Towards a new belligerency?

Explaining changing attitudes on the Willingness to Fight for one’s country

This joint project with co-PI Michal Onderco (Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam) and postdoc Alexander Sorg is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) as part of the National Science Agenda (NWA).

Project Summary

The “long peace” amongst great powers and the general decline of warfare, if not violence in general, 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 an key explanatory factor: rising levels of wealth have turned societies into ‘post-heroic’ ones that hesitate to risk the lives of their own citizens (and, to an albeit lower degree, of civilians in general).

Evidence for the declining willingness to fight has come from the first six waves of the World Values Survey that surveyed thousands of citizens in a growing number of countries worldwide since the early 1980s. The percentage of citizens that answered the question whether they would be willing to fight for their country positively had declined from wave to wave. It is thus 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 (again) has risen. If citizens’ fighting fatigue is indeed an explanatory factor of the decline in warfare, this is an alarming finding.

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

For a Dutch summary of the project, see the report by science journalist Caroline Kraaijvanger in Scientias.

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