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I The Transatlantic Order, Public Opinion and the Use of Military Force


This book lies at the intersection of two strands of research that only tangentially have crossed one another so far: the study of transatlantic relationships, their nature, sources and consequences on the one hand and the study of public support for the use of force in foreign policy on the other.1 These two strands of research are more closely related than is usually assumed, and we claim in this book that it is impossible to understand the one without considering the other. In this chapter, we briefly present our argument about why these two issues - the state and nature of transatlantic relations and attitudes toward the use of force - stay together - and why the perspective we adopt to study them - that of public opinion - matters. By combining these two issues, we intend to contribute to two important theoretical and political debates.

The first concerns the nature of the transatlantic order, and in particular the question of the necessity of maintaining a close transatlantic relationship and what this implies in terms of willingness to compro- mise.2 This discussion was lively during the administration of President George W. Bush, provoked by the Iraq war and the acrimonious debates that preceded and followed its outbreak. However, the discussion was abruptly interrupted and quickly swept under the carpet by the change in the US Administration in 2008. Today, some years after Bush's departure, not only can we frame the scope and extent of this crisis into a wider time perspective, but we are also in a better position to see what is structural in the differences between Europeans and Americans and what turns out to have been merely transitory. This is crucial, we argue, also in helping us understand whether, in the future, similar crises may occur, why and how.

Second, this book offers a comparative contribution to the scholarly discussion about the determinants of support for the use of military force. A spate of new theoretical approaches and empirical results has recently rekindled the debate on this issue.3 However, this discussion is still very narrowly focused on the United States. Again, our explicitly transatlantic focus will allow us to assess similarities and differences between Europeans and Americans on this important bone of transatlantic contention.

In this book, we focus our attention on public opinion, a neglected dimension in the recent flush of studies and reports on transatlantic relations. As far as the public is concerned, interpretations of the nature and sources of transatlantic relations evoke different dimensions of opinion. Situational views, focusing on Bush, anti-Americanism, or both, look at the emotional, sentimental component of public attitudes toward transatlantic relations. The degree of sympathy toward the United States and the perceived ability of the US president to wisely handle foreign policy and intra-allied affairs are seen as crucial elements in the transatlantic drift. Structural views point to the values and fundamental beliefs of Americans and Europeans as the cause of the problem. They argue that Americans and Europeans have different belief systems or different beliefs and values, so to speak.

And finally, those who point to threat perceptions as the main source of rift stress the cognitive and perceptual dimension of attitudes in locating the cause of the problem.

We contend, on the contrary, that the same factors shape attitudes toward the use of force among European and American citizens. This finding itself is a strong piece of evidence in support of the claim that Europeans and Americans are (still) part of the same security community. However, we also find that Europeans and Americans diverge in the way the different components of a common belief structure are 'assembled', and it is this divergence that affects, in crucial ways, how people react to the issue of military force. In other words, it is not so much the widely reported gap in support for the use of force as such that makes it easy or difficult to collaborate among Europeans and Americans when it comes to military operations. Rather, it is the different ways that foreign policy beliefs as well as ideological predispositions, the bread and butter of domestic politics, interact among Europeans and Americans in determining whether people contemplate the use of force as an appropriate response.

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