International Security and Military Alliances
A central pillar of the world order the US established in the period after World War II was the principle of collective security which says that nations will contribute to collective military operations and/or using economic sanctions in response to international aggression. This principle was also the basis for the US establishing military alliances and mutual defense treaties with other countries or groups of countries. This principle has become more controversial recently as some have questioned whether the US should sustain such commitments.
As NATO celebrated its 70th anniversary, there was a debate about whether NATO is obsolete. Also, the fact that NATO members are not meeting the agreed-upon requirement of spending 2% of GDP for defense has prompted calls for the US to threaten to pull out of NATO if members do not increase their defense spending.
Also subject to debate are US treaties with Asian countries. Since 1953 the US has had a mutual defense treaty with South Korea and has 24,000 US troops based in South Korea in support of its commitment. Since 1960, the US has had a treaty with Japan that says that the two countries pledge to join forces and act together if there is an armed attack against Japan or against the 39,000 US forces based there.
- National Sample: 2,416
- Margin of Error: +/- 2.0%
- Fielded: January 16 - February 11, 2019
- Questionnaire With Frequencies
- Report (NATO)
Proposals with bipartisan support discussed below:
- Making it a high priority in US foreign policy to uphold the principle of collective security
- Continuing to be a member of NATO
- Threatening to withdraw from NATO if European members do not increase defense spending
- Continuing to have a mutual defense treaty with South Korea
- Continuing to have 24,000 US troops in South Korea
- Continuing to have a mutual security treaty with Japan
- Continuing to have 39,000 US troops in Japan
There were no proposals that failed to receive bipartisan support.
UPHOLDING THE PRINCIPLE OF COLLECTIVE SECURITY
Respondents were first introduced to the idea of collective security with this short introduction:
All nations face the risk of being attacked or invaded by another nation. The key trigger for World War II was that Germany and Japan invaded neighboring countries.
After the war, the major countries in the world agreed in the United Nations Charter that the use of military force against another country is a violation of international law, unless it is in self-defense, collective defense, or is approved by the UN Security Council.
But, because there is no international police force to enforce the law, they also agreed that when a country comes under attack, other countries should join together to defend the country being attacked, not only through military force, but also through economic sanctions. This is the principle of “collective security.”
The idea is that leaders who might have the desire to conquer neighboring countries, will be deterred or dissuaded if they believe that other countries will join together to come to the defense of the country. Some countries have collective defense agreements in which they promise to come to each other’s aid if attacked. We’ll look at those types of alliance arrangements shortly.
They were then informed about the UN Charter and the role of the UN Security Council and evaluated two pairs of arguments for and against making collective security a high priority in US foreign policy.
The arguments in favor did substantially better, overall and among both parties. The pro arguments were found convincing by large bipartisan majorities of over eight in ten. The con arguments did quite poorly, especially among Democrats, but were found convincing by a majority of Republicans. Overall, less than half found the con arguments convincing.
Very large bipartisan majorities have stated for several decades that defending our allies should be an important US foreign policy goal:
MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATIES
There has been a debate over whether the US should continue to be part of the mutual defense treaty of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), including maintaining its commitments to defend any members that are attacked.
Respondents were first provided a briefing on the NATO mutual defense treaty which covered its history and membership. Most centrally, they were told:
The NATO charter includes a key section, called Article 5, which says that NATO members regard an attack on any member as an attack on all and that all members will defend any member that is attacked.
They were also told:
While a key focus is the potential for an attack by Russia, NATO has addressed other issues as well. Right now, there are several NATO countries participating in the operation in Afghanistan, in addition to the U.S.
They received a description of the working relationship between the NATO militaries and told:
The U.S. keeps about 65,000 troops stationed in Europe to help defend Europe if necessary and to send a signal of its commitment to help defend Europe. The European members have 1.7 million troops stationed in Europe.
Finally they were told, “Currently, there is some debate about whether the U.S. should continue to be part of NATO.”
They then evaluated two pairs of arguments in favor of and against continuing to be part of NATO. The arguments in favor did substantially better than those against, overall and among partisans. Only one argument against was found convincing by a majority of Republicans -- a bare majority -- while neither was found convincing by a majority of Democrats.
