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University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

What Europeans Think About U.S. Nuclear Weapons

August 22, 2022
Michal Onderco and Michal Smetana

Blog

In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Michal Onderco, professor of international relations at Erasmus University, and Michal Smetana, associate professor at Charles University Prauge, analyze what Europeans think about U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil, including in terms of disarmament.

A Twitter storm erupted last month following a tweet by a prominent psychologist, Steven Pinker, who endorsed a plan outlined in an opinion piece that the US withdraw its nuclear weapons from Europe in exchange for Russia’s ending its invasion of Ukraine. The value of US nuclear weapons in Europe is much debated. Some experts argue that they have limited military utility, while others believe they provide a deterrent to Russian aggression. NATO has, up until today, attached great importance to them in the alliance’s overall deterrent posture. Still, others see them predominantly as political symbols, likening them to wedding rings: not wearing one does not mean much, but when you stop wearing one, that is usually quite telling.

In our recent study, we wanted to understand what Europeans, especially Germans, think about these weapons stationed on their territory, both the general public and elites. As political scientists Joshua Kertzer and Jonathan Renshon said in a recent Politico interview, studying political elites—a category often defined in various ways, in our case being the members of German parliament, the Bundestag—is one of the leading themes in contemporary political science. Our study, however, is one of the few academic studies looking at both elite and public views of nuclear weapons.

In our study, we considered public and elite perspectives on four main issues: the legitimacy of the use of nuclear weapons, the deterrent value of the weapons, the political benefits of these weapons, and views about the potential for withdrawal. We generally found that there is a substantial difference between elites and the general public, but this difference was neither linear nor simple.

We found that neither elites nor the general public were enthusiastic about nuclear weapon use.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.

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