Important Elements of National Interest in International Relations

There are some elements that make for the power of a nation in comparison to other nations. What are these important elements of national power that make a huge difference in relations with other nations? These are mainly seven elements that make a national power. In brief, these elements or national interests are Geography, raw materials, natural resources, population, technology, military, leadership, and diplomatic capability. In this article, I am going to discuss the most important elements of national interest in detail.

Most Important Elements of National Interest in International Relations

The following elements make national power of a nation:


Geography is an essential element of a state, it portrays a state in terms of its existence. Geography makes it possible for a state to be seen physically. It is the most stable factor upon which the power of a nation depends.

History has often been described as geography in motion. Napoleon once said, “The foreign policy of a country is determined by its geography”. Geographical factors have had a decisive effect on civilization and national development.

The “shrinking” of the world with modern means of transportation and communication has increased interdependence among people and has brought them into closer contact in a variety of ways.

The bodies of water i.e. oceans, separate continental territories of a continent from other continents. It is a permanent factor that determines the position of a country in the world.

It is correct that the importance of this factor today is not what was some 50 or 100 years ago. But it is wrong to assume, as well, that the technical development of transportation, communication, and warfare has totally done away with the isolating factor of the oceans.

Size of Territory

The looming threat of nuclear war has increased the importance of the size of the territory as a source of national power.

In order to make a nuclear threat credible, a nation needs to have a territory, large enough to spread its industrial and population locations as well as its nuclear installations.

The connection between the large radium of nuclear destruction and the relatively small size of the territory severely curtails a nation’s ability to effectively engage in nuclear warfare.

Therefore, it is almost the continental size of their territory which make the USA, the Soviet Union, and China the fearsome nuclear nations.

However, in certain cases, the size of the territory, whether small or big, becomes irrelevant and sometimes disadvantageous too. Despite its smaller territorial size, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. Russia’s massive territorial size became a handicap as it obstructed the movement of her armies and supplies in distant Siberia.

For the same reasons, the territorial size of Russia proved to be a disadvantage when Hitler attacked Russia in June 1941. On the other hand, the big size proved a huge advantage when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and again in World War II by permitting Germany to retreat that created problems of supplies for Germany which prevented occupation.

In the absence of war great size in itself becomes an asset because the vastness of the area will discourage invaders. Size is related to population, military installations, and transportation routes. Big size – may cause problems to accomplish national homogeneity, administrative cohesion, and cultural integration.

Therefore, the size neither should be too small to lure expansionists to invade nor too big to create problems of effective administration and defense.

Geographical Location

To understand the Important Elements of National Interest in International Relations, geographical location plays a more significant role in making national power. It helps in erecting a stable economy upon an area and people.

It is due to the location that a country is able to develop lumbering, hunting, grazing, crop culture, mining, commerce, and manufacturing all pre-requisites for economic growth.

In turn, the dying economy does much to determine the culture as mining gives rise to mining towns, and commerce and manufacturing to cities. Location with respect to spatial relationship to other states also deeply affects a state’s culture and economy and both its military and economic power.

Location tends to make a state a land power or a sea power with overall advantages and disadvantages. England’s isolation gave her partial exemption from the continental struggles of Medieval Europe and added to her leadership in constitutional government, literature, and industry.

North America came under French and English sway, and Central and South America became Spanish and Portuguese because these continents are located westward of the colonizing powers. Hawaii became part of America because of its location and certain areas became British for the same reasons.

Natural Resources

Natural resources are another important element of national power. They exert influence upon the power of a nation with respect to other nations. The study of natural resources involves some definitions, a series of classifications, and in the mind at least, a distribution map.

We must also consider the sources of energy and their relation to industrial strength, and in these respects, observe the position of the United States in particular. Also, we-must gauge the well-being of states in terms of food supply and the national power of states in terms of their total assets in natural resources.

Raw Materials

Natural resources and raw materials are two different items. Waterfall and fertility of soil fall in the category of natural resources but they are not to be taken as raw materials. Natural resources are endowed by nature with certain qualities/characteristics and have tremendous utility for mankind.

They include minerals, flora and fauna and waterfalls, and fertility of the soil. Some of these, like minerals and forests, are both natural resources and raw materials. There are some kinds of raw materials which are produced by manual labor like rubber timber, tobacco, hides, and cotton. They should not be taken as natural resources as they are domesticated productions involving human endeavors.

