Transatlantic Poll on Iran Nukes

Another interesting new survey — this one on opinions in the U.S., 12 European Union countries, and Turkey — came out last week and should be interest to those who, like me, find relatively detailed polls on international relations, well … interesting. You can find this year’s edition of “Transatlantic Trends,” as the survey is called, here. The annual poll’s sponsor, the German Marshall Fund (GMF), highlighted the finding that for the first time in the past decade, a slight majority of U.S. respondents (51%) felt that Asian countries were more important to U.S. national interests than were the countries of the European Union (whereas the EU countries, with a couple of exceptions, still consider the U.S. most important to its interests). The survey was carried out between May 25 and June 17.

As readers of this blog know, I’m especially interested in Iran, and on this the findings (summarized on pp 26-7) were a bit disconcerting. On the one hand, the survey found that concern about Tehran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons actually declined in most countries over the past year, and the decline was particularly sharp in the U.S. where 76% of respondents expressed concern this year, down from 86% from 2010. The survey also found an overwhelming preference in all countries for non-military measures to persuade or pressure Iran to forgo nuclear weapons. Thus, asked to choose between 1) offering economic incentives; 2) imposing economic sanctions; (3) providing support to opponents of the government; (4) taking military action; and (5) accepting that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons, a plurality (32%) of EU respondents went for option 1; 28% for option 2; 15% for 3; and 6% each for options 4 and 5. U.S. respondents, on the other hand, were somewhat tougher: a 33% plurality preferred economic sanctions (2); only 20% went for incentives (1); 13% each went for opposition support (3) and military action (4); and 8% said they were prepared to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon. Interestingly, a plurality (25%) of Turkish respondents preferred option 5 — living with a nuclear Iran — while 12% chose option 1; 20%, option 2; 9%, option 3; and 4%, option 4.

Where things become somewhat more ominous is in the follow-up question: assuming that all non-military options were exhausted, and the choice was between accepting a nuclear Iran and taking military action, the survey found that a 47% plurality of EU respondents and a 54% majority of U.S. respondents favored military action, while 36% and 35%, respectively, said they would live with a nuclear Iran. The survey found that Turkey (50%) and German (50%), the UK (46%), and Poland (41%) were the only countries where a plurality of respondents preferred a nuclear Iran to military action against it. The most hawkish countries were Portugal (66%), France (60%), and Spain (57%).

While 54% of U.S. respondents favored military action this year, that is 10% less than when the choice was posed to them by the GMF poll one year ago. In the 2010 poll, 64% of U.S. respondents said they favored military action against Iran, the highest percentage among all countries surveyed last year. A reduction of 10% over the past year seems pretty remarkable. This year’s percentage is roughly comparable to the 53% who said they would favor military action when the question was first asked by GMF in 2006.

I’d make a couple of observations regarding the last question: First, the phrase “military action” sounds a good deal more anti-septic and surgical than the word “war” which, most experts agree, would be the likely consequence of any serious “military action” against Iran. Of course, it’s unlikely that such a war would be entirely “conventional,” but, unlike Elliott Abrams and a few other Iran super-hawks, I have little doubt Iran would retaliate in one fashion or another, at which point the attackers would have to decide whether to stop or to escalate. Which leads logically to the second observation: the respondents were not given a “morning after” question about the possible consequences of a military attack, such as if world oil prices were to increase by 50%, or if “military action” would have to be backed up ground forces, etc., etc. My guess is that if such contingencies were raised, the percentage of respondents who would still support “military action” would drop.

One other note, Eli, the intrepid researcher, informs me that the GMF gave $65,000 to the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in 2001 for a program promoting “NATO reform” and another $200,000 in 2004 for unspecified purposes, according to tax records. I wonder if GMF is also supporting PNAC’s successor organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative, which was only created in 2009.

In any event, the survey asks a lot of interesting questions about attitudes toward the Middle East, China, Turkey, Libya, etc., and you may find interesting nuggets by browsing the site and the top-line results, as well.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. If only 13% of Americans support “military action” against Iran, you can forget about it happening (as I’ve been telling you for the past year). The military doesn’t want it, the administration doesn’t want it, and the public doesn’t want it. It doesn’t matter what Fox News or the Wall Street Journal editorial page may say. And there won’t be a repeat of the events of 2001-03, this time over Iran. That card can’t be played again for many, many years. So stop worrying.

    When you say, “. . . it’s unlikely that such a war [i.e., against Iran] would be entirely ‘conventional'”, what exactly did you mean? Normally, when discussing military action, the opposite of conventional is nuclear. Was that your intent? Or did you mean “unconventional” in the sense of special ops or cyberwarfare and the like? If you meant nuclear, what’s your evidence? It seems clear that the U.S. isn’t going to attack Iran with either conventional or nuclear weapons. As for Israel, do you really think they’d set off one or more nuclear explosions in the region, given the current political climate (Israel almost completely isolated in the world, and desperate to retain U.S. support)?

  2. Those 2nd order consequences of military action seem to be the focus of recent developments in the ME. Syria, Bahrain with their Iranian ties and Shia populations are being consolodated.

  3. Wonderful! Now they should do an unbiased study into whether or not Iran even has a nuclear weapons program right now — see:

    See also:

    Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, and the executive director of the Council for the National Interest:

    “What the FBI uncovered was a massive and highly focused campaign referred to by the Israelis as “perception management,” but which the CIA would refer to as a covert action.

    Much of the activity was illegal or incompatible with the role of foreign diplomats in the United States, which is why Leibowitz took action after his supervisors refused to proceed with prosecution. The focus was on Iran, with Israeli officials intent on preparing the American public for war against the mullahs. They were spreading disinformation on Iran’s nuclear program, promoting international sanctions, and trying to obtain Washington’s support for an ultimatum on the nuclear program as a final diplomatic gesture that would be turned down by Iran, leading to war with the U.S. playing the lead role. The Israeli Embassy’s activities consisted of drafting articles and editorials that were placed with an accommodating media, paying journalists to write pieces making the same points, and working closely with groups like WINEP and AIPAC to present policymakers with a coordinated list of arguments for war. At least one congressman from Indiana was approached directly by Israeli intelligence and agreed to host an anti-Iran conference as well as to introduce legislation tightening Iran sanctions. The recorded telephone conversation between an Israeli intelligence officer and Rep. Jane Harman in April 2009, in which she agreed to intervene on behalf of accused AIPAC spies Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman in exchange for chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, was also part of the special FBI counterintelligence operation.

    Leibowitz’s concern that the illegal activity would not be prosecuted by the Justice Department proved correct. No Israeli or American named in the extensive FBI investigative dossier has been in any way punished.”


  4. DId the poll define what was meant by a “nuclear Iran”??? An Iran armed with nuclear weapons, or one which has a perfectly legal civilian nucler program as it does now? THe media tend to conflate these two things deliberately.

    It would also be interesting to see what percentage of respondents to such polls realize the massive popularity of Iran’s nuclear program amongst Iranians themselves, and understand the implications of that.

  5. Lizz makes an excellent point. Thank you!

    Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, recently told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that he had not “seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials … I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”

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