Author : Visconti Camila Itatí, Lawyer- Cordoba, Argentina.                                                            (Diploma- International Relations and Diplomacy- IIGL)


The research will address the dichotomy between National Interest vs. Global Responsibility trying to come up with an answer to “What should Nations Choose?”.

National Interest

The State is a sovereign political organisation with full, autonomous and exclusive exercise of its powers and competences, at the domestic and in the international level. Each State is constituted by its national interests, which were built according to the confluence and development of different elements: the territory as an integrity to be safeguarded, the population (with its own social, political, public-opinion and economic values) and the succession of governments and their policies. The Civil Society of each State, conceived as the “autonomous complex of socio-political structures that mediate between the actions of individuals or groups with the organised and institutionalised forms of power” (State and Market), are the centre of formation of the national interest. In this new global context, the process of formation of national interest has become ambiguous.

States are the main international subjects in International Relations, they communicate each other by their foreign policy. The Charter of the United Nations establishes as one of its aims in Article 1: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace[1]”. Equality between States, implies that the State, in its supreme character, can enter into relations with them as equals. The interaction between States over time has resulted in their fragmentation due to scientific-technological transformations and global socio-economic changes; and globalisation has thus increased the interdependence between countries in different areas: natural resources (e.g. oil, gas), financial resources, military and scientific resources, and the need to strategically position themselves on the world map. Globalisation, understood as “the intensification of social relations on a worldwide scale (…) a reality in process, which (…) reaches things, people and ideas, as well as societies and nations, cultures and civilisations (…)” (Octavio Ianni, 1994), shows us a cultural clash never seen before.

This is why it is necessary to promote “local power”, understood, in Fischer’s words, as “the set of social networks that are articulated and superimposed, with relations of cooperation or conflict, around interests, resources and values, in a space whose boundaries are defined by the configuration of that group” (Tania Fischer, 1993). Local power constituted by its domestic public opinion contributes to handle the crisis brought about by the colonisation of global society. Through citizenship, a new non-State public space can be built in which decision-making process is induced by society, and new mechanisms for the exercise of democracy and access to justice are defined, independent of any external interference.

Global Responsibility

Any illicit behaviour of an international actor generates its responsibility. Consequently, the State has the duty to repair the damage caused. The creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 established the principles by which States would interact with each other in a new context of globalisation. As a result of the armed conflicts that had taken place up to that time, the UN Charter established the prohibition of the use of force as a method of conflict resolution for all States; in other words, any military intervention by one State in another is illegal as a principle of international law. In turn, Article 41 of the UN Charter States: “The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations[2]”. Two exceptions to this prohibition are allowed: Legitimate Self-Defence and the authorisation of the Security Council to carry it out, after the failure or insufficiency of non-aggression measures. In the same way, the legal enforcement of the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” implies the authorisation of the use of force by States in order to protect civilian populations whose rights are violated consecutively and systematically; and enables the Council to authorise armed action measures (air, naval or land forces) or those that are necessary to preserve or re-establish international peace and security. What are the limits of this Global Responsibility?

The Responsibility to Protect is a norm of international humanitarian security. As such, it does not imply a decision by a State per se to intervene in another one, but provides that upon the occurrence of crimes included in this legal protection and the Council may authorise armed intervention even if the violation is purely domestic, within a State. It institutes national and international protection of citizens’ human rights when these are severely and systematically violated. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty said in 2001 that it is the accountability of a sovereign State to protect the population on its border, while it is the collective responsibility of the international community to assume that protection when the State fails to do so. It is the Security Council who must intervene, as a last resort, to safeguard fundamental rights through measures of force proportionate to the need and seriousness of the matter; and thus protect human rights. Furthermore, as members of the international community, they committed themselves to collaborate with States to ensure that they fulfil their responsibility and they accepted to defend the population suffering from such crimes when their rights are violated or not protected by their own State.

The Responsibility to Protect, defined by international law, has little to do with the misnamed and non-existent “right to interfere”. “The authorisation of the Security Council remains, today, a conditioning element of the formal legality of any armed intervention in the framework of the duty to react enshrined in the Responsibility to Protect” (Cesáreao Gutierrez Espada, 2015).

A new scenery?

During the Cold War, there was no “war” in either a legal or a factual sense[3], because of the situation of mutually assured destruction that the birth of the nuclear weapon guaranteed. There was no direct confrontation between the two main blocs, rather a confrontation of ideology represented mainly by two powers. The world was caught up in a system of international politics of bipolar equilibrium, where there was “a State of affairs such that no one power is in a preponderant position so as to be able to lay down the law to the others” (Alex Schnake Gálvez, 2010). Each power exercised its influence in a certain territory and with the aim of breaking the adversary’s balance in its favour.

Each bloc attempted to intervene in other countries and increase its geopolitical area of influence through political, economic and military agreements, and these nations were often the scene of armed conflicts known as “proxy wars[4]“. Each bloc defended its zone of influence against the expansionism of the other.

Notable features of this period were:

  • Absence of direct armed conflicto.
  • Arms race.
  • Use of proxy wars to acquire influence in certain strategic territories.
  • Science race: e.g. the space race.
  • Influence on the world economy, politics and international systems.
  • Equilibrium power based on terror and constant competition.