Resource means asset. It varies from place to place and from time to time. Hidden and unexplored coal deposits are not an asset, oil, gas and a number of other things were not considered an asset in the olden days. Even today sea water, otherwise a great power, has little value. Raw materials possess only potential rather than actual utility.

The boons of ^heaven i.e., natural resources, may sometime fall short of being natural resources and even prove burdensome or a liability.

Forests have to be deforested and livestock eliminated, clay or granite or coal may obstruct agriculture, and oil and salt may contaminate the water supply to create health hazards. Natural wealth may attract foreign aggression and may entice the invaders to attack the state.

Raw materials are divided into three categories: vegetable products, animal products, and minerals. Vegetable products include foodstuff, cotton, rubber, jute, oils, wood pulp, flex, sisal, hemp, fertilizers, barks, roots, all kinds of wood, bamboo, seeds, charcoal, nuts, and the ingredients used in chemicals, medicines, paints and varnish products.

Animal products include some foodstuffs such as meat, milk, poultry, fish and eggs and wool, hides, silk, some oils, furs, feathers, and ingredients of some medicine.

Minerals may be further divided into various groups as chemists and mineralogists would do. Some minerals are classified as critical and strategic.

Food and Agricultural Products

Foodstuffs are a very important element in a nation’s strength. A country that is self-sufficient or nearly self-sufficient in food and agriculture has a great advantage over a state which is deficient in food and agricultural products and has to import the foodstuff, it does not grow.

Such a state will either have to starve or spend a heavy amount of foreign exchange to import foodstuffs vitally needed to survive. It is, for this reason, the power and in times of war, the very existence of Great Britain, which before the Second World War grew only 30 percent of the food consumed in the British Isles, has always been dependent upon its ability to keep the sea lanes open over which the vital food supplies have to be shipped in.

Great Britain became acutely vulnerable whenever its ability to import food was challenged, as in the two world wars through submarine warfare and air attacks, and its survival as a nation was jeopardized.

Similarly, Germany which lacked foodstuffs, though less deficient than Great Britain, was forced to pursue three options to survive a war. First avoid a long war through quick victory before its food reserves were exhausted, second the conquest of great food-producing areas of Eastern Europe and third the destruction of British sea power which cut Germany from access to overseas sources of food.

In both world wars, Germany could not accomplish the first and third objectives. It acquired the second goal rather too late to have any decisive impact. Thus, the Allied blockade of German people’s necessities of life dampened the will to resist and eventually proved an essential factor in the victory of the Allies.

In the Second World War, Germany became self-sufficient in foodstuff not through conquest but through the deliberate starvation and large-scale massacre of millions of people in vanquished territories.

In most parts of the world, food is a major problem, one closely related to the effective utilization of human resources. Most under-developed countries have to import large amounts of food even to keep their people at a low standard of living. In all these countries, the proportion of the world’s population is greater than the proportion of the world’s food production. In most of them, the average diets are nutritionally inadequate.

A permanent shortage of food is a source of perpetual weakness in international politics. India was a befitting example of this fact before the so-called “green revolution” increased its food supplies.

The deficiency of food that ravaged India was due to two factors: first, the massive population growth which surpassed the supply of food, and second the insufficiency of exports to pay for the import of the food necessary to make up the deficit.

This two-fold unevenness cast the threat of starvation on the Indian government and put foreign policy under heavy strain. Despite other assets of national power, which were available to India, the lack of food forced the government to start its foreign policy on a defensive posture rather than from a strengthened position.

The same conclusion is made with regard to the nations of the third world who live under perpetual threat of famine without most of the other assets which actually make national power. These are the so-called “basket cases”. which linger on expecting that international help and generosity will help ward off the next famine to enable them to survive.

Self-sufficiency in food or scarcity of it is a strong factor in national power. But it is prone to changes. There may be changes in the consumption of food brought about by changing patterns of nutrition. Agriculture may undergo a change in technique which may increase or decrease the yield of agricultural land.

A decrease in the output of agricultural products may affect the health of the citizens who may remain underfed and malnourished. Malnourished people cannot produce as much as well-fed can and they are constant sources of discontent and unrest. “Hunger is the most important factor in the world today.

The real challenge of the twentieth century is the race between man and starvation.” There are multiple causes/factors like rapid population growth, natural disasters, increasing pressure on arable land, civil wars, ignorance, and corrupt and incapable leadership that greatly thwart all efforts to win the inexorable race.

