|Map flags of US and Cambodia (Google image)|
National interest is a top priority for all countries around the world in conducting their foreign policies. Without national interest in their hearts, the leaders in this world will lead their countries into self-destruction. But the leaders can't pursue their own national interest successfully without sufficient power. And power is not necessarily evil or aggressive; it may be simply persuading the aggressors" to leave me alone." In International Relation term, power refers to military, economic, political, and psychological factors, and the best known power is rational persuasion, demonstrating that the country has leverage to repel all outside attempts. Because the power of each country is very tricky to calculate, the CIA spends millions of dollar each year to figure out how much power various countries possess, and it's still not well concluded until the war breaks out. Then the war will provide terrible price for the people--a clear answer about which side had more power. National interest will be well protected if and only if the country has enough power to deter the aggressor to stay away. And national interest is divided into different categories based on levels of danger the nation has faced: 1. vital versus secondary, 2. temporary versus permanent, 3. specific versus general, and 4. complementary versus conflicting.
1. A vital interest versus secondary: a vital interest one that potentially threatens the life of one nation, such as Soviet installed its nuclear missiles in Cuba directing toward the U.S. in 1962, which nearly broke into nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union . Vietnam saw the Khmer Rouge incursions on its border, trailed by atrocity against its civilians as a great threat to its vital interest that led to its military invasion in Cambodia in 1979. For secondary interest, nations may incline to negotiate or compromise although military action is still on the table. For instances, the U.S. has an interest in open world oil supply without restricting from other nations, and the free sea lane for U.S. navy in South China Sea may also fall into U.S.'s secondary interest since it is not a vital threat to U.S. national security directly if the water way is blocked, though it shares common interests with some countries in the region such as Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and so forth.
2. Temporary versus permanent: temporary interest usually focused on fixed duration. The U.S. supported Sadam Husein during the 1980s Iraq-Iran War. When the war was over, the U.S's interest receded. Likewise, the U.S. covertly supported the Khmer Rouge to fight the Vietnamese invaders in Cambodia during the 1980s, but after the Paris Peace Accord in 1991, it no longer supported the Khmer Rouge since the US had seen no more threat from Hanoi in the region. In contrast, permanent interest lasts over centuries. For example, the U.S. has tried to keep hostile powers out of Central and South America or the Western hemisphere is best known as a Monroe's Doctrine. Although later Cuba and Venezuela have become more hostile to the U.S. but not in a great threat to its vital interest. Similarly, the U.S. may still maintain its permanent interest in South East Asia fairly, encountering China growing influence in the region by working closely with Philippines, Vietnam, and recently persuading Myanmar military government to deeply reform its political and economic system in favoring the West over China.
3. Specific versus general: specific interest focuses on a single issue such as The U.S. has worked closely with Hun Sen regime in fighting terrorism while its needs Vietnam to contain China's growing power in the region. However, the U.S.'s specific interest in the region has conflicted with its own general interest when Hun Sen and Hanoi's regimes have persistently violated human rights that the U.S. has adhered and universally respected it. Frequently, the U.S. government criticizes human right records in Cambodia and Vietnam, but it still works with these two governments cordially to make sure no terrorist networks are flourishing in the region, and China is never allowed to become hegemony in Southeast Asia.
4. Complementary versus conflicting: when nations have some important goals in common, their interests are "complementary." Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan have seen their national interest as complementary while China had asserted its sovereignty over their territories. China's menace in South and East China Sea has pushed these countries close together politically and militarily in order to stop China's aggression. However, some ASEAN's member states may have conflicting interests, shunning themselves away from South China Sea dispute, fearing that their economic and political interests with China may be jeopardized if they dare to irritate China. In 2012, Hun Sen brazenly deleted a South China Sea dispute from ASEAN's summit agenda though strongly opposed from Philippines and placed his boss, Hanoi, in an uncomfortable position, for Hun Sen Saw a stake too high for upsetting China, a strong financial supporter for his regime. Meanwhile, Hun Sen had to strike a deal with his master, Hanoi, behind a closing door privately by reassuring that he was still faithful to Hanoi.
In general, many countries even allies, seldom have identical interests. But the best one they can hope for is the complementary interest. Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan have a complementary interest to fight against the Chinese aggressor who has encroached their claimed territories. The U.S. may share a common interest in opposing China's growing power in the region; however, the U.S.'s interest is general, secondary, and temporary, one concerning regional peace and stability. On the contrary, the interest of Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan is vital, specific, and permanent since losing territories to China is a severe threat of the life of the nations. Usually, every country's interest run parallel, but we must not confuse the U.S. interest for Vietnam or Philippines interests. Prince Sisowat Sarimatak had naively believed Cambodian interest for the U.S. interest, and he refused to leave Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 then he was promptly executed by the Khmer Rouge.