Poll finds Nato’s Europeans wary of Russia confrontation

Poll finds Nato’s Europeans wary of Russia confrontation
By Bridget Kendall
Diplomatic correspondent
10 June 2015

Public opinion in some European countries could be reluctant to support collective defence for fellow Nato members if they were to be attacked by Russia, according to a new international survey.
The report by the Pew Research Center — a non-partisan US think-tank based in Washington DC — surveyed attitudes in North America and across Europe as well as Ukraine and Russia to assess public attitudes towards the current Ukraine crisis.
This is by no means the first opinion poll on the current crisis in East-West relations. But it is a major survey of opinion which covers a range of countries.
Among Western allies, it includes Europe’s six largest Nato members (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK) as well as the United States and Canada.
While some of its findings are in keeping with other recent surveys, it also throws up what may be noteworthy trends.
Use of force
What is particularly striking is the reluctance among many of those surveyed in Europe to get drawn into a deeper military conflict with Russia — either in Ukraine, or elsewhere on European soil.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is in answer to the question: «If Russia got into a serious military conflict with one of its neighbouring countries which is a Nato ally, should our country use force to defend it?»
This relates to a core principle of Nato’s founding treaty of 1949, the «Article Five» which states that: «An armed attack on one… shall be considered an attack against them all».
This is the prime reason that small countries on Russia’s periphery, like the three tiny Baltic states, sought Nato membership.
The commitment to collective security was a guarantee they were anxious to secure, so that they would not find themselves on their own if their fears of possible Russian military interference were ever realised.
Yet according to this sample of public opinion in six of Nato’s biggest countries in Europe, support for actually implementing this collective security pledge is lukewarm to say the least.


On average in Europe, only 48% of those polled — less than half — backed the idea of their country using force to come to the aid of another Nato country attacked by Russia.
Among the countries surveyed Germany is the most reluctant: 58% of those polled said they did not think their country should use military force to defend a Nato ally against Russia.
France too was unenthusiastic — 53% of those polled were opposed.
Even in Britain — often seen as a staunch Nato member — less than 50% supported the idea of using force to help another member of the alliance under attack.
In contrast, more than half of those asked in the United States and Canada supported the use of force to defend allies: 56% in the United States, and 53% in Canada.
Who’s at fault?
Also noteworthy is the wide variance of views in Nato countries about whether or not it is Russia who should be blamed for the violence in eastern Ukraine.
According to the report, 57% of people in Poland said yes, but in Germany and Italy only 29% of respondents thought so. And in many countries nearly a quarter of those polled said they didn’t know.

Who is most to blame for the violence in eastern Ukraine?

separatists in Ukraine

Ukrainian government Russia Western countries Don’t know
US 15% 13% 42% 5% 22%
Canada 18% 5% 37% 7% 29%
France 30% 14% 44% 9% 2%
Germany 25% 9% 29% 12% 17%
Italy 22% 7% 29% 6% 23%
UK 17% 7% 40% 7% 24%
Spain 15% 9% 37% 8% 21%
Poland 15% 8% 57% 3% 8%

Although the survey suggested a strong consensus across most of Europe and North America that Ukraine should be given economic aid, many of those polled said they were opposed to supplying Ukraine with arms to use against Russia.
Only in Poland was there a majority in favour of giving Ukraine arms.
Even in the United States less than half of those asked supported sending military aid to Ukraine, while in Germany those opposed to sending arms to Kiev came to 77%.


It amounts to a mixed and even confusing picture, suggesting divergent views between Western allies, and within countries too.
In Germany only 19% of those in western regions were favourably disposed towards Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, compared to 40% further east. In the US, Republicans tended to be more hawkish than Democrats when it came to questions about using force.


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