Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

The Culture of NATO Burden Sharing

A post-positivist analysis

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Zyla


The literature on international institutions shows a significant gap in terms of producing richer and deeper causal explanations and understandings of state motivations for sharing collective burdens of the institution (BS). The aim of this project is to fill this gap by examining five different cases on both sides of the Atlantic (Canada, France, Germany, UK, US) based on an inductive research design that is informed by a social ontology.

Currently, BS is simply treated as an outcome (e.g. German free-riding) (Zyla, 2016a; 2016b), not as a social practice. The literature is predominantly informed by a rationalist methodology that focuses primarily on deductive and hypothesis testing research designs that are largely characterized by statism and methodological individualism. This allows researchers to only make inferences from the data and show some statistical trends. They can say very little about why a particular BS trend exists (i.e. free-riding) and why it occurred at a particular point in time. Thus, what is currently missing in the literature are deeper and richer causal explanations as to why states share burdens in the first place, and in what particular social, material, and cultural contexts that practice occurs. The aim of the project is to address this gap. It studies the cultural variables of BS practices while using an interpretative and bottom up research design. This helps us to gain access to and understand the non-materialistic, intersubjective social structures of BS agents and their value rational motivations, because contrary to prevailing assumptions it is not merely cost-benefit analyses that determine states’ BS motivations but also, ontologically speaking, intersubjective meanings, societal norms, values, as well as belief and power structures. More specifically, we want to fully understand the influence of social representation and power structures on BS behaviours or political elites’ (senior bureaucrats, politicians) interpretations of the meaning of burden, fairness, and justice, also vis-à-vis others.