Home Communication Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force
In this chapter it was shown that going beyond looking solely at aggregate survey results can reveal important additional insights into structural differences in public attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic. We have focused on public attitudes toward the potential the use of force given the key role that this issue appears to play in recent trans-Atlantic frictions. On this and other key issues it is important to understand the building blocks that underlie public attitudes in the US and Europe. A better understanding of basic attitudes on the use of force and other forms of power, as well as the tension between the demands of peace and justice, enabled us to build a viable typology of attitudes in Chapter 3. This typology helped to explain how attitudes on international affairs cluster into recognizable patterns and are translated into political schools of thought.
In this chapter we took the analysis one step further. We looked first into the impact of the Left-Right divide and we concluded that the main source of transatlantic conflict lies at the intersection of two different variables: Atlanticism and ideological predispositions. In Europe, an appeal to the sense of Atlanticism helps to overcome the reluctance to use force in international relations, and this occurs among Right-wing voters more often than among Left-wing voters. In the US, Atlanticism plays a much milder role, and only among Left-wing voters. Rightwing voters in the US are not only more eager to opt for the use of force in different situations but they do so even more when the use of force is to take place unilaterally. These dynamics help to explain under which conditions the issue of the use of force is likely to create a contentious climate in transatlantic relations. We conclude that this is most likely: when a) a Right-wing government in the US is willing to use force unilaterally; b) Atlanticists in Europe are not mobilized if not critical of the US; and c) the European governments are center-Left. 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.
The picture is still incomplete, however. How American and Europeans weigh situational factors and different arguments in favor or against using military force in specific cases is explored in more detail and depth in the next chapter.
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