers.

    In this instance, State A's actions have resulted in what we would usually consider wrong: the killing of people who did not deserve to be killed. In this instance, State A acted as it did to pursue the national interest (i.e. to force State B to cede the land).

    This gets me back to my question in post #5. How far can a state justifiably go in pursuing the national interest? Can it take actions which will result in the killing of hundreds or thousands more to achieve what it considers to be an important interest?
  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    This does make it a bit interesting because you are arguing for the "moral justification". I am very anti-war, myself.

    On a base-level, it would be quite difficult to justify the actions of State A. They could in some instances be justified, though. Maybe State B began the war, and once they thought they would lose, tried to end it on peaceful terms. State A might go severely into debt from this war they didn't want to start, and as a result, cannot provide for healthcare, education, and police for its own people. They need some economic benefit to make sure their country doesn't fall into anarchy. In that case, I could see a decent argument for pressuring State B. I might think their tactics are extreme, but if hundreds of thousands of their people might starve, die of disease, and never receive an education, wouldn't you be more on their side?

  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    State A might go severely into debt from this war they didn't want to start, and as a result, cannot provide for healthcare, education, and police for its own people. They need some economic benefit to make sure their country doesn't fall into anarchy. In that case, I could see a decent argument for pressuring State B. I might think their tactics are extreme, but if hundreds of thousands of their people might starve, die of disease, and never receive an education, wouldn't you be more on their side?
    Let's assume State A would be relatively fine without annexing the territory in question from State B.

    I agree that what you suggest is plausible. But my purpose with this example is to set up an indisputable conflict between what we would normally consider moral and pursuit of the national interest. This then forces us to ask whether the pursuit of the national interest is itself morally justified. If the pursuit of the national interest is morally justified in its own right, a state could be justified in inflicting suffering on the world that would not occur otherwise.

    By the way, thanks for showing interest in my thread. I appreciate your participation.
  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Thanks for the thread. I have been in a pm discussion with whiteflame about refugees, and we are getting a little caught up on the weight that national interest has over preventing humans rights abuses. I very strongly believe in putting my country-people first, but it is an idea that is hard to justify through arguments.

    Anyway, we agreed on the definition that national interest is something that benefits your nation. I guess it could come down to 'how much'. The nation is State A's people. By taking that extra land, they are working to benefit the lives of their people.

    It really comes down to whose perspective you are looking at this from. State A wants to improve the lives of its people, making it justifiable to them. State B just had its people killed, so they would think State A is in the wrong. From an outsider perspective, I would say that killing for economic reasons is wrong, but again, it is hard to fault people who want to improve their people's lives
  • Jeff_Goldblum
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Debates: 10
    Forum posts: 120
    0
    2
    10
    Jeff_Goldblum avatar
    Jeff_Goldblum
    --> @bmdrocks21
    It really comes down to whose perspective you are looking at this from. State A wants to improve the lives of its people, making it justifiable to them. State B just had its people killed, so they would think State B is in the wrong. From an outsider perspective, I would say that killing for economic reasons is wrong, but again, it is hard to fault people who want to improve their people's lives
    I think this is a reasonable answer, and I can't ask for much more in the context of this thread. Thanks!

  • bmdrocks21
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    Debates: 6
    Forum posts: 1,886
    4
    6
    10
    bmdrocks21 avatar
    bmdrocks21
    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    No problem. Hope I was helpful.