Desktop version

Home arrow Communication arrow Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force

Political orientations and foreign policy predispositions

An important part of the research community argues that general orientations, belief systems or what are also called 'predispositions' in the public (as well as among the opinion leaders, Holsti, 2004: 258-266) are important predictors of attitudes toward foreign policy issues. The re-evaluation of the dispositional view is part of a revisionist wave of studies starting in the late 1970s that challenged the pessimistic view of the public proclaimed in the 1950s by Almond (1950), Converse (1964) and others. As far as public opinion and foreign policy is concerned, Hughes (1978) and Mandelbaum and Schneider (1979) were the first to suggest that the American public is much more structured in its foreign policy beliefs - although by no means more informed - than initially claimed by the critics of mass opinion in the 1950s and 1960s, especially Converse (1964).

However, what these beliefs are and how they are organized is still debated in the literature, with several arguments aired, both methodological and substantive. In this section, we focus our attention on two dimensions: the Left-Right ideological position on the one hand and a set of more specific foreign policy predispositions and beliefs on the other. The Left-Right ideological dimension has been a powerhouse of public opinion studies since the beginning of empirical survey research. We do not pretend here to summarize its results or relevance for either political science or public opinion studies (see for a recent review Jost, Federico and Napier, 2009), but we discuss its role in explaining foreign policy attitudes on the use of force.

Looking at the different international beliefs or predispositions first, the discussion about the most economical and appropriate way of describing the different dimensions through which the public (and the leaders) structure their beliefs in foreign policy and how these beliefs interact with the ideological positions, has evolved in three stages.

A first stage was opened by Caspary (1970) who, quite in isolation at that time, criticized the prevalent 'mood theory' proposed by Almond (1950), suggesting instead that the foreign policy attitudes of the American public could be aligned along a fundamental isolationist-internationalist continuum. According to Caspary, World War II and the subsequent Cold War created 'a remarkable stability of strong popular support for an active US role in world affairs' (Caspary, 1970: 536). Internationalism, in turn, was 'an excellent predictor' of a wide range of policy questions.18 This gave the American leaders a 'strong and stable "permissive mood" toward international involvement' (Caspary, 1970: 546).

A second stage of the discussion came with the Vietnam war that broke down the one-dimensional consensus of the Cold War. The still overwhelmingly internationalist American public fractured itself on foreign policy issues into different groups, depending on what role America should be playing in the world. Besides the isolationist-internationalist dimension, a second dimension, alternatively dubbed the liberal and conservative versions of internationalism by Mandelbaum and Schneider (1979), the militant and cooperative internationalism by Wittkopf (1995) and the Cold War and Post-Cold War internationalism by Holsti (1979) and Holsti and Rosenau (1979), was added. This produced a three-headed structure of beliefs (Holsti and Rosenau, 1979), since the second dimension cut across the internationalists alone.

At the end of the Cold War,19 a third stage set in and a new dimension was added: the unilateral versus multilateral one (see Hinckley, 1992; Chittick, Billingsley and Travis, 1995; and, more recently, Holsti, 2004: 258-266). Holsti aptly summarized almost two decades of studies on this point saying that 'Most Americans prefer that the country work actively with others, most notably with allies, to cope with the plethora of security, humanitarian, and other issues that have surfaced in recent decades. Burden sharing is probably the best term to describe predominant public preferences on a wide range of international undertakings, whereas going it alone, the essence of unilateralism, is the much less popular path' (Holsti, 2004: 267).

No discussion of comparable scope about foreign policy beliefs can be found in the literature on European public opinion and foreign policy.

Part of the reason is that the story is different as seen from the European viewpoint. While in US the issue was whether a stable support for a Liberal, internationalist foreign policy existed and the debate, as we have seen, mostly revolved around the how and with whom internationalism should work, in Europe the key issues has been narrower but nonetheless politically relevant: the extent of collaboration to a common defense with the United States, what has sometimes been called Atlanticism.20

With the end of World War II the key political issues has been whether (Western) European countries would be able to overcome their historical cleavages and join forces under the American leadership.

Karl W. Deutsch and his collaborators pioneered the field in Europe, looking for the appearance of a pluralistic security community among Western European countries and the US (Deutsch, 1957, 1966, 1967), with other studies following along the same path (Gorden and Lerner, 1965, 1969; and Free, 1959). The empirical results showed European public opinion to be actually quite close to the United States and willing to partner with them. Deutsch and his collaborators, using a variety of sources like elite interviews, mass opinion polls, surveys of arms control and disarmament proposals, content analysis of prestige newspapers and economic transaction data, found a robust link between the major European countries and the United States (Deutsch, 1966, 1967). On the basis of interviews with political elites on France and Germany, Deutsch (Deutsch, 1966: 360) argued that 'Majorities of French and German leaders see their countries as linked by long-run political and military interests more strongly to the United States - and in the second place to Britain - than they are linked to one another'. Similarly, at the mass level, Deutsch found that the European public had a more positive image of the United States than of the other European countries. The United States were considered the only country the French and German public 'would trust as an ally in case of war', in part because they were seen as the only country really able to defend their own country.

