How Public Support for the War was Maintained in the Face of Mounting Casualties and Elusive Success
Much to their own surprise, successive Danish governments have succeeded in maintaining the highest level of public support among the nations contributing to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, while suffering the highest number of fatalities per capita. We explain this puzzle in a parsimonious fashion manner using a novel analytical framework derived from elite-competition theory, the event-driven school and the literature on strategic narratives. The Danish government initially built strong political and popular support by making a case for war that resonated with broadly shared pre-existing interests and values (national defence and support for democracy and human/women’s rights), and role conceptions (supporting NATO and US-led military operations as a responsible member of international society). Succeeding governments subsequently maintained a high level of political consensus on Afghanistan through a process of continuous consultation and consensus-building. The political elites supporting the mission then sustained the high level of public support by defining success in ways that did not involve ‘winning’ but focused instead on the attainment of realistic short-term, tactical objectives such as police training and building of schools, and by speaking with one voice to the media. This effectively reduced the Danish media to a conveyor belt passively transmitting the positive views of the political parties supporting the Afghanistan operation and the officers and soldiers carrying it out.
Cooperation and Conflict, 2015, Vol 50, Issue 2, p. 211-227