A Strategy of Primacy in the International Relations

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Understanding the strategy of primacy

The strategy of primacy is an extension of the realist school of thought in international relations. It is a strategy that has been exercised for quite an extended period in international relations. The rationale behind this strategy is that countries have interests, thus they need to protect these interests as they transact in international affairs. The interests of states lie in different spheres: Economic, political and social-cultural. This strategy has kept dominating the pursuance of foreign policies by countries since the end of the cold war (Smith, Hadfield & Dunne, 2007). Having noted that this strategy has been used for a long time justifies the argument that it is still possible for the United States to apply the same strategy, more so in the current times where the interests keep increasing. The question as at this point is how the strategy of primacy can be beneficial to the US, if it is applied by the country in international relations (Edelman, 2010).

As it stands now, the United States stands out as the most powerful country in the world in terms of political and economic supremacy. This means that the country sets the pace in most of the activities in international development. This means that the country has a lot of interests, which it has to defend in order to maintain its position as the leading and most powerful country in the world (Wang, 2006). Maintaining power is quite daunting, considering the fact that there is an increase in competition between states and regions in the world. For example, the military might of China has grown at a quicker pace; thereby threatening the military might of the United States. In the economic scene, a substantial number of countries, especially countries from the Asian Pacific region have attained an economic position, which puts them at the same level with the developed economies of the world. In order for the US to maintain a competitive position in international affairs, it has to increase the rate at which it protects its interests. This makes the use of the use of the strategy of primacy inevitable (Edelman, 2010).

Justification of the use of the strategy of primacy in IR by the United States

One important question that ought to be asked is whether the aspect of bargain and cooperation can be inevitable as is supposed by other strategies in the formulation of US foreign policy. In this case, it can be said that the realistic school of thought is often vindicated in the practices of nations in international relations. Nations pursue their foreign policies in order to attain certain goals and to secure certain interests. The national interests are argued to be the main departure points why countries opt to interact with other countries.

The question of interest in international relations cannot be wished away at any point. Just as a living thing, countries need to grow and develop in a number of key areas such as the political segment and the economic segment. This is what gives the country power over other countries. As one of the countries in the world, the United States should ensure that it puts its interests at the center of any interaction it engages in international relations. Countries seem to prioritize their interests and are at most times unwilling to compromise their interests when relating to other countries. This is because the modern globe is becoming tightly knit, and the action of other states can easily impede a country from attaining its goals. This justifies the choice of the strategy of primacy by the United States (Cebeci, 2011).

An observation of interactions in the world today often revolves around the aspect of protection of interests. This can even be traced from a number of practices that feature a lot of elements of cooperation, like the series of trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization. The WTO trade negotiations are one of the examples of cooperative agreements; yet in the negotiations, each region has strictly stood by their positions by arguing that their positions favor their interests in international trade. It can, thus, be noted that interests play at all levels of interaction in international affairs. This further supports the fact that the realist school of international relations sees states as actors in international affairs. As long as states remain as independent actors in international relations, they will always have interests and act to protect their interests (Lieber, 2011).

States also seek to exercise and increase power. This can be seen in a number of decisions that have been made by the United States. The United States’ military invasion of Iraq was a vehemently opposed position by a lot of players in the international scene, yet the US went ahead to invade Iraq. The point that comes out here is that the United States had a lot of interests in the developments in Iraq. This formed one of its main interests that it has to protect and defend it at all costs. National interest justified the persistence and determination of the US to carry out a military invasion in Iraq.

The same point justifies the US military invasion of Afghanistan, where the United States primary goal was to ensure that it guaranteed the security of its citizens. Perhaps, the most critical question to ask is how far a country ought to go as it pursues and protects its interests in international affairs. The other question is whether the protection of national interests can be sustainable. The main point here is to explore rationality of the strategy of primacy in the formulation and execution of foreign policy. In most cases, it has come out that as a substantial number of countries seek to protect their interests in international affairs. A substantial number of people lose their interest. In other words, the successful protection of the interests of one country is attained through the sacrifice of the interest of other countries (Lieber, 2011).