A few years later, from interviews with a panel of elites in France, Germany and Great Britain in 1961, Gorden and Lerner found still a fundamental pro-Western orientation, with some differences (Gorden and Lerner, 1965: 429). British and German elites favored Atlantic cooperation, whereas French elites preferred European cooperation over reliance on the US. In line with the prevalent image of the French as a maverick ally and German and Britain as faithful partners, these divergences reflected themselves in the meaning each country's elite attaches to the European choice. These differences notwithstanding, the prevalent view among scholars and practitioners was that in both the

United States and Europe during the 1960s an overall stable and unproblematic 'Cold War consensus' on foreign policy issues had been established at both the mass and elite level (Eichenberg, 1989; Mandelbaum and Schneider, 1979; Holsti, 1982). Leaving aside those aspects of the consensus that do not directly impinge upon public opinion,21 three were the major 'axioms' (Allison, 1971), of the Cold War on which a consensus had been shaped: pro-Americanism, anti-Communism, and a permissive support in any choice of tactics, including the military one. On all these levels, the public both in Europe and the United States granted what the leaders wanted. Detente contributed to strengthen support for this common Atlantic orientation.

The United States and NATO decision to deploy the Euro-missiles in Europe in 1979 shook this complacency, producing in interaction with developments in the study of public opinion, a second wave of studies and a revisionist line of interpretation of the impact of the public on foreign policy decisions. The Euromissile decision raised scholarly and political interest about the role of public opinion on foreign policy in Europe and changed their way of looking at it. These events made foreign policy into a divisive issue in domestic politics, resurrecting the traditional Left-Right cleavages in Europe.

This second wave of attention around the state of Euro-American relationships arose with studies by a number of American and European researchers (e.g., Flynn and Rattinger, 1985; Eichenberg, 1989; Szabo, 1983). Their major focus, this time, was the state of relations among NATO members and existing differences on the best strategies for dealing with the Soviet Union. Under pressure of increasing public criticism of detente in the United States, the Reagan administration embarked on a more aggressive nuclear policy in Europe and against the Soviet interventions in Afghanistan and Poland, setting Western Europeans and the American government on what were perceived as diverging tracks on the question of how best to deal with these challenges. Fissures at the elite level were, however, only imperfectly reflected at the mass level. The available data revealed both changes and continuity in foreign policy attitudes.22 Among the former, there was a decline in the perception of the salience of the Soviet threat in both Europe and the US; a change in attitudes towards military force, with the use of military force no longer seen as the primary instrument to cope with the Soviet Union any more; and a growing sense of uneasiness with the way the American government was handling foreign policy. However, the analyses also stressed important continuities with the past, including an overall and stable support for the Western defense principles and alliance (Eichenberg, 1989). At the same time, a fundamental skepticism toward and basic fear of nuclear weapons, together with a strong opposition to their first use could also be observed (Russett, 1989). In other words there was evidence of a common ambivalent desire by both Europeans and Americans of having both peace and security through strength (Schneider, 1980).

One of the very few studies on this topic (Ziegler, 1987) in the 1980s contended that Europeans structure their attitudes on a common Atlantic cooperation along a two-dimensional space - military versus non-military cooperation - producing a fourfold typology: Atlanticists, Military Allies, Isolationists and Dovish partners.

Differences however were papered over by the arrival of Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The fundamental changes of the international system brought into being by the end of the Cold War started a third wave of research aimed at assessing the consequences of these dramatic changes for the Euro-Atlantic community (Russett, 1990; Everts, 1995; Nacos, Shapiro and Isernia, 2000; Everts and Isernia, 2001). This wave added an explicitly transatlantic comparative twist to research that had focused so far exclusively either on the American23 or the European side.24

This debate has been dominated, at least implicitly, by the hypothesis that, with the end of the Cold War and absent a common enemy, Europe and the United States are splitting apart. At the public level, signs of a growing gap have been found in the alleged (growing) reluctance of the Europeans to use force when needed, with the long-simmering crisis in Bosnia serving as the prime example (Sobel, 1996). The more recent Iraq crisis has contributed to accentuate this sense of a growing gap between the European and American public, as the argument has been articulated by commentators like Kagan (2002, 2003). To what extent these changes have undermined the Atlanticist orientation of the European public is, however, still left un-assessed.

