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News Foreign Policies & National Self-Interest

  1. Jul 20, 2009 #1
    If I could get help for an essay on this topic I would appreciate it very much because I have absolutely no idea what to write about:

    During the interwar and Cold War periods, many nations pursued foreign policies based strictly on the principle of national self-interest. Other nations were more willing to pursue foreign policies based on principles other than those perceived to be strictly in their national self interest.

    To what extent should nations base their foreign policies on national self-interest?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 20, 2009
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  3. Jul 20, 2009 #2


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    One word: realpolitik. (If this is for IB World History, you'll probably be getting to European history pre-WWI, and especially the unification of Germany--Bismarck--and Italy--Cavour).
  4. Jul 20, 2009 #3


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    I would argue that most principles ostensibly not strictly in national interest were, in fact, strictly in national interest (in intent, at least).
  5. Jul 20, 2009 #4
    thanks guys, it somewhat helps.
    i'm just confused as to what to focus on
    in each of my body paragraphs!
  6. Jul 20, 2009 #5
    Yay IB! Although I never took history (I was econ SL). 'Should''s in a situation like this are completely irrelevant. National leaderships have always acted entirely in the name of the personal interests of the leadership and the perceived national self-interest (Bismark's Realpolitik as has been pointed out). The only 'curiosity', for lack of a better word, is the fact that for some nations, in their situation at the time, that a policy resembling 'idealism' was actually in their self-interest. Put your finger on what that was and I'd say you'd have a rocking essay.
  7. Jul 20, 2009 #6


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    It's an extremely broad topic. There basically giving you an open door to discuss just most of what foreign policy is and everything from the past 60 years! So pick some specific incidents/countries/concepts and go with them.

    Some possibilities:

    Marshall Plan: why (what was the motivation)?
    Korean/Vietnam/Afghan war(s): why?
    Israel/Iraq/Iran support by the US: why?
    Creation, joining of, support for the UN: why?

    Try to find reasonf why they were and why they weren't motivated by self-interest.
  8. Jul 20, 2009 #7
    I'd just like to point out that that's an extremely american perspective. Which may be just the ticket if you're american and/or you know the marker is american. Otherwise that may not be a great essay for the "international baccalaureate"
  9. Jul 21, 2009 #8
    For example, as a Canadian who did IB I'd imagine common topics I could make a case for:

    -The emergence of Canada as a middle power and peacekeeping force after WWI
    -Growing Canadian identity at the end of the 19th century
    -English-French relations in Canada
    -Canada's roll in the league of nations.

    etc. but I imagine in something like IB world history they're looking for a somewhat 'broader' perspective on things.
  10. Jul 21, 2009 #9
    I would argue that in the long run, self interests and principles consequences are not mutually exclusive i.e. the consequences from self interests are similar to what you would get based on principals (ethics).
  11. Jul 21, 2009 #10
    Is this a premise to be taken without question, or do you have examples of nations, by evidence, enacting polices other than self interest? A question of greater depth would be to ask, rather than nations, do you have examples of the ruling coalition of a nation not enacting policies in other than self interest of the ruling coalition of that nation?

    Is this a class assignment designed as a hit-piece on the United States based on false premises, to which I have alluded to above, rather than reasoned argument? It speaks to an aroma of which I have become familiar.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2009
  12. Jul 21, 2009 #11


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    An important thing to keep in mind is long term versus short term self interest. For example, if an ally gets attacked by a superior enemy, short term it may be better to just sit by and watch, long term it would be better to help fight (probably). Other less contrived examples probably are similar. So what may appear to be altruistic (fighting an enemy for the sake of saving an ally) in the long term is entirely 'selfish'
  13. Jul 21, 2009 #12
    Canadians are generally taught to hate the US/US policies IMO.
  14. Jul 21, 2009 #13

    The canadian bit was my own addition to point out that schools that are IB expected a much more balanced perspective on international politics not just america centric. We have no idea what the OP's nationality is but if they're IB they could be a paraguayan writing an essay that will be read by a phillipino. And no, the canadian gov't is not naive enough to fill a curriculum with anti-american propoganda but all countries that aren't american tend not to have the same inflated perception of american importance that americans do. Yes it's a super power, yes its got a huge economy but not every essay worth writing is on american foreign policy. A lot of countries other than the states and the soviets took part/were effected by the cold war. After all, james bond was BRITISH not american.
  15. Jul 21, 2009 #14


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    I don't see why an IB essay couldn't focus on a particular nation. As an American, I did my essay on Canada. But why not?
  16. Jul 21, 2009 #15


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    Maybe we're starting to fight proxy battles with you as the battleground (just like the cold war... or not?) We can't tell you what to write; that's up to you (as is the case with other homework / projects on this forum.

    What is this for? Is this for an AP or IB History Class? An in-class essay? A term project? How many words are you supposed to write?

    As with most history class projects, you should first start by defining what the question means. No, not figuring it out, defining what it means, and is going to mean for the purposes of your paper (these are usually crafted purposefully broad so that you have latitude, and so that the poor teacher / marker doesn't end up with 30 or 100 identical term papers--but still consult with them in case you're taking an overly loose interpretation). And then take a position.

    After that, I'd suggesting you use what you've learned in class / your readings as a starting point into your paper (or talking with your teacher / prof and asking them if they have some recommended readings / historians), and supplement that with historiography from other historians which support / oppose your view (thesis + antithesis = synthesis).
  17. Jul 21, 2009 #16
    I think MATLABdude is definetly on the helpful track. My point wasn't that an IB essay couldn't be on the american perspective but simply that if one isn't american then a question of the cold war does not immediately imply america's perspective.
  18. Jul 21, 2009 #17


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    I think it does. The cold war was a conflict between the USSR and the US. The involvement of other countries was only peripheral to those two primary combatants. And the OP wouldn't be in here asking the question if they were enough of a student of history to be investigating peripheral involvement

    [edit] One thing though - I misunderstood the term "interwar period". I was thinking about the time between WWII and the Korean war (the "postwar period") - it was actually the time between WWI and WWII. And that time period was characterized by more balanced international politics.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2009
  19. Jul 21, 2009 #18


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    The statement in the OP is "During the interwar and Cold War periods, many nations pursued foreign policies . . . .". The interwar period ostensibly means between the Great War (WWI) and World War II, those being the two big 'international' wars. The Cold War period is after WWII - through about 1991.


    Search "Interwar Period" on Google and see what one finds.

    Cold war is probably viewed primarily as a conflict/competition of US vs USSR, or capitalism vs communism. But don't forget the ascendancy of China, or Japan, S. Korea, SE Asia, India, Brazil, movement of non-aligned nations, OPEC, . . . . .

    One could even look at the G7/G8 or G20 nations, or OECD, for trends in different nations.

    I don't think there is any nation that doesn't pursue a policy not influenced by self-interest. Security and economics/trade are the two big interests.
  20. Jul 21, 2009 #19
    Re: US-hate education. So are Americans. Have you taken any undergrade liberal arts classes lately--in say, the last 10 to 15 years?
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