Home Communication Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force
Putting all pieces together
To sum up: measuring and explaining the degree of support for or opposition to the international use of force is not an easy matter. As this discussion has shown, people are particularly sensitive to the circumstances under and purposes for which the use of force is either envisaged or actually taking place, and hence to the way questions measuring support are worded. The goals and values that are at stake, the success of the action as well as its perceived legitimacy and political leadership, to name but a few aspects, all appear to be important conditions shaping the level of support. Hypothetical cases as well as questions about the use of force before a decision to use this instrument has actually been taken may be misleading us with respect to what can be expected in a concrete and specific historical case. Timing is also a relevant element in view of the 'rally around the flag' effect; or the tendency of people to support the use of military force, despite hesitations, once their government has taken a decision or is expected to do so, is a well-known phenomenon that deserves to be mentioned in this connection. What emerges from this review, besides the great variety of factors that might affect support or opposition, is that the public orientation toward the use of military force is not a constant. To draw up and test a theory that explains the total complex of variations in support of the following, at least three different perspectives should be taken into account.
First, there are individual level variables, that in a funnel of causality that moves from socio-demographic variables to ideological predispositions and eventually rational calculations, shape personal attitudes on the willingness to use force, irrespective of the situation and the timing (Federico, Golec and Dial, 2005). The most important effect of these determinants may be the degree to which individuals are sensitive to other considerations than the acceptability or desirability of force per se, such as the context in and the conditions under which violence is being exercised. In any situation in which military force is being used or contemplated we tend to find, in this respect, a spectrum of opinions, divided into roughly three parts: 1) the 'true pacifists', those who reject the use of force whatever the modalities or conditions; 2) the 'true militarists', consisting of those who tend to favor military force as the pre-eminent means to settle conflicts; and 3) a group of variable size 'in the middle', consisting of those who are sensitive, to some degree, to the conditions under which force is being used or contemplated. We could call them the 'malleable' or, using a most recent analogy, the cost-benefit calculators. This sensitivity appears when respondents in an opinion poll, or different polls, are confronted with differences in question wording that reflect these different conditions and considerations. In other words, we argue that sensitivity to issue framing and question wording has a bell-shaped pattern across the political spectrum. The factors that determine whether one belongs to either of the three groups probably have to be accounted for in an individual level theory.
The 'malleable' are those mostly affected by a set of situational variables. Support for the use of military force is dependent on various, rather distinct sets of conditioning factors. To draw up and test a theory that explains the total complex of variations in support of the following perspectives should be taken into account. In doing so, we start with the assumption that at any one moment support for the use of military force is a product of a societal discourse in which participants in this ongoing debate/respondents are exposed to different stimuli and arguments, which are dealt with in a structured fashion. Moreover, as a first cut, and for the time being, we depart from the hypothesis that the structure of this discourse is universal in the sense that, roughly speaking, the same kind of arguments are brought to bear on the question of whether to support the use of force and are given roughly equal weight independent of time and place (see also Eichenberg, 2006).30 Depending on the degree of sensitivity in general, as described above, people's attitudes tend to vary according to the conditions and circumstances under which (international) military force is used. In the literature, a number of such factors or conditions have been distinguished. We have already discussed them at length and we are presenting them here in a juxtaposed form, which suggests that they are causally unrelated. However, this may be too much of a simplification. Moreover, we may assume, incorrectly, that support for war can be measured as a truly dependent variable, and that the conditions listed below are truly independent and not shaped in reversed causality by support for the rationale of the war.31
Keeping this caveat in mind, we list the various factors as found in the literature distinguishing between those that are related to costs and those that are related to the value of the operation. On the side of the costs, the first, and paramount, factor is the incidence of casualties, be they military or civilian, on one's own side or more generally. It has gradually become evident from studies of public opinion in either specific historical cases or more experimental, laboratory-type surveys of public opinion that - particularly when looked at in isolation - the actual or potential incidence of casualties (be they military or civilian) in one way or another, has a considerable, albeit not always decisive, negative influence on the willingness of publics, particularly in (Western) democratic societies, to enter into military conflict, or to continue with the use of force. Besides the fear of military, and civilian, casualties, other costs, material, financial or other, including political, of a conflict, such as the expenditure involved, the risks of escalation or of antagonizing allies, are also at play. And it can reduce support. The more costly a war is or becomes, the more likely it is that support will decline. This cost factors' true impact can only be estimated correctly, however, if taken into consideration together with other factors that help to shape the support for, or opposition to, war.