Looking next at the impact of ideological Left-Right cleavage on support for the use of force in Europe and the United States, one should notice a remarkably desynchronized evolution across the Atlantic aisle. In the US, public opinion was characterized by a fundamental bipartisan consensus on foreign policy and internationalism for most of the 1950s and the 1960s. This consensus broke down in the late 1970s, as a consequence of the divisive experience of the Vietnam war, leading to a wider gap among the two political parties in the United States and to multidimensionality in internationalism - a cleavage that persists and has even been magnified by the Bush Jr administration and the Iraq war.

In Europe, on the other hand, the evolution moved in an opposite way. The Left-Right divide on foreign policy has been much more important as an effect of the cleavages within the Western European countries' party systems between Socialist (and in some countries like Italy and France, Communism) and Liberal or Democratic-Christian parties. Over time, and especially with the beginning of detente, the Left-Right divide in Europe has progressively diminished and we have, now, a substantial bi- or multi-partisan consensus on the main elements of foreign policy. It is now commonplace to refer to the US as a country divided along ideological political lines - as far as foreign policy is concerned - and to most of the European countries as characterized by a mainstream consensus on the main choices in foreign policy.

In the US, the 'Cold War consensus' (Levering, 1978: 104; see also Roskin, 1974; Allison, 1970-1971) was characterized by a bipartisan agreement on both means and ends and on an overall internationalist approach toward world problems. More interestingly, of these two elements, internationalism was judged, both at that time and afterwards, to be more important than the Left-Right division. The assumption that the United States government should assume an active role in post-World War II world politics, and that Pearl Harbor had 'ended isolationism for any realist' (Vandenberg, 1952: 1), represented a clear watershed with the past. It is indicative of the prevalent consensual post-war bipartisan climate that the major book on public opinion and foreign policy in the 1950s (Almond, 19 605) did not discuss in any detail the impact of party breakdown on foreign policy attitudes, devoting instead a full chapter to discuss the 'permissive mood' of the American public in general, characterized by a 'significant shift from withdrawal tendencies to interventionist tendencies, from optimistic expectations to pessimistic expectations, from moderate idealism to greater realism' (Almond, 19 605: 88). Other studies confirmed what Almond had implicitly suggested by omission. McClosky et al. (1960), in a comparison of mass and party leaders, reported that, in foreign policy, the differences among Republican and Democrat followers were minimal, in fact the smallest of all issue-areas covered in their research. Similarly, Hughes (1978: 124-129) concluded that, in the period between 1951 and 1972, party differences were 'insignificant'. Belknap and Campbell (1951-1952) reached a slightly different conclusion based on an SRC survey of June 1951. They found that Democrats and Republicans were divided along party lines on several foreign issues, but these differences narrowed down, moving from general statements to the evaluation of specific policy acts, such as the war in Korea. And they suggested that this was due to the lack of clear-cut party positions on the issues of how to pursue the Korean war at that time (Belknap and Campbell, 1951-1952: 619). Mueller (1973: 116-122), in a systematic analysis of all survey data on Korea and Vietnam by party groupings, found that in both wars an initial bipartisan consensus progressively gave way to partisan differences. However, these differences had more to do with which party was in power than with systematic party differences on the issue of using force in these two cases. Mueller also reports a similar lack of a party gap on hypothetical questions about war policies (Mueller, 1973: 120). It is fair then to conclude, as Holsti (2004: 168) does, that 'for two decades spanning Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and early Johnson administrations, then, whatever differences divided the American public on foreign policy issues rarely fell along a cleavage defined by partisan loyalties.'

With the end of the Vietnam war, and the controversy about the nature and consequences of its very end generated at the elite level, party polarization on issues related to foreign policy in general and the use of force in particular has increased, however. As Destler, Gelb and Lake noticed about this period: 'the making of American foreign policy has been growing more political - or more precisely, far more partisan and ideological' (Destler, Gelb and Lake, 1984: 13, quoted in Wittkopf, 1990: 33-34). It has been Schneider (1974-1975, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1992) who offers the most articulate analysis of this consensus breakdown and its consequences. Schneider contrasts the 'followership' two-track model, prevalent during the Cold War consensus era, with the unstable, oscillating, model in which elites compete for the attention and the support of the general public.

The 'followership' model entailed a leadership stratum that was largely in agreement on the goals and methods of US foreign policy, an attentive public that "followed" their leaders, and a non-internationalist but essentially inert mass public. The foreign policy values that prevailed during this period were those ... described ... as conservative internationalism: a continuity of goals - essentially containment of Soviet aggression - and an oscillation between cooperative and confrontational strategies. Foreign policy "followers" tended to support both kinds of strategies. (Schneider, 1984: 13)

Two trends made it impossible for the two-track followership model to continue. First, as a consequence of the Vietnam war, the elite and the attentive public polarized in different directions, particularly on the role of the military in foreign policy. Internationalists split into two groups, with conflicting ideas on the role of the military in world politics and the sources of power in international politics.

