Home Communication Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force
Some interim conclusions and political implications of the findings
The results presented in this and the previous chapter, are in some ways at odds with the conventional wisdom. They appear to contradict what some observers would expect to find given the political debates exchanged on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years. In fact, our analysis shows quite clearly and consistently, across different measures and statistical techniques, that Americans and Europeans reason in remarkably similar ways about issues related to peace and war. What is different, though, in complex and elusive ways, is the manner in which the different elements of their structure of belief come together.
Both sides continue to share fundamental worldviews. Europeans and Americans have comparable perceptions of threats and similar perceptions of friends and allies. A strong affinity to each other prevails. Most Europeans and Americans are internationalists as well as Atlanticists. These views and the similarities across the Atlantic were affected drastically (but probably temporarily) by the divisive realities of the war with Iraq. They did not change significantly over time, however, and both Europeans and Americans were ready especially to acknowledge that things had changed with the change in the US administration in 2008.
True, Americans are, by far, more willing to support the use of force than are Europeans. This fact has been shown over and over again by quite disparate data. In absolute terms, more Americans are willing to consider the use of force than Europeans. In Europe, Hawks constitute a tiny minority while their number in the US is substantial. However, this is not, in itself, a reason to conclude that Europeans and Americans are not only far apart but also irreconcilably so. First, as shown by the comparison on support for the use of force in hypothetical situations, when it comes to consider the use of force in principle, Americans and Europeans are closer than they appear in specific cases. Americans are more likely to support the use of force when it comes to classical, Realist threats and more skeptical about the use of force for humanitarian purposes, while for Europeans the opposite is the case. But still, both the distribution and the patterns are closely similar. Why then the divergences that we observe?
These are due to the way hypothetical situations get translated into actual political decisions in domestic political life in Europe and the United States. Europeans, while more averse to the use of force in theory, especially in power politics situations, can be moved to think differently about it in practice. The crucial factor in making them believe that the use of force should still be supported is Atlanticism. An appeal to Atlanticism is the only available bridge to close the gap on the general orientation toward the use of force. Atlanticists (in Europe) are those who can change their mind and approve the use of force in cases where they would not agree to it in principle, because they feel that doing things together is important. This is true across the political spectrum, but it is particularly effective among those on the center-Right in Europe. This is one of the most powerful mechanisms through which policy coordination on such a controversial issue as the use of force is made effective in Europe. An appeal to Atlantic values and the ability to show that the decision to use force has been made and enacted through Atlantic institutions and in close contact with all the relevant allies in a multilateral setting is crucial to gaining public support for the use of force in Europe.
In the US instead, Atlanticism does not play the same role. Atlanticism has a small influence among the Left in the US, but a quite opposite one among those leaning to the Right. This explains why Americans and Europeans do clash when it comes to the use of force. While the Left in the US is responsive to the appeals of Atlanticism, since they work to some extent for them too, for the Right these appeals are not only ineffective but also positively counterproductive. Those on the Right, more supportive of the use of force, are those who are not Atlanticists.
This surprising asymmetry needs further analysis. While Europeans can be moved to support the use of force through an appeal to Atlanticism, it is much harder to move the American public on the Right using these values. This asymmetry has two results when it comes to coordination of different political coalitions in Europe and the United States. A Republican president in the US will find it extremely difficult to mobilize his electorate using Atlanticism as a value, since it works against the main driver of support for the Republicans, the appropriateness of unilateral use of force by the American power. But, to give up on Atlanticism in the US severely undermines the ability to mobilize the support of the European public, especially when Atlanticism is most needed to overcome reluctance to use force.
A second problematic consequence of this asymmetry is that while there are factors that can move Europeans, reluctantly, to support the use of force, nothing similar exists to convince Americans Hawks to renounce the use of force in the name of Atlantic solidarity. In a way, it seems easier to convince someone reluctant to use force to change their mind in favor of military force than to induce someone who is willing to use force to reconsider and give their support for alternative, nonmilitary measures.
In conclusion, a transatlantic clash on the issue of whether and how to use force is most likely to break out when an American government with a Right-wing orientation meets with a Left-wing government in Europe. In this situation, the traditional mechanisms built into the structure of beliefs of both Europeans and Americans to mend the relationship are less likely to work, and politicization of the issue would make things even worse.
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