Public Support for Nuclear Proliferation: Experimental Evidence from Brazil

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How do mass publics in nonnuclear weapon states form their preferences over the acquisition of nu- clear weapons? We field a survey experiment in Brazil, a possessor of uranium-enrichment capabilities with a long history of nuclear ambitions. Three sets of results support the view that members of the public approach nuclear proliferation strategically, that is, by taking into account how their home state interacts with enemies and allies alike. First, the external security environment is a major driver for individual-level preferences: when security is plentiful, only a small minority of the public in Brazil supports proliferation, but a deterioration of external conditions engenders a high minority in sup- port for nuclear-weapon acquisition. Second, the mere extension by the United States of conventional security assurances suffices to dampen public support for an indigenous nuclear deterrent, restoring a majority view opposing proliferation. Third, conventional security assurances shape public senti- ment on nuclear acquisition irrespective of whether they are credible or not. These results contribute to the effort currently unfolding in the scholarly community to make sense of how citizens outside the United States think about international security in a nuclear world.

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