Emerging Technologies, Prestige Motivations and the Dynamics of International Competition

The study of international races has focused almost exclusively on security motivations for competitive arming. But international races may also be motivated by prestige. This article defines a “prestige race” and outlines the significant ways in which prestige motivates can shape state spending and drive dynamics that can deviate from those described in the traditional arms race literature. Races motivated by prestige can differ in the material objects states invest in, when they are most likely to occur and which states becomes involved. The article illustrates these dynamics in the important case of the Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union beginning in 1957. Often erroneously understood by political scientists as an extension of traditional security competition during the Cold War, the Space Race instead offers an ideal case for the study of how prestige affects the dynamics of international competition, dynamics which have important implications for our understanding of the rapidly emerging competitive environment of today. Understanding why US leaders chose to respond to Sputnik in the ways they did, for instance, can provide insight into the options likely to confront policymakers in contemporary contexts.

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