Richard Nixon never particularly liked think tanks. He doubted their effectiveness—wondering whether they really “make a difference”—and complained that many intellectuals could not “think straight.”
So when he decided in 1993 to create his own think tank and in 1994 to announce its formation, the former President had a reason. He held a firm conviction that the United States would face considerable new challenges and opportunities after the collapse of its Soviet adversary and that his brand of hard-headed but high-minded realism could make a major contribution in meeting them.
Indeed, far from being the end of history, the events of 1989 and 1991 marked the return of history after a forty-year interlude that was itself an aberration. Emboldened by self-confidence after America’s victory in the Cold War, the conventional wisdom has too often approached the problems of the post-Cold War era—whether international economic crises, proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, or the need for greater freedom around the world—by announcing conclusions and only then developing analysis to support them.
This approach has led to costly mistakes that undermine rather than reinforcing America’s global leadership and, as a result, weaken our ability to advance and defend U.S. national interests. We believe strongly that force is an important instrument of foreign policy—and that in order to maintain public support for its use, our leaders should employ force judiciously, not necessarily as a last resort, but when it is the right instrument to accomplish our aims effectively and efficiently while avoiding potentially dangerous unintended consequences. Like diplomacy, military force is an essential tool but not a panacea.
We at the Center for the National Interest yield to no one in our desire for a stable, free, prosperous, and peaceful world in which our interests are secure and our values are widespread. But we know we don’t live there yet—and we know we won’t get there cheaply or inevitably. With that in mind, we believe that the American people deserve clear statements of our goals and equally clear assessments of their potential costs.
Wish lists of foreign policy aspirations that respond to every constituency will ultimately satisfy none; honest analysis and principled leadership is required to establish priorities among competing and sometimes even contradictory interests. Likewise, truly moral and compassionate policy requires seeing the world as it is and understanding that even the noblest intentions can sometimes have immoral results when policy fails to match reality. Obscuring these unpleasant truths is a disservice to the American people.
The Center for the National Interest, and our foreign policy magazine, The National Interest, strive to enrich America’s foreign policy debate in these difficult times with an unabashedly tough and pragmatic perspective on the world in which we live—and what our country can and should do about it. Neither the Center nor the magazine has a party line, but we do have high standards for factual accuracy, intellectual seriousness, and—very important—a clear connection to reality that guide our activities. We hope that you find our work useful and perhaps even worthy of support.