At times, leaders of nations have to delicately balance between international relations with fellow countries and their own countries interests. Supporting a cause like China’s One Belt One Road initiative or the global war on terrorism may put that country in good stead with fellow countries. However, this may be detrimental to its people back home as resources and focus are shifted away from domestic issues and directed at these global causes. It thus takes a good leader to make sound decisions that will have positive far-reaching consequences for his people.

A country can offer support in a token manner if it cannot be fully committed to the cause. For example, in the war against terror, countries are expected to take sides against rogue states and militant groups. This is especially evident in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. The US declared war on terrorism and proceeded to increase its military deployments in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. This resulted in countries like England and France showing their support for the US efforts. The US, being the world’s largest economy, has the power to influence trading partners to join them in their fight against terrorism. If countries were to voice their support for the US, they may be seen in a more favourable light when possible trade deals are discussed. Countries like Singapore are very dependent on global trade and cannot afford to offend the US who coincidentally is the largest trading partner. Singapore does send troops to Afghanistan to support the US in their fight against terrorism. However, these troops are seen more as a token effort than Singapore diverting a significant amount of resources to the cause. This way, Singapore maintains a good relationship with the US while focusing on matters domestically.

In some cases, a country may not be able to maintain such a balance. Take for example the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Since he has taken office, he has endorsed killings of drug addicts and pushers. Then US president Barack Obama was critical of his actions and voiced concerns that human rights were being violated. However, Duterte continued his course of action, even labelling Obama as a “son of a whore’.  The national interest, in Duterte’s mind, needed to take precedence over global interests. He was not afraid to offend the US, one of the Philippines’ largest trading partner. In fact, he went so far as to declare his intention to work closely with China instead of the US.

There are cases whereby situations provide a reconciliation between global and national interests. In the quest to fight against global warming, countries come together to sign pacts to pledge to reduce their carbon footprint. China, being the world’s highest emitter of greenhouse gasses realises that this global initiative is also good for itself domestically. The Chinese government is actively promoting alternative energy and environmentally friendly cars. In fact, Chinese automaker BYD, the maker of most electric vehicles in China, has predicted that China will fully shift to electric cars by 2030. In such situations, global and national interests are generally aligned and balanced.

Generally, national interests take precedence over global ones. However, in an ever interconnected world, sometimes it is difficult to segregate the two. It is important to have capable and diplomatic leaders to make decisions that will balance both camps.