NWA grant for research on willingness to fight for one’s country

Austrian Armed Forces

Political scientist Prof.dr. Michal Onderco, Erasmus University Rotterdam, together with his colleague Prof.dr. Wolfgang Wagner of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, received a grant for their research project ‘Towards a new belligerency? Explaining changing attitudes on the willingness to fight for one’s country’. This joint project is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) as part of the National Science Agenda (NWA).

The “long peace” among great powers and the decline of warfare has been one of the most remarkable features of the post-World War II period. Next to the rising number of democracies, growing interdependence and international governance, citizens’ attitudes towards conflict have been identified as a key explanatory factor: rising levels of wealth have turned societies into ‘post-heroic’ ones that hesitate to risk the lives of their citizens (and, to an albeit lower degree, of civilians in general).

Evidence for the declining willingness to fight comes from the first six waves of the World Values Survey that surveyed thousands of citizens in many countries worldwide since the early 1980s. The percentage of citizens that answered the question of whether they would be willing to fight for their country positively had declined from wave to wave. It is disquieting to see that this trend was reversed in the most recent, seventh wave, carried out between 2017 and 2021. For a considerable number of countries, the percentage of citizens who are willing to fight for their country has risen. If citizens’ fighting fatigue is indeed an explanatory factor of the decline in warfare, this is an alarming finding.

In this project, Wagner and Onderco will examine what explains the growing willingness to fight. Their unit of analysis will be societies and their average willingness to fight rather than data on an individual level. They will examine to what extent changing levels of conflict in a country’s vicinity, economic crises, terrorist incidences and societal polarisation correlate with the growing willingness to fight.

“The grant is a great opportunity to explore a new line of research”, says Wagner. “With the war waging in Ukraine, this grant could hardly be timelier. The war is not only disastrous for Ukraine, but it could also have very negative spill-over effects into neighbouring societies.”

Michal Onderco states: “Now more than ever, we need to understand what makes societies willing to fight. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown, yet again, that war is not an outdated concept. This project allows us to explore the cutting edge of the social scientific understanding of cooperation and conflict within and between societies.”

The grant is part of the theme “between conflict and cooperation” of the National Science Agenda. Wagner and Onderco will work with the Stichting Vredeswetenschappen and the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO as societal partners.

More information

Marjolein Kooistra, communicatie ESSB, 06 83676038 | kooistra@essb.eur.nl

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