Arlington, VA, April 4, 2019: A survey released today found that the majority of residents in key NATO member states are not convinced that the actions taken by the alliance have been effective, and that they’re happy to rely on the United States for their own defense. The survey, released by the Charles Koch Institute and RealClearPolitics and conducted by YouGov, polled citizens of the United States, Turkey, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany in advance of NATO’s 70th anniversary. It also found that large numbers of respondents do not believe ongoing military intervention in Afghanistan has been successful.
“People in key European NATO countries seem to want the military benefits of the alliance but aren’t so excited about meeting its most important obligations,” said William Ruger, Vice President of Research and Policy at the Charles Koch Institute. “While they are happy to have the U.S. come to their defense, a striking number of respondents thought it would be bad to be asked to assist the U.S. if it were attacked.”
Respondents in key member states either had a mixed view of NATO’s relevance today or thought it was less relevant than when it was founded. Americans were almost evenly split, with 39 percent of Americans thinking NATO was more relevant today and 36 percent seeing it as less relevant today than it was when it was founded 70 years ago. However, a majority of Turkish (53 percent) and French respondents (51 percent) said NATO isn’t as relevant. (Findings from Germany and the United Kingdom were similar to those in the United States).
Still, the majority of those polled are happy to be in alliance with the United States. When asked if it was a good thing for their country to be in a military alliance with the United States, 51 percent of German respondents, 59 percent of French respondents, 66 percent of respondents in the United Kingdom and almost half of those in Turkey said it was. Those numbers increased substantially for British, French and German respondents when they were asked if they think it is a good or bad thing that the United States may be asked to assist their country if they are attacked.
Importantly, those findings do not mean that these countries are eager or even willing to jump to America’s aid. When asked if it is a good or bad thing that their country may be asked to assist the United States if it is attacked, only 27 percent of Germans said it is good while 42 percent of those in France and 45 percent of those in the United Kingdom said the same. A whopping 51 percent of Germans and 57 percent of Turks think it is bad for their country may be asked to assist the U.S.
Europeans polled do recognize that their countries should share more of the burden for their defense. Forty-two percent of Germans, 43 percent of French and 42 percent of UK respondents – a plurality in each country – thought the amount their country spends on the military is insufficient to provide for the country’s security. Respondents in the United States (50 percent) and Turkey (56 percent) were more likely to believe their countries are spending sufficiently on the military. Similarly, more than half of U.S. and Turkish respondents said that their country’s current military spending was sufficient to meet NATO obligations. Very few Americans thought that U.S. military spending was insufficient to meet either its own security needs or NATO’s, at 26 percent and 18 percent respectively.
“Americans should take note that few of our European allies are meeting their responsibilities to share the burden of their defense,” said Ruger. “And the public in key allies know it is insufficient and yet political leaders in Europe do little to address it. It’s time we decide if American taxpayers should have to continue to subsidize our wealthy allies at this level.”
Despite enjoying the military support of NATO membership, respondents were unconvinced of NATO’s efficacy.
Nearly half of respondents in Germany (46 percent) and Turkey (47 percent) said the NATO mission in Afghanistan has largely failed. A plurality of respondents (41 percent) in the United Kingdom said the same. More Americans and French said they did not know the answer to this question (41 percent and 44 percent, respectively) than said the mission had failed (35 percent and 37 percent) or succeeded (23 percent and 19 percent). Nearly half of all respondents in Germany and more than half in the United Kingdom went so far as to say their country should have never sent troops to Afghanistan.
“The European response regarding NATO is evidence that the Transatlantic Alliance needs to be revisited,” said David Craig, editor of RealClearDefense, “The difference between Americans and Europeans on defense spending and perceptions of mutual defense are stark, including the quarter to one third of respondents having no knowledge of the concepts of NATO.”
Turkish respondents were asked whether U.S. military actions in the Middle East have made the region more stable. An overwhelming majority – 61 percent – said the United States had made the region less stable. For this reason, perhaps, 62 percent of Turkish respondents oppose long-term U.S. involvement in Syria.
“This poll shows us that while Americans and Europeans are somewhat favorable when it comes to NATO in the abstract – even if they’re not convinced of its benefits – the more they hear about the costs and possibility of intervention, the less sanguine they are,” said Craig. “Germany, in particular, doesn’t share in the concept of mutual defense, echoing public comments regarding defense spending and their perception that Russia does not pose a direct threat.”
Only 36 percent of respondents in the United States and France said the NATO alliance makes their country safer, fewer than in Germany (40 percent) and Turkey (40 percent). People in the United Kingdom are more likely (52 percent) to have a positive assessment. A majority of respondents in every country do say the addition of countries to NATO has improved the safety of their home countries. Though they also were not convinced that new allies would make their own countries safer, respondents generally did not oppose the idea that more countries could be added in the future.
“There was an important caveat to the question of new entrants, however,” explained Craig. “When it was suggested that if the Ukraine joined NATO it would be more likely that their country would go to war with Russia, enthusiasm for Ukraine joining NATO joining fell several percentage points. Individuals are much less enthusiastic about NATO when they understand the costs and the potential for contributing military support.”
When asked if Russia became involved in a serious military conflict with one of its neighboring countries that is a NATO ally, whether their country should or should not send ground troops to fight Russia, almost half of Germans (48 percent) said that they should not. Thirty-eight percent of French people, 30 percent of those in the United Kingdom and 27 percent of Americans said the same.
Americans also are the least likely to understand what NATO is. Only 46 percent of U.S. respondents could accurately define the organization’s mission when given a list of options. Sixty-nine percent of respondents from Turkey could.
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ABOUT YOUGOV AND SURVEY METHODOLOGY
YouGov is a global public opinion and data company that collects opinions from around the world about brands, politics and current affairs. This survey was conducted online from March 13-22, 2019 using an online interview administered to members of the YouGov Plc UK panel of 800,000+ individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys, along with their regional hubs and global panel partners. Emails are sent to panelists selected at random from the base sample. The e-mail invites them to take part in a survey and provides a unique survey link. The responding samples are weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a politically representative reporting sample for each country. The profile is normally derived from census data or, if not available from the census, from industry accepted data. The total sample size for this survey was 6,796 adults. The figures have been weighted for each individual country and are representative of all adults (aged 18+) respectively.