The Cold War was carried out in different aspects: military, economic, financial, cultural, political, etc. With the economic weakening and the fall of the USSR, the influence of the Eastern bloc diminished and the United States entered the 21st century as the world’s superpower. Has the Cold War ended?

In recent years, the hegemony of the United States has been weakened by its internal economic crisis as a result of its heavy international indebtedness, and the emergence of new powers such as China on the international market and Russia, which has been rehabilitated by Putin’s government. This means that the world power system is moving from multipolarism to bipolarism again, as no single power can impose itself on others.

Since the Second World War, many countries have suffered constant political instability that has social and economic repercussions, and some parallels can be drawn between the Cold War of the last century and the situation of these countries today:

  • There is a struggle for global hegemonic control by two blocs: the US as the world’s superpower, and Russia and China as emerging powers.
  • The proliferation of nuclear weapons development on a global scale ensures that if they are used, they will lead to mutual destruction. This is what stops direct military hostilities and encourages other types of confrontation: scientific, ideological, commercial. Even in the context of a pandemic, the trade in vaccines seems to be a new global race.
  • Corollary to this is that confrontations occur through strategic zones of influence that are visualised by direct military interventions, containment policies and the rise and fall of regimes as they take power. Political, diplomatic, military and economic/commercial agreements (nowadays mainly related to health supplies) fight for influence on the global stage. The globalization helps in the homogenisation interest and culture around the word, gradually forgetting our cultural differences.

All things considered, the current map can be defined as a new cold war scenario that shares many of the attributes of the previous one, even though it is not yet officially recognised.

What should nations choose?

States should emphasise local power in a “plural” way, with the aim of generating national interests and policies taking into account local daily practices of social organisation; using law as an instrument of struggle, defence and liberation against any domination by imposed external interests; and promoting social participation in the processes of management and legitimate decision-making that make possible a consolidated and non-dependent international action. “Plural” in the sense that the national interest has to be redefined in a democratic space based on local collective identities, majorities and minorities, built together, accepting at the domestic level the existence of different social groups, different lifestyles, traditions and cultures that make up diversity, and recognising this diversity as a whole belonging to the national interest. In this way, international action is endowed with legitimacy and each local power would act as a part, not as hegemony. Nations should choose their National Interest.

This requires internally a reconstruction of participatory, deliberative and alternative democracy as a political and social/cultural element of the State. It calls for a Democracy that encourages the active and direct participation of citizens, so that marginal claims are taken into account by those in power. It should be a Democracy that creates a public space where rights are created through deliberation, discussion and consensus, thus resulting in a legitimate right of the people, by the people and for the people, representative of their interests and clearly brought into play in international negotiations. Alternative democracy, which incorporates the social demands of all inhabitants, empowers itself with differences and fosters multiculturalism, which puts pluralism at the centre and identifies it as a National Interest. An example of this is the vindication of the native peoples, who have been invisible and ignored in decision-making and in the formation of the national interest throughout the post-European imperialist history.  The native Argentinean groups have always been in a relationship of cooperation or conflict with the institutions of power; defending their interests and values, fighting for rights, participation and social-civic-political recognition; in a framework where their culture is the motive and purpose of their claim. This is why it is necessary to balance national interests in order to create new forms of democratic participation and also to “go back to the grassroots” in order to put a stop to the global society that is colonising the cultural aspects of regional communities on a world scale. At the level of international relations, the principles of sovereign equality and non-intervention need to be reclaimed in order to preserve the independence and interests of each State and ensure equitable interaction.

It should be stressed that isolation within each State is not proposed; on the contrary. Promoting local power allows for legitimate action at the international level without losing national interest in interaction with other States. In parallel, this would contribute to the formation of international relations in a PLURAL manner between States, fostering:

  • The transmission and shaping of multidisciplinary knowledge.
  • The possibility and facilitation of communications.
  • The internal incorporation of humanitarian protections, e.g. the 1994 Reform of the National Constitution of Argentina incorporated International Human Rights Treaties into the Constitution, and with it a humanist vision of international law.

A global society in this sense does not lose diversity, does not homogenise or hegemonise, it grows with multiple and different visions, knowledge, beliefs and respect.

Adapted from research presented at the Indian Institute of Governance and Leadership (Diploma in International Affairs and Diplomacy- 2021)

Bibliographical References

UN Charter” United Nations, United Nations,

Gustavo Ianni, “Globalización: Nuevo paradigma de las ciencias sociales”, Estudos Avançados, num. 21, São Paulo, USP, 1994.

Tania Fischer, “Poder local, gobierno y ciudadanía”, Río de Janeiro, FGV, l993.

Evans, Gareth J, and Mohamed Sahnoun, “The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty”, Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001.

Cesáreao Gutierrez Espada, “El conflicto en Siria a la luz del derecho”, Murcia: UNISCI, 2015.

Alex Schnake Gálvez, “Multipolar Order in the 21st Century: Global and Regional Effects”, Santiago de Chile: magazine “Encrucijada Americana” vol. 4 num.1, 2010.

[1] “UN Charter” United Nations.

[2] “UN Charter” United Nations.

[3] War in a “legal” sense: requires a formal declaration of war, which initiates a state of war and ends with a peace treaty. War in a “factual” sense: direct military confrontation.

[4] Proxy Wars: type of warfare where world powers use third States as surrogates, avoiding direct confrontation and using new weapons.


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