Basic foodstuffs like wheat, rice, corn, and sugar are vital for the survival of human beings and also essential for economic development. Other agricultural products like cotton, wool, and rubber are equally important with respect to national power in addition to steel, iron or coal, and petroleum.

They have to play a major role in the economics of the states with respect to international relations. All these items have massive utility for industrial consumption and have been the main subject of international agreements.

Malaysia and Indonesia are two important countries that occupy strategic areas in the non-communist world. They are major rubber-producing countries and their economies are based on the sale and production of rubber.

Their economies, therefore, would deflate if foreign markets for their rubber are not available. The governments of those countries are deeply concerned about their dependence on world market conditions for the consumption of their rubber products.

They have to sustain the grave impact of world price variations of raw rubber and elimination from the market as well as the drastic effects of extremely high prices during the Korean War. They are worried about the rapid growth of substitutes for rubber and the production of synthetic rubber, particularly in the United States which is their main market.


Minerals are invaluable assets of any state. A state rich in minerals is considered a resourceful nation. Especially, the development of mechanized warfare has increased the utility and importance of minerals manifold. Minerals are the backbone of industry It is, therefore, very clear that an abundance of minerals is imperative to build formidable military strength.

Sources of Energy

Major sources of energy are important elements of national power! They range from the oldest, human and animal, power to atomic and solar energy. Manpower is also a major source of energy in most parts of the world.

Coal is a major source of energy in the world. The Soviet Union and the United States are the largest producers of coal. Other coal-producing countries are China, East, and West Germany, Great Britain, Poland, India, France, Japan, South Africa, and Pakistan since the First World War, oil as a source of energy has become very important for industry and war.

Most of the mechanized weapons and vehicles are operated by oil. Therefore, the countries that possess plenty of oil deposits have acquired considerable influence which is due to the possession of oil to some extent. The Soviet Union has become more powerful because of its being self-sufficient in oil while Japan has become weaker since it is lacking in oil deposits.

However, oil is no longer an important raw material in evaluating national power. The US was the largest consumer of oil. Most of the world’s imported oil comes from the Middle East and Venezuela.

In 1967, oil production was 8.8 billion barrels in the US, 5.6 billion in the USSR, 3.5 billion in Venezuela, 2.3 million in Kuwait, 2.6 million in Saudi Arabia, and 2.6 million in Iran. Iraq and Libya are also important oil-producing countries.

Water power, especially hydroelectric power, is vital for some industrial states like Japan and United States and in many underdeveloped countries such as India, where vast multipurpose river-valley development schemes are being brought into operation.

It also carries great significance in many parts of Africa. The waters of many rivers are sources of hydroelectric power, but some great rivers, such as the Amazon and the Orinoco in South America, the Yukon in North America, and the Mekong in Southeast Asia have not so far been exploited fully.

Natural gas is available in abundance. It is piped for long distances in the United States and the Soviet Union. In Pakistan, attempts to explore oil, led to the discovery of Natural gas.

Atom is another source of energy that is becoming very important with each passing day. In days to come, it may surpass all other sources of energy in importance and utility.

Although great emphasis has been laid on the development of atomic weapons, many countries have made considerable progress in the peaceful use of atomic energy. Nuclear power plants are operational or under construction.

Pakistan has acquired nuclear power and has produced the atomic bomb. North Korea and Iran are also trying to enrich Uranium and, are on their way, to becoming nuclear nations.

Uranium and plutonium are the major sources of atomic energy. Minerals containing substantial amounts of uranium are available in many parts of the world and further exploration is being done to unearth boundless quantities.

At present, Canada and Kinshasa (Congo) are the main suppliers of pitchblende from which most uranium is derived. Uranium-bearing carnotite has been found in a number of Western States of the USA.

Other known deposits of uranium-bearing minerals have been found in several countries of Europe in the northern regions of European, Russia, in Soviet Asia where it borders Iran and Afghanistan, China, Japan, Australia, and South Africa. Monazite bands containing thorium, another important source of atomic energy, can be obtained in several parts of the world.

Iron and Steel

Iron and steel add much to a nation’s power and strength. They are an important source of raw materials. The US, USSR, France and communist China are the major producers of iron ore, The US, USSR, West Germany, Japan, and Great Britain produce large quantities of pig iron and steel.

