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Frontmatter

The Transatlantic Order, Public Opinion and the Use of Military Force

Frontmatter

1. Introduction

This book lies at the intersection of two strands of research that only tangentially have crossed one another so far: the study of transatlantic relationships, their nature, sources and consequences on the one hand and the study of public support for the use of force in foreign policy on the other.1 These two strands of research are more closely related than is usually assumed, and we claim in this book that it is impossible to understand the one without considering the other. In this chapter, we briefly present our argument about why these two issues — the state and nature of transatlantic relations and attitudes toward the use of force — stay together — and why the perspective we adopt to study them — that of public opinion — matters. By combining these two issues, we intend to contribute to two important theoretical and political debates.

2. Theoretical Issues and Empirical Problems

Ever since public opinion became a powerful force in politics (and, probably, even before that), a vexing question for scholars as well as policymakers has been to determine and interpret to what degree and under what conditions the public is prepared to support the use of military force.

Beliefs, Situations and Time in War

Frontmatter

3. Partners Apart? The Foreign Policy Attitudes of the American and European Publics

The history of transatlantic relations makes abundantly clear that Europeans and Americans, while sharing many interests, values and views, have often also had divergent ideas on specific policies. While this is hardly disputed, several scholars and commentators further claim that, with developments such as the end of the Cold War and the growing unilateralism of American foreign policy, combined with the increasing economic assertiveness of the European Union, the nature of transatlantic relations has now fundamentally changed and that Europeans and Americans no longer share the same view of the world, whatever may have been the historical situation. This is neither the first time the death bell has been rung for the Atlantic community1 nor the only case in which assessments of the transatlantic relations run widely apart. For some observers, the ‘history of American-European relations after World War II appears to present itself as an endless series of conflicts’ (Lundestad, 2003: 3), but others take a different perspective and see the North Atlantic Area as a stable ‘zone of peace. … that sets it apart from other regions of the world and political orders of past eras’ (Ikenberry, 2008: 6–7).

4. The Nature and Structure of the Transatlantic Divide

It is perhaps inevitable that proponents of each of the various views on the causes and nature of the alleged transatlantic divide will look for — and sometimes find — arguments and data from public opinion research results that tend to confirm their own differing hypotheses. At the same time, the core issue of where and why American and European publics differ on questions of war and peace and the use of military force in particular — as has been shown in Chapter Three — has not yet been adequately addressed. Continuing the analysis, we now want to supplement more conventional presentations of results of surveys on this issue by digging a bit deeper into the nature and structure of the transatlantic divide by looking primarily at general attitudes, or the level of political ideology, and then systematically comparing the relative explanatory power of these different dimensions of the Atlantic community in accounting for support for the use of force in hypothetical and real situations.

5. Time and War: Public Opinion on Kosovo, Terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq in a Transatlantic Perspective

Measuring support for or opposition to the international use of force is not an easy matter. As earlier research (e.g., Mueller, 1973; Larson, 1996a; Everts and Isernia 2001; Feaver and Gelpi, 2004) has shown, people are particularly sensitive to the circumstances under and purposes for which the use of force is either envisaged or actually taking place. Hypothetical cases as well as questions about the use of force before the decision to use this instrument has actually been taken may be especially misleading us with respect to what can be expected in a concrete and specific historical case. Timing is also a relevant element in view of the ‘rally around the flag’ effect, or the tendency of people to support the use of military force, despite hesitations, once their government has taken a decision to do so. This is a well-known phenomenon that deserves to be mentioned in this connection (Mueller, 1973).

6. Support for the Use of Force: Situational and Contextual Factors

Measuring support for, or opposition to, the international use of force is not an easy matter. As earlier research (Mueller, 1973; Larson, 1996a; Everts and Isernia 2001; Feaver and Gelpi, 2004) has shown, people are particularly sensitive to the circumstances under, and purposes for, which the use of force is either envisaged or actually taking place. Hypothetical cases as well as questions about the use of force before the decision to use this instrument has actually been taken may be especially misleading with respect to what can be expected in concrete and specific historical cases. Timing is also a relevant element in view of the ‘rally around the flag’ effect, or the tendency of people to support the use of military force, despite hesitations, once their government has taken a decision to do so (Mueller 1973; Brody, 1991; 2000).

The Future of the Transatlantic Relationship

Frontmatter

7. Conclusions: An Agenda for Future Crises

To understand the present state of public opinion in an Atlantic context, it is necessary to take a more long-term historical perspective. The interest in the role of public opinion in foreign policy has grown steadily since the end of World War II. In Chapter 1 we began our analysis by offering an overview of the interaction between the research program on this topic and the political events that prompted this growing interest over the years.

Backmatter

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