The German Marshall Fund announced the results of its annual Transatlantic Trends survey this week, to coincide with the 2014 NATO summit in Wales. The survey results revealed continued support for NATO’s core mission among European and American respondents alike. A majority of those polled believes that NATO is key to securing the territorial integrity of Europe. As for out-of-area deployments, respondents were not so sure.
While the full text is embargoed until September 10, the topline results were made available. The survey was conducted throughout the month of June with some 1,000 respondents in each country, the focus being on 10 NATO members within the European Union, with Turkey as a separate category (though pretty much in line with the European results).
As NATO leaders discuss front-burner issues like Russian aggression toward Ukraine and the threat from the ISIS terrorist group, the survey reveals that a return to NATO’s core mission to protect the Northern Atlantic space and the borders of its members has clear support. European respondents supported this return to NATO’s core mission by 73 percent; Americans supported it by 59 percent. After a decade of uncertainty about NATO’s role, it is back to basics.
Less enthusiasm is found for out-of-area missions, of which there has been a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans support out-of-area missions by a plurality of 49 percent (42 percent oppose them, the rest are not sure), while a majority of Europeans, 51 percent, do not. As for arming countries under threat, such as Ukraine, Americans are in favor by 53 percent, but Europeans are opposed by 52 percent.
Support remains solid, however, for less-controversial non-military support for Afghanistan and Ukraine. Among Europeans, 57 percent are in favor of stabilizing Afghanistan, and 53 percent of Americans are as well. As for EU economic support for Ukraine (even in the face of Russian opposition), 73 percent of Europeans approve, as do 55 percent of Americans.
Protecting the territorial integrity of its members is NATO’s core mission, however, which cannot be done absent investment in conventional military capabilities. As Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom write:
Although it is completely inconceivable to those in Western Europe, there are those in NATO’s east that face legitimate security concerns from Russia. For those NATO members that lived under the iron fist of the Warsaw Pact or in fact were outright absorbed into the Soviet Union after World War II, Russia’s bellicose behavior today is seen as an existential threat. Even though the Cold War is over, there is still plenty for NATO to do to defend against 21st-century threats in the North Atlantic region.
The renewed Russian aggression toward Ukraine has had the silver lining of waking up Europeans and Americans alike. Now it is up to their leaders to profit from public support for NATO and argue for investing in the organization as the pillar of stability, security, and continued transatlantic partnership.