Monday, February 7, 2005

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The state of transatlantic public opinion

Today the German Marshall Fund of the United States released a survey of American, German, and French public opinion that was conducted in late November. The results suggest that public attitudes towards the countries across the Atlantic are not great -- but at least they're improving:

While disapproval of President Bush’s foreign policy decisions remains quite high in Europe, attitudes toward the United States are not as clear-cut. When asked how they felt about the U.S. taking a strong role in world affairs, majorities in France and Germany said that it was undesirable – 65% and 57%, respectively. While these figures would appear quite negative, they actually represent an improvement of 8 and 3 percentage points in France and Germany, since June, 2004.

Continued discontent with American leadership in France and Germany has kept support for a more independent Europe high. When asked whether the United States and the European Union should become closer or take more independent approaches to foreign and security policy 66% of French and 54% of German respondents said the European Union should take a more independent approach. On the face of it, this may seem to be a bad sign for U.S.-European relations, but the trends on this data are positive. In this last round of polling we found that the number of French and German respondents who said that the U.S. and the EU should become closer actually increased by 5 and 4 percentage points, respectively, since June. Additionally, the number of German respondents who said that the EU should take a more independent approach dropped by 10 percentage points over the same period....

There can be little doubt that the transatlantic rift that developed during the lead-up to the war in Iraq is still present. Yet, the reelection of President George W. Bush, whose decisions are often viewed as the primary reason for this rift, does not seem to have put any further strain on U.S.-European relations, at least not at the level of public opinion. If anything, damage to the transatlantic relationship appears to be showing the first signs of recovery as evidenced by a modest increase among French and German respondents in their desire to work more closely with the United States, as well as a decrease in their opposition to American leadership in world affairs. In addition, given the level of agreement in terms of American attitudes about what France and Germany can do to heal the transatlantic divide, and French and German attitudes about what the U.S. can do to mend the rift, there seems to be ample room to begin a U.S.-European rapprochement. Increased diplomacy and efforts to strengthen the EU’s military capabilities would most likely lie at the heart of any thaw Also promising for U.S.-European relations are the high favorability ratings of both the U.S. and NATO by citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. As the survey details, American, French, and German respondents not only agree on the benefits of these institutions, but they also agree in large part on their problems. This fact alone is good news as these organizations have traditionally helped to buttress the U.S.-European relationship. Revamping and refining these institutions to meet the needs of the 21st century could offer a possible avenue for rebuilding transatlantic ties.

The most interesting finding in the survey is the congruence between American and European attitudes about how to deal with Iran:

Respondents were asked to choose between two courses of action for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. One choice, described as supported by many American policymakers, included the threat of military action. The other, “European” choice emphasized diplomacy and soft power. Despite the identification of the first option as the “American” choice, only 30% of American respondents selected this course. Fifty-five percent of Americans supported the “European” approach, as did 82% of French and 91% of the German respondents. American support for a “soft power” strategy vis-à-vis Iran went up even further when the supporters of military action were offered a chance to change their position in return for European support on keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Over 39% of Americans who initially chose the “American” position were willing to change their approach in order to gain the support of European allies.

You can read the summary essay by clicking here -- and here's a link to the topline survey results.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This seems an appropriate moment to mention that I was recently named a non-resident transatlantic fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Furthermore, "During his time with GMF, he will advise on the design and analysis of public opinion surveys on foreign policy and collaborate with the Trade and Development program on the transatlantic trade relationship." Which means that one of my responsibilities was offering my (minor) input to this survey instrument.

posted by Dan on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM


Congrats on the fellowship!

Are you taking a sabbatical in 2005-2006? I gather you'll be pursuing the Marshall duties full time next year?

posted by: James Joyner on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]

great home page, i liked very much

posted by: wilson on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]

Congrats! And, of course, more data is always good (at least for my job...).

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]

There's a long way to go, despite whatever official pablum might be applied: A poll in a popular German newsweekly before the election showed almost 90% of respondents wanted Kerry to win.

posted by: x on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]

Congratulations on the fellowship. You will bring some class to that outfit.

The poll seems to have underselected Bush voters. Despite that, the US sample is much more right wing and the EU sample much more left wing than the other.

Something that they did not ask: How relevant is Europe today in terms of global affairs? and then ask folks how relevant is the US/EU to the future of your country? The EU (not just France and Germany) has a huge economy and it is projecting its economic power to good effect; but its economy is stagnant and losing ground. Seriously, without a strong military to back up its view of the world, how relevant will the EU be in 20-30 years? My hope is that, secretly, the EU and US are playing "good cop-bad cop" with Iran, and they have a secret understanding to continue to do so with other threats.

It would not be hard to imagine some kind of conflict breaking out between Poland and Belarus with Belarus getting strong backing from Russia. Poland is a member of NATO and perhaps the US's strongest ally in Europe. Realistically, what could France, Germany, and Belgium do to credibly assist Poland? After what we have gone through in Iraq, which allegedly had some strategic threat to US interests, how willing would Americans be to expend blood and treasure for Poland when our 'allies' cannot or will not do anything?

posted by: jim linnane on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]

I dislike both Chirac and Schroeder but am largely indifferent to both gentlemen - more indifferent to Schroeder than Chirac. I think that in the current climate their capacity to affect events is limited.

My feelings toward the citizens of France and Germany are similar. I think that they want the power of being the superpower but are unwilling to incur the costs in money and blood. They want the US military available to handle crisises which they find important (Bosnia and Kosovo) but otherwise wish to exercise a complete veto over the US using our military in the US national interest.

I think they feel shame at the incapacity of their national militaries to handle the Balkan crisis - and this shame makes them unable to give credit where credit is due. Or to express any gratitude at all.

I think the idea of an effective European transnational force competitive in capabilities to the US military is a good one to the degree that it creates new capacity and does not merely slap a new decal on British and NATO forces.

One's influence in military matters depends upon what one can contribute - and right now no EU military except for the UK is much use in global situations. What used to be the partnership defending Germany from the Warsaw Pact has degenerated into a nagging chorus.

Moreover, the EU outvotes the US 25 to 1 in the UN and in international treaties - which led many of them into the illusion that they ought to be able to outvote the US rather than be obliged to take much notice of US national interests and public opinion.

Over the past decade the debate was sharpened with two very one-sided treaties - Kyoto and the ICC. Kyoto required a much sharper deduction in carbon dioxide emissions for the US than for the EU. Implementation of the Kyoto treaty would probably have led to the worst recession in the US since 1932, with lesser but still catastrophic recessions in Europe.

The ICC treaty struck me as basically an offer by the EU to share the responsibilities of global security with the US. As heretofor the US would do the fighting - but the EU selflessly offered to judge our troops for war crimes afterward. Pardon me, but if it's alright with you I'd prefer to reverse the roles. You pay and bleed, we judge!

If the EU were to actually develop an effective military able to share the global security burden things would become much better for the US (and the ICC would be far more workable). The US would have a rival - but we wouldn't have to fight EVERY TIME a crisis brewed up. A competent EU military could handle Balkan conflicts with ease and could contribute to other situations. This would transmute their current opinions on how US soldiers should fight and die into a true partnership - how WE should fight and die!

If Germany had to judge it's own soldiers as well as those of the US I would have far more confidence in the understanding of German judges. Particularly German judges with personal experience of combat.

posted by: Don on 02.07.05 at 10:54 AM [permalink]

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