allies, burden sharing, defense spending, foreign policy, NATO, North Atlantic treaty Organization, nuclear war, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Pew Research Center, polls, Russia, Trump, vital interests
There’s not much doubt that the main purpose of this recent Pew Research Center poll was to show the unpopularity in America of President Trump’s skeptical views of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Published just before this past week’s summit of the U.S. defense alliance with many European countries, the survey finds that “Today, roughly six-in-ten Americans hold a favorable opinion of the security alliance….”
So that seems to be quite the rebuke to a president who has faulted NATO as “obsolete,” accused many members of being defense free-riders, and during the meeting declined to promise unconditionally that the United States would help militarily any alliance member that came under armed attack.
Actually, the survey once again shows that polls on foreign policy issues tend to be among the most incompetently and misleadingly crafted polls of all. I say this because the Pew researchers failed to raise in any of their questions any of the most important issues Americans need to think about as they assess the value of NATO. Maybe the best way to make the point is to present question possibilities that would make these issues clear.
First: Would you favor the United States militarily defending a NATO ally if embroiled in an armed conflict with Russia if this aid might result in a Russian nuclear attack on the United States?
Second, Would you favor the United States militarily defending a NATO ally if embroiled in an armed conflict with Russia, and running that risk of nuclear war, if the ally in question had never been considered by any U.S. president going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt to be a vital or even significant security interest of the United States?
Third, Would you favor the United States militarily defending a NATO ally if embroiled in an armed conflict with Russia, and running that risk of nuclear war, if the nuclear war risk existed largely because NATO’s European members collectively refuse to pay for militaries that could repel the Russians on their own?
In other words, a poll that measured Americans’ true beliefs about and support for NATO would be one that reminded them that, as with most of what’s important about life, different positions and decisions have important potential downsides as well as important potential upsides. And until pollsters begin informing Americans about the real choices they face on important questions of both domestic and foreign policy, it will be painfully obvious that theirs is yet another portion of the chattering classes in desperate need of some adult thinking.