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date: 28 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article argues that ‘a balance of interests’ is a more satisfactory descriptor, analytical concept, and policy precept than ‘the national interest’. The first two sections describe the dissatisfaction with the national interest. The third part expounds the advantages of ‘interests’ in the plural, ‘balance’ instead of ‘national’, and ‘a’ rather than ‘the’. The final section illustrates the conceptual arguments with selected case studies. ‘The national interest’ is erroneous as a description of the empirical reality, substitutes tautology for explanation, and is unhelpful as a guide to policy. ‘A balance of interests’ is superior on all three counts of description, explanation, and prescription. It also captures human agency and allows for human error and multiple balances as weighed by different people, reflecting their personal predilections, professional backgrounds, life and career experiences, and institutional interests and perspectives.

Keywords: national interest, diplomacy, balance of interests

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