From Moscow With a mushroom cloud? Russian public attitudes to the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict with NATO

Michal Smetana*, Michal Onderco

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article presents findings of an original survey experiment on public attitudes toward nuclear use conducted on a representative sample of Russian citizens. We randomly assigned our participants to experimental treatments with vignettes describing a military conflict between Russia and NATO in the Baltics, where Moscow considered a limited nuclear “escalate-to-deescalate” strike to avert defeat. Our findings show that Russians are significantly more averse to nuclear strikes than to the corresponding use of conventional missiles. The participants disapproved similarly of a demonstrative nuclear explosion in an unpopulated area and of nuclear strikes in a more escalated scenario. We also found associations between the moral values of individuals and strike support corresponding to earlier studies in the United States. Finally, our participants reported similar concerns about both nuclear and conventional strikes, with the worry about civilian casualties and the suffering of victims at the top of the list across experimental treatments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-209
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, Matthew Kroenig, Alexander Lanoszka, Nikolai Sokov, Marek Vranka, and Ondrej Rosendorf for their comments on the survey draft, and to Scott Sagan, Wolfgang Wagner, Lauren Sukin, Rebecca Davis Gibbons, Lisa Koch, Doreen Horschig, Stephen Herzog, Tyler Bowen, Hanna Notte, Jan Ludvik, Vojtech Bahensky, and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Charles University Research Centre program PRIMUS/22/HUM/005 (Experimental Lab for International Security Studies – ELISS). Moreover, Michal Onderco acknowledges the support of the research project “PRORUSS: Russian policies of influence in the populist-pragmatic nexus” (302250) funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was supported by Charles University; PRIMUS/22/HUM/005.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


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