Major sources of iron ore are the Mesabi Range in Minnesota, the Urals in the USSR, Loraine in France, northern China and Manchuria, Labrador, Northern Sweden, Bihar and West Bengal in India, and Bolivar in Venezuela.

Industrial Capacity

An advanced and well-developed industrial sector is an indispensable ingredient of national power. It provides a state with the necessary raw material to build its military capability which in itself is an important factor of national power.

Modern industry is based on natural resources such as coal, iron ore, steel, and petroleum. Coal and oil are the main sources of energy, and iron and steel are essential for the transportation and construction industry and for the machine-and-tool-using economy. The great nations of today are those states which have these ingredients in abundance and possess an advanced technological base.

Centers of Heavy Industry

At present, there are only three great “heartlands of heavy industry”, although there are several other centers of growing industrial strength that may become of real significance within a short time.

One great center is the northern and southeastern sections of the United States from Chicago through the industrial centers of New England and includes the great industries of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Another is Western Europe which could be divided into two heartlands i.e., covering England and the other covering the industrial complex in West Germany, the Benelux countries, and Eastern France.

The second most important heartland in Asia, outside Soviet Russia, is in eastern India, where coal and iron ore, and some petroleum are also available.

The Position of the USA

The United States is a superpower of impregnable status. It is a dominating superpower because it has a stable, well-developed, and vast industrial base. It has only six percent population and seven percent land area of the globe. It has nearly forty percent of the entire world’s production capacity.

With the exception of the Soviet Union, it is almost more self-sufficient in vital minerals and raw materials than any other country. The US enjoys an excellent position with respect to coal, iron ore, and petroleum, the vital sources of industrial strength.

However, the US is not self-sufficient in the vital minerals used in modern industry. She is completely deficient in tin, natural rubber, industrial diamonds, and quartz crystals.

She has to rely on foreign sources for her manganese, chromite, nickel, and bauxite requirements. She has to import several essential minerals in huge quantities like zinc, copper, and lead which once she possessed in sufficient quantity.

Population of State

So far, we have discussed about geography, natural resources, and industrial capacity as the necessary elements of national power. In addition to these elements, there are a number of other factors which contribute to enhancing the national power of a state. These elements include people, traditions, trends, diplomacy, and leadership. All these factors are equally important to make national power.

Perhaps the most significant fact about today’s world is the number of people inhabiting it. When we turn from material factors and those compounded of material and human elements to the purely human factors that determine the power of a nation, we have to distinguish qualitative and quantitative components.

The Population Explosion

During the past 150 years or so, the world’s population grew at a tremendously faster pace. It is indeed revolutionary as the rapid growth rate altered the world’s political, economic, and social culture. Most demographic experts believe that due to famines, epidemics, and wars, the world’s population growth relatively declined for some centuries before 1650 AD.

The world’s population some 2000 years ago stood at 250,000,000. It reached half a billion only about 1620 AD the year the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. It did reach one billion shortly before the American civil war.

Since then, the revolution has occurred, in a century the world increase has amounted to more than 200 percent and more recently the “revolution” has become an “explosion”.

More than 1, 50,000 people are added to the world’s population daily, and each year more than 60,000,000. Every day a small city is added, every month a new Chicago, every year a New France, every decade a new India. And every time your pulse beats in your wrist, three more babies are born.

The reasons for this extraordinary increase are associated with the industrial and technological revolution of modern times which has brought about great changes in political, economic, and social organization.

Due to the new technologies, abundant supply has become possible along with improvements in medical knowledge and in popular education. A marked decline in death rates and rise in birth rate and a lengthening of life span are all responsible for rapid population growth.

National Character

National Morale

Morale comprises spirit, loyalty, courage, faith, and impulse meant to preserve personality and dignity. It is entirely the product of the techniques of propaganda, but it is also the result of the impact on the public spirit of incidents and events.

A defeat in war may lower the morale of the nation or the death of the main leader, the sinking of a ship, the defection of an ally, additions to the enemy’s strength, and the announcement of a huge budget, all lower the morale. It is also affected by floods, epidemics, accidents, famines, and earthquakes. Even some good or happy news can cause bad effects.

Morale is closely related to leadership. It is strongly influenced by personalities, success, and failure, and by dramatic words and daring actions. Sometimes, words produce miracles. American history is replete with dramatic phrases which pushed the nation into a fighting mood.

Morale-building is not the exclusive domain of national leaders. It is everybody’s job in a democratic set-up. In World War I, many people made notable contributions. These persons worked diligently to awaken others for the national cause.

National Character

Morale is related to “national character”. But this relationship is vague and unclear. There are a few examples that show the vagueness of the relationship between morale and national character. The Chinese cosmic exchangeability, German’s thoroughness, discipline, and efficiency, Russian’s relentless persistence, Latin’s aesthetic instinct, and volatility, of Americans and Canadians’ resourcefulness and inventiveness, and the English’s dogged common sense, to name some.

National Leadership

Indeed, dedicated leadership is an essential element of power. Its importance is overriding and encompasses other factors which make national power.
Leadership is interrelated with the other elements of national power. Without able leadership, people cannot constitute a state, without leadership there can be no well-developed and integrated technology and without it, morale is absolutely useless.

Leadership in War

In the olden days, effective leadership in the war meant hiring manpower, requisition unhindered supplies, and fighting well. Since the advent of modern warfare, every resource of the state has to be guarded, developed, and fully utilized.

Even in a democratic state, it is the leaders of the state who control all war potential of the state. It is the responsibility of the state leaders to make the maximum use of everything which can contribute to national power to wage war.

Food supply, raw materials of industry, the industry itself, transportation, communication, public health, and military establishment which itself has huge problems of organization, health, strategy, morale, and military government, all pose a challenge for leadership to cope with them.

Aside from the timely use of technological changes, military leadership always has a decisive influence on national power. The power of Prussia in the eighteenth century was primarily a reflection of the military genius of Frederick the Great and of the strategic and unique changes introduced by him.

Total war is total because it involves total resources, total organization, and total effort. Upon the political leaders of the state falls the final responsibility for the coordination of all the energies of the state.

Diplomatic Leadership

No state wants to fight a war. All states like to live in peace as war is a loathsome venture. A state enters into a war only when it is thrust upon it. A supreme test of a state’s power is its effectiveness in war. Every state wants to avoid war.

The United States has been at peace with all other nations of the world for just about ninety percent of its existence between the declaration of independence and World War I. She only jumped into the war when Germany’s Hitler pushed war upon her to quench his lust for expansion.

Even in times of peace, states possess power. It is due to the diplomatic effectiveness of a state that it lives in peace and that speaks of the competence of leadership.

Diplomacy performs multifarious activities. It can serve its people by protecting them abroad, by constant vigilance in the search for new opportunities for trade, and by facilitating established commercial inaction.

It can gather a wide range of information on the geography, resources, techniques, culture, military establishment, diplomatic interests, and people of a foreign nation. Generally, diplomacy promotes respect and goodwill for the state and can keep its leaders abreast of the happenings around the globe.

It is all routine and different from what is known as “power diplomacy”. States which intend to make their diplomacy a tool of power must remain alert and aware of the day-to-day happenings in the international situation which concerns the rational interest most directly.”

Military Capability

One of the important elements of national interest in international relations is military capability. Military strength is an important element of national power. Military preparedness provides strength to factors of geography, natural resources, and industrial capacity to make them real sources of strength for a state. The dependence of national power upon military preparedness is very clear.

Military capability requires a military set up which can support the foreign policy of the state. Such ability stems from technological innovations, leadership, quality and quantity of armed forces, and an efficient and astute diplomatic arsenal.

Varying and different technologies of warfare have decided the destinies of nations as a state with better technology could easily overcome the one which was inferior and was unable to compensate in other ways.

Europe during the 15th to 19th centuries had a superior warfare technology to that of the western hemisphere, Africa, and the Near and the Far East and thus was able to expand its power on the basis of its superior technology of warfare.

The introduction of infantry, firearms, and artillery with the traditional weapons in the 14th and 15th centuries resulted in a consequential shift in the power distribution in favor of those who used those weapons before their enemies could do so. The feudal lords and independent cities who clung to cavalry and castles, found themselves dislodged from their position of preponderance after the introduction of these weapons.

What are the Important Elements of National Interest in IR?

  • Geography
  • Size of Territory
  • Location
  • Natural Resources
  • Raw Materials
  • Food and Agriculture Products
  • Minerals
  • Sources of Energy
  • Iron and Steel
  • Industrial Capacity
  • Centers of Heavy Industry
  • Population of State
  • National Morale
  • National Character
  • Leadership
  • Diplomatic leadership
  • Military Capability

These are notable elements of national interest in International Relations.

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