Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft (GSI)




The Comparative Legitimacy of Arms Exports in Germany and France

Einstellungen zu Waffenhandel in Deutschland und Frankreich – A Conjoint Experiment on the Comparative Legitimacy of Arms Exports in Germany and France

Project granted by the German Foundation for Peace Research/Deutsche Stiftung Friedensforschung

Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Paul W. Thurner, Dr. Lukas Rudolph
Project team: Markus Freitag, B.Sc. (Political Science)
Duration: 01.06.2020 – 31.05.2021

Project description

The export of arms is severely contested between the German political parties and in the German public. A major argument by opposing civil society groups and mainly leftist parties is the reference to the supposed implications of such transfers: the triggering of civil and international conflict, the prolongation of such conflicts and their aggravation in terms of human losses, the violations of human rights, and the stabilization of non-democratic regimes. It is open, however, whether the political discussion of such arguments is also reflected in citizens’ attitudes towards arms exports. There is also no research on the question whether such attitudes differ systematically across countries. E.g., it seems that other Western democracies with a dominant role in the international arms transfer system like the US, the UK and France are less strongly opposing such exports. We want to provide a thorough empirical foundation for these anecdotal claims which is currently lacking in both scientific and public debate. Thus, a cross-country comparison of voter reactions towards arms exports is especially important for testing the assumption of the presence of a German specificity, but also for the internal reliability of alliances like NATO, or of a recently proposed European Defense Policy including the respective research and development initiatives like the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). If decisions to transfers arms to countries like Saudi-Arabia, to the Kurds etc. cannot be supported by the German government due specific attitudes in its civil society, this will have consequences for the design of future cooperative defense and security regimes. In the case of France and Germany, open disputes over principles of the exports of jointly developed weapons have even led both countries to settle their conflict in the their Aachen Treaty in 2019, and in more detail in a Franco-German agreement on export controls in October 2019 (see Décret n° 2019-1168 du 13 novembre 2019). This pilot project seeks to provide answers to these essential questions building on an innovative methodical approach. It will use conjoint experiments to be implemented in two selected countries – Germany and France. According to SIPRIs 2019 Weapons transfer statistics, these two countries belong to the top 5 group of exporters of major weapons. In France, these exports are rather seldom a topic of political debates, in Germany that’s repeatedly the contrary.

Conjoint experiments allow to implement an experimental setting within a survey format. Respondents are several times confronted with multidimensional hypothetical decisions between choice sets which differ according to several dimensions (choice attributes). These decision tasks are designed in a way that they mimick concrete policy design options. Respondents are then asked to rate the individual choices and they select their preferred option. Attribute levels, i.e. the concrete description of the situation, are randomly assigned within choice sets. This enables the researcher to identify how choice characteristics causally affect both the rating and choice probability of a policy package in a within subject and between subject-design. We can thereby determine the causal effect of the manipulated dimensions of these scenarios. The project will for the first time focus on the comparative relevance of moral, economic and security aspects on the assessment of the legitimacy of weapons exports in Germany and France. It will derive value trade-offs between the perceived economic welfare impact (jobs, innovation etc.) and normative considerations (risk or presence of conflicts, human rights violations, regime characteristics of the importer). We expect these latter aspects to decrease the acceptance of arms exports in general. However, we anticipate these effects to be smaller or inexistent (ceteris paribus) in the case of France due to a different political history and culture. If this expectation is refuted, than it is rather institutional background conditions like the electoral system and the consequence of a low politicization in such settings of party competition. The pilot character of this study would may invite us to extend this design to more countries (especially to France and to the US) in later periods, and to elaborate in a more detailed way on the time- and context dependent interplay between economic and normative considerations in weapons exports.

Publications and Working Papers

Rudolph, L., Freitag, M., & Thurner, P. (2021, April 20). The Comparative Legitimacy of Arms Exports - A Conjoint Experiment in Germany and France.