Conservative internationalists were found to picture the world primarily in East-West terms: democracy versus totalitarianism, capitalism versus communism, freedom versus repression. They were supportive of military power and gave high priority to national security as a foreign policy goal. They also showed a strong commitment to traditional anticommunist containment and were suspicious of detente as a kind of cartel agreement whereby the two superpowers agreed to limit competition in order to stabilize the market and protect their interests.

Liberal internationalists emphasized economic and humanitarian problems over security issues and rejected a hegemonic role for the United States. They wanted leaders to think in global terms: the scarcity of natural resources, environmental and oceanic pollution, and international economic inequality. They tended to regard the common problems facing all of humanity as more urgent than the ideological differences between East and West. Liberal internationalists approved of detente as a necessary first step toward a new world order based on global interdependence. The impact of Vietnam could be seen in this group's deep suspicion of military intervention and military power as instruments of foreign policy. (Schneider, 1983: 40-41).

This fundamental divide of the elites into two camps, both internationalists but deeply divided on the best way to translate goals into policies and, in particular, on the role of the military, has remained a stable characteristic of the American political landscape since then and the end of the Cold War has had no seeming impact (Schneider, 1992, 1997; Holsti, 2002). Holsti (2004: 172-173) reports for example on several surveys about the Gulf War in which majorities of both Republicans and Democrats supported the war, but with partisan differences in the order of 10 to 30 percent. The last Iraq war has, from this viewpoint, moved one step further in the direction of increasing polarization, quickly becoming the most polarizing war ever. As convincingly shown by Jacobson (2008: 133-137 and especially Figure 6.4), not only Democrats and Republicans reacted in slightly different ways to the preparation for war, with Democrats still supportive but wearier on the idea of waging war than Republicans, but the partisan gap also grew over time, once the war started, making the Iraq war by far the most divisive conflict ever, since polling began. Is this a sign, as suggested by Destler and others in the 1980s, that party polarization is growing over time? The evidence is mixed. Jacobson's comparison (2008) of some of the recent wars, such as Kosovo and the Gulf War, hints at a slightly growing polarization along party lines. The analysis of Holsti (2004) seems, on the contrary, to suggest that party polarization spiked up right after the Vietnam war but then remained stable over time, varying with the nature of the question, the situation under which force is considered and other factors.

Much less systematic attention has been devoted in Europe to the implications of the Left-Right divide on foreign policy public attitudes. The first systematic studies originate with the Euromissiles crisis and its consequences, mostly neglecting what the situation was before the 1980s. Part of the problem is, of course, that Left-Right cleavages played a different role in the different national contexts. Much more relevant, when it comes to Atlanticism and NATO, for Italy and France than for Germany or Britain. In Italy, the strongest Communist party of the Western world, made of the Atlantic solution a bone of contention for at least two decades. In France, the traditional Left-Right divide on the use of force was somehow obscured by the Gaullist tradition and the strong desire for an autonomous role for France in foreign policy. In Germany and Great Britain the divide was less dramatic, but not irrelevant. In Germany the main issue was the implication of the Atlanticist policies for the unification process. However, the scarce available data on the scope and nature of the Atlantic divide in Europe along the Left-Right continuum can be safely summarized as Eichenberg (1989: 149) did after a careful analysis of several surveys, in saying that 'those on the political Right are more "Atlanticist" than those on the Left'. But the intensity of this cleavage has been changing over time. Two points are worth stressing here. The first is that over the years a consensus has eventually emerged in Europe between Left and Right on security issues. This consensus however, as suggested by Eichenberg (1989: 205) is more a consequence of a 'compromise' among different positions than a result of converging trends. As an example, in Italy, the progressive acceptance by the Communist party of the European integration process and institutions helped to shape party positions more open to NATO (Isernia, 2007). Similarly, the detente contributed in Germany to papering over the controversies dividing SPD and CDU about the relative merit of strength and diplomacy in promoting German unification (e.g., Gress, 1985: 25-27). This implies that the compromise can be unraveled by external events, and especially by the consequences of American decisions on European political systems. Two examples are the Euromissiles affair, in which diverging assessment of the implications of nuclear parity in Europe and the US led to a clash of opinions between the American and European governments on one side and the mass public on the other, and the Iraq crisis, again pitting governments, in Europe and the US, against their publics, divided along party lines.

The second element, also suggested by Eichenberg (1989) is that support for Atlantic measures 'is related as much to assessments of the United States as to strategic judgment of the utility of NATO framework versus other security approaches', (Eichenberg, 1989: 152), an interesting conclusion in view of the successive crisis due to the Iraq war. One of the most important legacies of the Euromissiles crisis seems to have been a keener attention and sensitivity to American policies and their consequences for Europe, and a decreasing disposition among the public on the Left to give a 'blank check' to the American government. To what extent this situation is still valid will engage us in the next two chapters.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics