Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science

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The social acceptance of arms exports in the main EU and NATO countries: A conjoint experiment

Abstract: Should weapons be supplied to other countries? Under what conditions? What do the citizens of the main exporting states in the EU and NATO think about this? Surprisingly, however, there is little general research on public attitudes to arms transfers. Beyond the current and acute case of Ukraine, arms exports are repeatedly contested to varying degrees among political parties and in the public spheres in different nation-states. One of the main arguments put forward by civil society groups and, in particular, by parties of the political left is the possible impact of such transfers: the initiation, intensification or prolongation of armed conflicts, the violation of human rights or the stabilization of non-democratic regimes. Counterarguments point to economic and security interests of the sending state, or the support for legitimate defense interests of the receiving state. It is completely open whether the political discussion of such arguments is also reflected in citizens‘ attitudes toward arms exports. It is also unclear whether trade-offs between the various aspects actually differ in different countries. It is often argued that, compared to the German population, the populations of other Western democracies with a central role in the international arms transfer system (the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom) have much lower concerns about such exports. Thus, a cross-national comparison of voter reactions to arms exports is particularly important to test the assumption of German specificity.


Based on an innovative methodological approach, our project attempts to provide important answers to these essential questions. Using so-called conjoint designs, we implement an experimental format within population-representative surveys. Respondents are repeatedly confronted with multidimensional hypothetical choices between scenarios that differ in decision criteria (attributes). The decision tasks are designed to mimic specific policy options. Respondents are then asked to rank the scenarios and select their preferred option. In this way, we can determine the causal effect of the manipulated dimensions of these scenarios. The project will focus on the comparative relevance of morally legal, economic and security aspects in assessing the legitimacy of arms exports. It will identify value trade-offs between perceived impacts on economic welfare (jobs, innovation, etc.) and normative considerations (risk or presence of conflict, human rights violations, regime characteristics of the importer).

Source: The german foundation for peace research.