Home Communication Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force
A Transatlantic gap?
Contrary to the popular view, most polls, the most important of which is the set of Transatlantic Trends Surveys, taken since 2002, show indeed that European publics look at the world in ways that were rather similar to that of many ordinary Americans (including harboring deep reservations about the conduct of certain aspects of US foreign policy). Both sides share fundamental worldviews.
The differences between Americans and Europeans are not only of an absolute nature, but also relative in the sense that Americans and Europeans are differentially affected by different considerations embodied in the framing of poll questions on the use of military force. Americans, for instance, are more influenced by considerations of military casualties, while Europeans are more likely to attach importance to civilian casualties and international legitimacy.
The evidence points to the conclusion that support moves within a range and that this range is not equally wide across countries. In other words, sensitivity to different contextual factors seems to be different in Europe and the US. The public in the US is not only more likely to support the use of military force, but is also considerably less sensitive to the specific conditions under which military force is being used than in the other countries. This was shown in Chapter 6.
The contextual conditions under which force will be used also seem to make a significant difference. The differences that we find in this connection do not only run among countries but equally within countries. The gap across the Atlantic may thus be more properly seen as a gap that separates Washington from the rest of the United States.
Europeans and Americans have comparable perceptions of threats, domestic priorities and comparable perceptions of friends and allies. They share a strong affinity with each other. True, as the data show, there have been periods when sympathy for the Americans was at a low level, but these troughs were always temporary after which there was always a return to the historical average.
Americans and Europeans agree upon the relative distribution of power in the world and on the relative importance of economic versus military strength. Most Europeans and Americans are internationalists as well as Atlanticists. Moreover, they also share a belief in both the necessity and effectiveness of multilateral, common action and in international institutions, on moral as well as practical grounds.
A few words of comment are appropriate in this context with respect to the remarkable degree to which attitudes on the use of force, and its justification are shaped by the factor of international legitimacy or UN consent in shaping people's attitudes on the justification of using military force. In practice (as in the cases of Kosovo (in 1999) and Iraq (in 2003)) this meant a mandate by the UN Security Council.
The issue was not only controversial in 1999 but returned in the context of the case of Iraq, in 2002. The fact that the presence or absence of a UN mandate was such an important consideration with respect to the acceptability of a war with Iraq in the summer of 2002, is the more remarkable since it was measured before the major international debates on this issue, in the fall and winter of 2002-2003, took place within the United Nations and elsewhere and the issue became prominent on the public agenda. Apparently, even then many people on both sides of the Atlantic (but particularly in Europe) already felt increasingly that while war may be sometimes an acceptable and even necessary way of solving problems, it should not be decided upon by individual states, but should be undertaken only in settings where the views brought forward may claim to be some representation of 'the international community' (preferably the United Nations or at least (particularly for the Americans) with the support of one's allies (another outcome of many polls).
These views and the similarities across the Atlantic were, of course, to some extent affected by the divisive realities of the war with Iraq but they did not change significantly over time. Moreover, to the extent that profound differences were found on specific policies during the period of the Bush administration, both Europeans and Americans were ready to acknowledge that things had changed with the change in the US administration in 2008 and that what we have seen since then is primarily a 'return to normalcy'.
The only area in which the differences in views seem to be more profound and sturdy over the years is that of the suitability and acceptability of the use of military force. In general, at the beginning of the recent decade and especially after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, Europeans and Americans first were in broad agreement on the importance of the war on terrorism and the nature of the Iraqi threat. Also, Europeans in this context were as willing as Americans in principle to use force in a broad range of circumstances.
However, as mentioned, already in 2002, Europeans were more likely to stress the element of international legitimacy and gave a higher priority to soft rather than hard tools compared to Americans, and over the years they continued to do so, perhaps even more strongly when they saw the failures in the application of hard power by the Americans, in Iraq and later in Afghanistan.
It is true, indeed, that in Europe, Hawks (as defined in Chapter 3) 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 considering 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. This is what the adherents of the gap thesis would expect, but it is far less than a deep estrangement across the board.
In short, for Europeans, the use of force is still truly an ultima ratio to be utilized only when all other sources of power have failed. Americans, on the other hand, though far from being trigger-happy, were and are much less shy of using force if circumstances seem appropriate, in spite of failures on the ground. But this does not mean that under proper guidance they cannot come to agree on a common course of action.
Finally, and importantly, while Europeans sometimes disagree with Americans over some, perhaps many, policy issues, they are not in the grip of an emotional, virulent and pervasive anti-Americanism.
|< Prev||CONTENTS||Next >|