fbpx Public Opinion on the Nuclear Taboo and Non-Combatant Immunity Norms in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Il | Harvard Kennedy School
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Date and Location

October 11, 2019
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
L-324 Fainsod Room



Please note the location of this seminar has changed to the Fainsod Room, L-324 Survey experiments have demonstrated that although the American public prefers using conventional to nuclear weapons, if all else is equal, this preference readily gives way to the desire to keep compatriot soldiers safe or to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. military operations to protect the homeland. We know little, however, about how the publics of other nuclear weapons states assess the use of nuclear weapons and non-combatant immunity. A survey experiment given to a representative sample of American, British, French, and Israeli citizens reveals that categorical reasoning, namely a nuclear taboo and an absolute prohibition on intentionally targeting civilians, does little to shape public opinion. A majority or near majority of respondents are willing to support nuclear use if it is deemed more effective and foreign civilian fatalities are low; yet almost a third of respondents are willing to kill 100,000 foreign civilians in order to prevent a terrorist attack estimated to kill 3,000 compatriot civilians in their homeland. The results also show that Israeli respondents display the most hawkish preferences across many scenarios, while the British public is consistently the least willing to support nuclear weapons or targeting civilians. French and American citizens are roughly equally hawkish. Scott D. Sagan, in this seminar based on a paper co-authored with Janina Dill and Benjamin A. Valentino, shows that compatriot partiality—the extent to which citizens prioritize sparing compatriot over foreign civilians—plays a key role in explaining these cross-national differences in the support for the use of nuclear weapons.

Speakers and Presenters

Scott D. Sagan, Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science, Mimi and Peter Haas University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and Senior Felld


Additional Organizers

Project on Managing the Atom