What is the “National Interest”?

British PM David Cameron makes his case before Parliament.

British PM David Cameron makes his case before Parliament.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to shelve a proposed strike against Syrian government forces after opposition from his own party in parliament. In his statement to parliament, Prime Minister Cameron asserted that Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilians was “morally indefensible” and “cannot stand.” Cameron asked, “is it in Britain’s national interest in maintaining an international taboo against the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield?” to which he answered, “I would say yes it is.” But the House of Commons, which had been recalled from its summer recess to address the issue, seemed hesitant to embrace his claims and authorize the use of force against Syria. Instead, lawmakers seemed to prefer a more cautious response, delaying action until United Nations weapons inspectors in Syria issue their report to the UN Security Council.

US President Barack Obama faces a similar challenge. Having previously described the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” that would prompt a US response, President Obama appears to have painted himself into a corner.  While Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says the US military is “ready to go” with a strike on Syrian forces, US lawmakers appear to be exercising greater caution, warning the President that any military action would require Congressional approval.

Certainly part of the debate centers on war fatigue and the desire to avoid another protracted conflict like the one in Iraq, where the United States, Britain, and other Western powers were drawn in to a decade-long war based on faulty intelligence around Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction—weapons that proved not to have existed in the first place. But pat of the current debate also stems from differing conceptions of what constitutes “the national interest.” A narrower version argues that no matter how reprehensible the act, American national interest was not threatened by Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own population. A broader conceptualization argues that there is a national interest in maintaining, as Cameron suggested, a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world.

What do you think? Is a strike against the Syrian government in the US national interest? Should the United States and the United Kingdom take more concrete action against the Syrian regime? Or should they wait for the international community to take action instead? And what if Russia and China veto proposed UN action, as has been suggested they might? Would that necessitate further action by the United States? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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One response to “What is the “National Interest”?

  1. I feel as though if an issue does not directly affect a country it should remain nuetral on the issue. It is nobody’s national interest to be the “International Police”. There are too many issues around the world for countries to worry anout other countries’ business. Focus on your own nation and ensure your citizens are your first priority. Only intervene if you have not only congressional approval, but also the approval of the public.

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