Criticism of the strategy of primacy in the US foreign policy

According to Boren (1999), modern governance is faced with more challenges than governance that prevailed for more than half a century ago. As it is today, nations increasingly face complex economic, political and security threats. No nation can claim to be free from these challenges. Each development in the global scene, however positive it may be, has its own challenges on the existence and survival of humanity. The rationale behind this observation is that modern governments are faced with emerging challenges that need the adoption of structures of administration that can best attend to these issues. This implies that countries need to adopt strategies of international relations, which are likely to favor cooperation with other countries to find a solution to the emerging challenges. This can be hardly attained when the United States and other countries opt to pursue the strategy of primacy in foreign policy formulation (Lieber, 2011).

Some of the emergent issues on the global scene today include the problem of environmental degradation and the resultant effects, the problem of terrorism and global insecurity, the challenge of nuclear development and the economic constraints, the need for common steps to help eliminate the economic challenges, and the issue of diseases that quickly spread across national borders. This implies that no country can claim to be independent or have the ability to act unilaterally. However, this does not imply that countries do not act unilaterally (Patrick, 2002). There are a number of strategies in international affairs that support unilateral action by states.

The strategy of primacy is one of the most renowned in encouraging unilateral action (Lieber, 2011). The strategy of primacy encourages nations to safeguard their interests at all costs. In the pursuance of primary interests, a little consideration is given to the opinions and rationale of other players. The strategy of primacy directs a country to the formulation of foreign policy goals by putting their interest at the core of the policy goals. It is argued that this is a closed strategy in the contemporary globalized society, where there is a need for countries to compromise their actions and activities to attain a solution to the global challenges (Owens, 2001).

The strategy of primacy does not find favor with the contemporary globalized world, which embraces compromise and intensified cooperation between states and other actors in international affairs. The complexity of the emerging challenges in the globalized world is enhanced by the manner in which states conduct themselves in international affairs. The strategy of primacy encourages the resurgence of hegemonic tendencies. These tendencies impede the attainment of peace as they discourage countries from cooperating with other countries. The defense of national interests brings about tensions between countries, thereby demeaning the chance of cooperating in global matters (Owens, 2001).

Unlike in the past where countries used to develop initiatives unilaterally, the modern day decisions by states often result in direct and indirect effects on the existence and development of other countries. It can be said that the states in the current world are more interlinked. The issues in today’s world need a globalized approach in dealing with the challenges of globalization. With the pursuance of the strategy of primacy, the chances of attaining cooperation in global affairs are drained away (Lieber, 2011). A substantial number of political scientists have argued that there is no room for any country to approach international relations with a unilateral view.

The question to ask is whether all countries in the world can take a cooperative approach, basing on the fact that nations have different levels of power and influence on the global political, economic and social scene (Boren, 1999). While the question of interest cannot be done away with, countries can make efforts to strike balance between their interests and the interests of other states in the international stage. This means that countries need not use their interests as instruments to bring about polarity. While formulating its foreign policies, the United States should aim at assessing the possible impacts of its interest in other countries. For instance, the military invasion of the US in Iraq resulted in massive suffering of Iraqi civilians.


Boren, D. (1999). Preparing America’s foreign policy for the 21st century. Norman, OK: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Cebeci, M. (2011). Issues in EU and US foreign policy. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Edelman, E. S. (2010). Understanding America’s contested primacy. Washington, D.C: Report for Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010. Web.

Lieber, R. J. (2011). ‘Can the US retain primacy?’. Israel Journal of foreign Affairs, 3: 23-36.

Owens, M. T. (2001). Primacy and global leadership: A grand strategy for Republican Empire. Remarks at the 2001 Meeting of the Philadelphia Society 21 April, 2001, Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Web.

Patrick, S. (2002). Multilateralism and U.S. foreign policy: Ambivalent engagement. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Smith, S., Hadfield, A., & Dunne, T. (2007). Foreign policy: Theories actors cases. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wang, Y. (2006). China’s grand strategy and U.S. Primacy: Is China balancing American power? Web.

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DemoEssays. "A Strategy of Primacy in the International Relations." January 4, 2023. https://demoessays.com/a-strategy-of-primacy-in-the-international-relations/.