These other factors tend to stress the positive willingness to engage in military force, depending on (1) the goals and purposes for which it is used (Principal Policy Objectives) (Eichenberg, 2005; Jentleson, 1992; Jentleson and Britton, 1998); (2) the importance of the interests at stake (Larson, 1996a; Rielly, 1987; Russett and Nincic, 1976); (3) the effectiveness and success of the applied force (Feaver and Gelpi, 2004; and with Reifler, 2009); and (4) the quality of leadership and/or confidence in the wisdom of government policies on these matters. If the case isn't made persuasively, support doesn't materialize.32 The 'presidential clues' thesis stresses in this connection that support is shaped by the effectiveness of evoking the willingness to follow presidential or other leadership (Mueller, 1971, 1973). Further, (5) the (real or perceived) legitimacy of the action, as expressed, for instance, by a mandate of the UN Security Council or other international body, or by the support of major allies, is another major factor (Kull and Destler, 1999; Kull and Ramsay, 2001). While Americans are by no means insensitive to this argument (either in the positive form of an international mandate or, negatively, in the form of the absence thereof), it appeals in particular to Europeans. Polls have shown time and again that this argument tends to outweigh all others.
The factors from (1) to (5), singly or in combination, can mitigate (if present) or amplify (if absent) the impact of the factor of casualties and other costs (Everts and Isernia, 2001; Everts, 2002).
A third level of analysis is related to context level variables. At this level, support tends to vary not only (1) between different conflicts depending on the circumstances, values and interests, that characterize these conflicts, the situational variables as discussed above, but also (2) among countries and (3) over time (corresponding with the phases of a conflict). That variations among the conflict situations are involved is self-evident. We are talking here about relative differences that reflect such factors as (perceived) differences in interests, international legitimacy, and values involved, in geographical proximity and the likelihood of success on the one hand and (risks of) casualties and other costs on the other. This means that the model may remain the same but the coefficients will tend to differ (considerably). Of course, we may also observe absolute differences between conflicts that are characterized by similar discourse structures. Hence we are using the issue concerned as an independent variable.
Second, the impact of these factors may, however, differ from country to country and may also vary over time.33 Over and above differences in response patterns due to question wording, which lead to relative differences among countries, absolute differences may also occur among these due to varying traditions, geopolitical considerations or power differentials. To explain these, an entirely different kind of theory is needed, which not only focuses on the structure of the discourse, but also on national characteristics, which would incorporate the effects of such things as differences in war traditions, political culture and the international position of the country concerned. These characteristics are usually external to the stimuli submitted in the polling situation that to some extent reflect the general discourse.
Third, support does often fluctuate over time and tends to depend on the length of the conflict. Although we do have but few time series to test any hypothesis we may develop, data are available for some cases, like Kosovo, Afghanistan/Terrorism, or Iraq. A first inspection of these data suggests that fluctuations are not random but occur in patterned fashions that probably can be divided into just a few basic types (high-low, prewar, during and postwar, rally effects or not, etc.). The theory that explains these patterns would have to include such factors as endurance or war weariness, and (prospects of) success and leadership (the 'rally round the flag' effect).
We could, of course, eliminate such effects of time and of the progress of history by taking averages, but we shall assume provisionally on the basis of the notion that we can somehow model these patterns and integrate them in the analysis and in the hopefully resulting overall aggregate theory.
There is, of course, also the matter of interaction of the evolution of time and the impact of the various factors of influence that are reflected in the question wording. For instance: are expectations of casualties more important before than during a war? is legitimacy only relevant before the war? do expectations of failure become more prominent as a causal factor as time goes by? etc. This has to be accounted for.
In Chapter 3 we start our analysis by exploring the nature of the structure of beliefs of Europeans and Americans with respect to the international use of force, looking first at the policy beliefs and ideological variables in our funnel of causality.
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