Interests vs Value

My contribution to a Carnegie Europe discussion on whether Interests or Value Matter More in European foreign policy

Every English schoolboy is brought up on Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” In fact, that was not true when Lord Palmerston was British prime minister in the nineteenth century, and it is less true today.

For democracies, values lie at the heart of identity and a sense of worth. London has just hosted a major world conference on mutilating little girls’ genitals in the name of patriarchy or faith. There is some British interest here, as such mutilations inside the UK are costly to health services. But this about an assertion of values. Nondemocracies or not-quite democracies worry less about values, but they have stunted states, economies, and societies as a result.

The task of leadership is to align values and interests. European values were supported in 1999 when NATO’s bombing campaign put an end to Serbia’s slaughter and oppression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, but that suited European interests as it slowed the tsunami of asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia.

Right now, interests and values are in competition over dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Interests are winning out—just. But the Kremlin and Putin appeasers in EU capitals would be foolish to think values can be ignored forever.

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