What are America's National Interests?

Concerned that in the Post-Cold War era the United States is in danger of "losing its way," a bipartisan group cosponsored by the Belfer Center gathered to discuss what it considers to be the country''s central foreign policy challenge: gaining a clear sense of American national interests.

In a report released in July, the Commission on America''s National Interests looked at complex questions such as: Which regions and issues should Americans care about? What level of priority do countries like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Mexico deserve compared to Russia, China, or the Persian Gulf? And, how much should citizens be prepared to pay to address threats and seize future opportunities?

Finding answers, the group concluded, is critical because "the fatigue of many, and distractions of some with special interests, leave American foreign policy hostage to television images and the momentary passions of domestic politics." Without a clear sense of priorities, the report says, policy will continue to be reactive and impulsive.

"The United States enters a new century as the world''s most powerful nation," the report says, "but too often seems uncertain of its direction. We hope to encourage serious debate about what must become an essential foundation for a successful American foreign policy: America''s interests."

The group of 23 current and former government officials, senators, academics, and think-tank analysts— which includes Senators Bob Graham, John McCain and Pat Roberts --identified five vital U.S. interests. They are to:

* prevent, deter, and reduce the threat of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons attacks on the United States or its military forces abroad;

* ensure U.S. allies'' survival and their active cooperation with the United States in shaping an international system in which we can thrive;

* prevent the emergence of hostile major powers or failed states on U.S. borders;

* ensure the viability and stability of major global systems (trade, financial markets, supplies of energy, and the environment);

* and establish productive relations, consistent with American national interests, with nations that could become strategic adversaries, China and Russia.

BCSIA members on the commission include Director Graham Allison, Professors Robert Blackwill and Richard Falkenrath, and Fellow Laura Donahue.


(A version of this article appeared in the Kennedy School''s October Update.)

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