3.3 Nationalism and the Pursuit of National Interest

Should nations pursue national interest?

Big Ideas:

  • The extent to which nations act in their own national interest
  • The relationship between nationalism and national interests
  • The ways in which the pursuit of national interest shapes foreign policy

Nations Act in Their Own Self-Interest

People often make choices for their own benefit. Your self-interest may involve getting a job so you can buy the things you want. You may also behave in a certain way towards other people so they will treat you the way you want to be treated. In this way, nations are very similar to individual people! A nation is made up of people that, together, have self-interests, or national interests. National interests are goals a particular nation views as important to achieve internationally. In Unit 1 we learned nation-states whose citizens have common interests, beliefs, and values can influence the direction of the nation-state.

Loyalty to Nation and the Pursuit of National Interest

People show nationalism when they come together and show signs of a strong national spirit, their nationalist loyalty. This nationalism can be a strong driving force behind a country's national interests. The devotion to one's country can influence a nation's citizens to work together toward what they believe to be in the best interests of their nation.

In the diagram (right), there are three areas that reflect every country's national interests: economic prosperity, security and safety, and beliefs and values.

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read pages 110 to 113. These pages will further your understanding of the concept of national interest.

Take notes using the 3.3 Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc). You may want to review the tutorial How to Take Notes. When you are done, return here to continue.

Canadian Arctic Sovereignty: Aspects of National Interest

For many years, Canadians gave little attention to Canada's Arctic region. To many Canadians, the Arctic was only a frozen wasteland with few people. Even other polar nations gave little attention to the nearly year-round ice on the Arctic Ocean surrounding Canada's northern islands.

However, with climate change and the discovery of natural resources in the northern polar region, attitudes about the northern polar region are changing rapidly both in Canada and in other polar nations. Most recently, Canada has taken significant action to secure our national interests in the Arctic region.

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Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read pages 114 and 115 to have an initial understanding of the relationship between Canada's national interests and Arctic sovereignty.

Continue to take notes about what you have read using the 3.3 Notebook Organizer. When you are done, return here and explore the tabs below to see how Canada and other nations are pursuing national interests in the Arctic region.

There are eight members of the Arctic Council (Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Canada, and the United States). While the Arctic Council was established in 1996 as a means to promote cooperation and interaction among the members, member nations (and others) have questioned, in recent years, the jurisdiction of the North through actions such as military exercises and demands for resources and safe transit through Arctic waters. Open the tabs below to view competing national interests in arctic sovereignty today.

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  • Canada is the world's third largest diamond producer
  • The Government of Canada is investing in the potential energy and mining resources in the North
  • It is estimated that 20% of the world's petroleum reserves lie in the Arctic

  • Possibilities for resource development, as well as new and longer transportation routes have led other nations to pursue interests in Canada's region
  • There are increased commercial, research, and tourism interests in the North
  • It is estimated that 20% of the world's petroleum reserves lie in the Arctic
  • In October 2017, the United States proposed an Arctic oil-drilling site where the Northwest Passage begins

  • Canada's North spans three territories and represents approximately 40% of Canada's landmass (including 162 000 kms of Arctic coastline). This is a significant area that requires protection and reinforcement of Canada's Arctic interests.
  • In August 2017, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced a $175-million investment dedicated to marine safety measures, including a new aerial surveillance facility in Iqaluit, five to six Arctic Patrol Ships, four submarines, and improving current surface fleets
  • The Royal Canadian Navy works with the Canadian Coast Guard to provide surveillance and enforce sovereignty
  • The Royal Canadian Air Force uses aircraft and tracking systems to monitor air and space over the Arctic

  • Increased traffic in the form of cruise ships, tankers, and supply vessels continue to move through the waters east of Nunavut
  • Many nations ignore Canada's claims to the Northwest Passage, arguing it is an international strait where international vessels should be allowed to travel.
  • Increased interests (commercial, research, and tourism) have led to an increase in safety and security demands.
  • NATO has highlighted Russia's ability to project force from the Arctic, which would challenge NATO's defence

Beliefs and Values: Inuit Perspective on Arctic Sovereignty

  • Canada's Inuit are feeling the impact of climate change and increased traffic by water and air. Polar bear and seal populations have decreased, and with it the Inuit traditional hunting and trapping
  • The Inuit maintain that in order to strengthen Canada's claim on Arctic sovereignty, Canada must "ensure that Inuit are treated as all other Canadians are–with the same standards of education, healthcare and infrastructure that is the foundation of healthy communities across Canada." (Mary Simon, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami).
  • Canada supports the preservation of northern Indigenous culture and languages through health policies, sustainability initiatives, and a commitment to Northern economic and social development

The contemporary example of Arctic sovereignty reveals to us that nations, when motivated by national interests, engage in actions that may conflict with other nations' national interests.


Based on the three areas of national interest and what you've read, reflect and respond to the following questions, adding notes to your 3.3 Notebook Organizer.
  1. What is Canada's national interest in the Arctic today?
  2. With other polar nations making claims in the polar region, how should Canada establish its interests in the Arctic?
  3. What possible conflicts can you predict as other nations attempt to lay their own claims in the polar region?

Continue to take notes about what you have read using the 3.3 Notebook Organizer. As you move to the next page, consider the ways nations achieve their national interests, and the potential for conflict when faced with other nations' interests.