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Threat perceptions

Although in absolute terms the figures differ - sometimes considerably - depending on the phrasing of the question, and although the saliency of the issue soon returned to more 'normal' levels, there is no doubt that the attacks of September 11 had a major as well as lasting effect on people's threat perceptions throughout the world (although these effects were not equally strong in all countries). Available data suggest that the fear of terrorism was not a short-lived affair, which abated soon after 9/11.21

Effectiveness of military action? Military action appropriate?

Given the general concern with international terrorism and the widespread revulsion against random attacks of which civilians were the primary victims, it was to be expected that there would be little disagreement in general over the need to fight this scourge and over the means to be preferred in this struggle, including military force.

As illustrated by Table 5.3 and Figure 5.6, which shows comparable data for a selected number of countries and areas, in the fall of 2001 majorities and pluralities in many countries felt not only that military force was appropriate but also - a much stronger view - that it was the most effective way to fight terrorism. There were important differences among countries, however. In the US, initially a very large majority opted for military action as the most appropriate tool, but in Europe feelings were more mixed, with support for the American position prevailing in France and Turkey, uncertainty in Spain and the United Kingdom, while the idea that military force was most effective was largely rejected in Germany and Italy.

Over time, support for the notion that military force is the appropriate answer to the problem of terrorism declined somewhat, in the US between 2001 and 2004 to slightly above the average European level, which had remained largely the same since 2001 (Figure 5.6). Both in Europe and in the US a (further) decline took place from 2004 to 2005. This is not surprising in view of the absence of successes 'on the ground' in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 onwards.

Table 5.3 Effectiveness of military force in dealing with international terrorism, 2005 (2001-2005) (in % 'agree')

2001a

2002b-

2002c-

2004d-

2004e

2005f

Difference

min-max

Agree

Agree

Agree

Agree

(Strongly)

Agree

Agree

France

59

59

35

55

35

-24

Germany

39

42

+3

Italy

36

43

+7

Netherlands

41

-

Poland

57

-

Portugal

54

-

Slovakia

45

-

Spain

44

54

32

32

-12

Turkey

55

74

+19

United

46

46

49

56

36

-10

Kingdom

United States

76

68

76

64

63

58

-18

EU

47

49

2

Notes: a2001: Environics Global Issues Monitor Survey, October 5-November 26, 2001; b2002: Gallup International, Voice of the People; c2002: Globescan; d2004: Globescan; e2004 GMF, Transatlantic Trends 2004; 2005: Globescan

Format of the questions:

  • - 'Do you agree that military force is the most effective way of dealing with international terrorism?' (2001) (in % 'agree')
  • - 'Military force is the most effective way of reducing terrorism' (2002b)
  • - 'Military force is the most effective way of reducing terrorism' (2002c, 2004d, and 2005f)
  • - 'Please tell me whether you agree or disagree with each of the following: Military action to eliminate terrorist organizations is the most appropriate way to fight terrorism' (2004e)
Belief in the effectiveness of military force (2001-2005) (in % 'agree') Sources

Figure 5.6 Belief in the effectiveness of military force (2001-2005) (in % 'agree') Sources: 2002, 2004, and 2005: Globescan - Format of the question: 'Do you agree or disagree that military force is the most effective way to reduce international terrorism?'

  • 2002a: Gallup International, Voice of the People, 2002 - Format of the question: 'Do you agree or disagree that military force is the most effective way of reducing international terrorism?'
  • 2004a: GMFUS, Transatlantic Trends - Format of the question: 'Do you agree or disagree that military action is the most appropriate way to eliminate terrorist organizations?'

In 2002, an overwhelming majority of 87 percent of Americans favored the use of air strikes against terrorist training camps and 84 percent supported the use of ground troops against such camps, while among Europeans these percentages were still high but differed by some 20 percentage points to 68 percent and 69 percent respectively. There was, moreover, a certain variation among the public in the six European countries surveyed. Germans and Italians were much more reluctant to use force against terrorism - either in the form of air strikes or ground troops - than the French and the British. The fact that there was little difference in Europe between support for bombing versus actions by ground forces (as we saw in the previous section) may be due to the fact that the effect of fear of casualties was cancelled out by the expected success of both forms of action.

Europeans (intra-European differences among countries aside) were ready to commit troops but gave a higher priority, however, to economic and diplomatic tools than Americans.22

 
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