While studies show that the public disapproves of trade with adversaries, political discourse has historically used security rhetoric to both justify and oppose trade with threatening states. Does emphasizing the potential of trade to exacerbate or mitigate security risks sway public opinion? Is public opinion malleable regardless of the level of threat? These questions become increasingly important as security and economic interactions between states become more intertwined. In a 2019 survey experiment, Ukrainian citizens report more optimism about the effects of trade with Russia (engaged in conflict with Ukraine since 2014) when told that trade decreases security risks. They are more pessimistic when presented with information that trade increases the risk of conflict. In contrast, attitudes about trade with a non-threatening trading partner (the European Union) are unaffected. This study demonstrates that the security effects of trade can both improve and worsen attitudes about trade with politically salient adversaries, even in the context of actual conflict. However, security rhetoric is unlikely to change public opinion about trade with non-threatening states unless they are viewed as reliable allies. Public opinion about trade, thus, responds to rhetoric about security, rather than representing an inflexible constraint on firms’ and states’ trade with adversaries.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.