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Prestige and Security: Separate or Interlinked?

Posted by kanica_rakhra •


Prestige and Security: Separate or Interlinked


In understanding the nuclear politics of states, Prestige and Security are understood as two different reasons that are at loggerheads. Themes within the security studies paradigm vary from perceived threat and ontological security to military expenditures and their repercussions. While security is often considered a valid argument, prestige is belittled as a reason for state decision making. An amalgamation of some basic emotions such as fear, pride, honor and jealousy, the notion of prestige has been studied by scholars ranging from Morgenthau to Lebow. Yet, it is treated as nothing more than a byproduct of state interactions.

The irrefutable fact that security and prestige are strongly interlinked can be drawn based on data on war from any century or time period in history. From the beginning of the First World War to nuclear détente of the 21st Century, the overt reason is security while the covert reason is prestige.

The notion of security is of paramount importance, because it is linked to a nation’s sovereignty, which is at stake. During a moment of inability to protect its land, a state usually looks for help from stronger powers. For example, in Second World War, France was unable to protect its land from the invading powers. The Allied forces, comprising mostly of British and American nationals, by invading Normandy were able to win back French territory. But to this day, the French are derided for not being able to protect themselves. Prestige is an imperative factor when states engage in proxy wars too. The Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War are considered a huge loss of prestige for the United States, and serve as a constant reminder of decisions gone wrong.

Other than just security, one can comprehend from examples of the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China or Zimbabwe that state decision making has not been devoid of emotions. These include fear and trust (Booth and Wheeler 2007), which have been researched in International Relations. These two emotions can be understood as opposite sides of a spectrum, where the absence of one leads to the other and vice versa. But between these two ends there exist a number of other emotions such as honor, pride, and empathy which have not been researched in detail. Prestige, an amalgamation of fear and pride, has also been short changed.

Security of a state, whether compromised or upheld, influences its prestige. A state’s decisions have a direct implication on prestige. Every emotion has a high point as well as a low point- the same is true with Prestige. The high points in case of India include: conducting its peaceful nuclear explosion without support from the international community, defeating its western neighbor, i.e. Pakistan, in the four wars fought, and abetting in the creation of Bangladesh. On the other hand, a few examples of India losing its prestige are - losing the 1962 war to China, being stabbed in the back after the Lahore declaration with the Kargil offensive by Pakistan, and asking for food aid from world powers. In each of these high points’ incidents the state felt more secure and for every incident that resulted in India losing its prestige, the security of the state was also in jeopardy.

The remnants of Prestige can also be found in the statements of leaders, especially with regards to nuclear programs. The Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, made this historic comment after India conducted its peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE) in1974, “We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get our own (atom bomb)”.  Analysts have cited this statement as a sign of Pakistan’s insecurity. While the statement does signify insecurity, it also represents the effect the idea of inability (to protect oneself) can have on a state’s psyche and self-esteem.

Whether it was Britain, France, China or India, every state that has gone nuclear after United States has justified their decision by stating a ‘perceived’ security threat. But somehow this argument is appears flawed, as the notion of perceived threat is based more on the state’s internal dilemmas rather than substantial events. Prestige and security thus, are not different reasons for state decision making. Rather, they stem from the same emotion, i.e. fear. This makes the two terms not only influencing each other but almost a single entity. 


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