States, and the interests of states as defined by state establishments, are central to every variety of realism in international affairs. A concentration on state interests allows the leader or analyst to distinguish between what another country’s establishment sees as its secondary and vital interests — in other words, those interests on which it will be willing to compromise, and those on which it will never compromise, and for which in the last resort it is prepared to fight.
Understanding how another state’s establishment sees its country’s vital interests requires intense study, leading to empathy — something that the great realist thinker Hans Morgenthau declared to be a fundamental ethical duty of the statesman. This does not necessarily mean sympathy, either with the interests themselves or with how they are defended. It does, however, mean that a statesman possessing this capacity for empathy will only challenge the vital interests of another state, and thereby risk war, if they are confident of two things: first, that to do so is truly essential, politically and morally; and second, that this challenge has a reasonable probability of achieving its goal. Läs artikel