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.