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Prestige, Humiliation And Saving Face: National Identity and Great Power Politics

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This paper argues that a prestige-humiliation dynamic is a systems-level force that shapes state behavior. Connecting psychological factors to structural realism, we observe the following: the more powerful a state becomes, the more it could seek to overturn past humiliation through aggressive prestige-seeking acts. This is done to reassert its power and status to erase past humiliation and achieve prestige even at the expense of others. Three historical examples will be discussed: Nazi Germany’s erasure of the Treaty of Versailles, China’s Century of Humiliation, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s expansion into Eastern Europe against Russia. The paper will then define face-saving behavior, allowing a competitor to preserve prestige and avoid humiliation as a way to deescalate tension.