Of Prestige

May 14, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

I would like to talk today about “prestige” as it exists in international relations.
“Prestige” refers to the perception by the international community and the members thereof, communally as well as individually, of the abilities, capabilities, and tendencies of an actor in the international state system. That is, it deals with what a state can do, what it is likely to do, and how it is poised to succeed or fail. Prestige is difficult to build up but it is absolutely essential in a state’s arsenal when dealing with other states.
Prestige is what orchestrates international relations in such a way that states do not engage in violent confrontation, for other states try to avoid getting to that point as violent confrontation is detrimental to all players and actors involved.
Let us use an example: The Cold War (between The United States and the Soviet Union). Each side had a perception of the other’s ability and their willingness to use it. The rest of the world likewise had similar perceptions. If we look at the relations and acts that took place in context of the Cold War, we will see that these issues were constantly taken into consideration. The US did things based on Society prestige, and the Soviet Union did things based on American prestige. Likewise, many other countries did things and refused to do things based on the then prestige of the US and/or the Soviet Union. Each’s prestige was tested, but these were exceptions to the rule.

Unfortunately, it seems that most Americans are utterly unaware of this issue. In a way, it makes sense. Pride and honor are not supposed to factor in as major or significant factors in our decision-making. Instead, we should be focusing on our national security, military, and economic bottom lines. We don’t have the time or money to play games with honor and grandeur. Such issues are for other, less-developed and less-advanced states.

But this ignores the fact that prestige is an essential part of who we are in the international state system and of how other states act with regard to issues that concern the US. And sadly, US prestige has had a rocky ride recently.

Every state that successfully challenged US interests, such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, chipped away at our prestige. The Taliban in Afghanistan inflicted immense damage on our prestige. Expelling the Taliban and invading Iraq raised our prestige to its highest. But now other things are chipping away at it.

Now, there may be some who believe that our prestige is made up of our “soft power”. This is wrong. Soft power has to do with our unofficial influence over common people. What the common people think does not matter: what matters is what the ruling people think, and they base their assumptions based on our foreign and military policies.

The point is that we need to consider our prestige. We need to enhance it so as to erect a greater deterrence to opposing us.


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