Related Standard Polls
A bipartisan majority has supported the general principle that the US should use military force to defend allies:
When the military commitments of NATO membership have been specified, a bipartisan majority has favored the US making such a commitment, but the majority is smaller, and a large share has not provided an answer. But few oppose the commitment.
With no background information, and offered a non-committal option, support for maintaining US membership in NATO has dropped to a plurality, with a large share taking a non-committal position:
There is a debate over whether the US should reaffirm its commitment to defend its NATO allies, as stipulated in Article 5 of the NATO treaty, in light of statements made by President Trump that have been interpreted as calling this commitment into question in response to NATO allies’ relatively lower defense spending levels.
Respondents were presented the following briefing material as part of an in-person deliberative poll by Stanford University’s Center for Deliberative Democracy in September 2019:
During and after the Cold War, the US led its partners through alliances and free trade agreements that focused on strategic areas of the globe. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance of the US, Canada, and over twenty European countries, requires members to defend any member attacked by an outside power. Originally, it was part of the US strategy for protecting Western Europe from invasion by the Soviet Union.
After the Cold War, NATO expanded to several former Soviet satellites bordering Russia thus antagonizing that country. At the same time, many Western European members significantly reduced their defense spending. In 2014, NATO members all committed to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024, a goal first set in 2002.
They were then presented a proposal, and arguments for and against it:
Proposal: The US should reaffirm its commitment to defend any NATO ally attacked by a hostile force.
Argument in Favor: President Trump has repeatedly called this commitment in question, demoralizing our allies and increasing the chances of Russian military intervention. Our European allies have never in fact called upon the US to repel attacks. Only the US has used NATO this way, in response to 9/11. NATO members honored our call for war against Afghanistan.
Argument Against: The NATO commitment increases the chances of war with Russia. President Trump should require large increases in European defense spending before reaffirming our commitment.
After reading the briefing material, respondents deliberated with each other in-person before making their final recommendation. On a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “in the middle”, a large bipartisan majority of 83% favored the US reaffirming its commitment to NATO (6-10), including 77% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats.
For many years there has been concern about the fact that the NATO allies spend a significantly lower portion of their budgets on defense than the US does. There is a debate about whether the US should threaten to withdraw from NATO if European members do not increase their defense spending.
Respondents were introduced to the dispute between the US and European NATO members over defense spending levels:
For some years now there has been a dispute between the U.S. and other members of NATO about their level of defense spending. The U.S. has complained that it spends about 4-5% of the U.S. economy on its military, while European nations generally spend about 2% or less, some as low as 1%. Europeans point out that the amount that the U.S. spends is not only in Europe but also in Asia and in the U.S. homeland, and that Europe already spends twice as much as Russia, which is NATO’s primary focus.
Nonetheless, in 2014, the European NATO partners agreed to set a goal to increase their defense spending to at least 2% of their budget. There have been some increases, but only 4 of the 26 European countries have met this goal, though several more are expected to reach this level within the year. One of the largest countries, Germany, is unlikely to reach it at any point in the near future.
They were then told that there is some debate about what the U.S. should do about this situation and were asked to evaluate three options with an argument in favor of each one. Three possible approaches were presented.
They were presented the first proposal and an argument in favor:
Press European countries to spend more on their military and say that if they do not the U.S. will disengage from Europe militarily and possibly withdraw from NATO
The argument did only moderately well with an overall majority of 56% finding it convincing. However, there was a sharp partisan divide: 76% of Republicans, but only 39% of Democrats found it convincing.
They were presented the second proposal and an argument in favor:
Press European countries to spend more on their military, but NOT threaten to disengage from Europe or withdraw from NATO.
The argument did far better than the first argument. Overall 80% found it convincing as did 87% of Democrats. Among Republicans, 72% found it convincing— roughly the same as the 76% who found the argument for the first proposal convincing— suggesting substantial ambivalence.
Remain part of NATO but reduce U.S. military investments in Europe to bring them more in line with the level that the Europeans make.
The argument also did quite well with 74% finding it convincing. Among Republicans (77%) it did the best of all arguments, with 72% of Democrats concurring.
There has been a concern over whether US military presence in South Korea is still beneficial to the US and the rest of the world. Respondents were briefly informed about the mutual defense treaty between the US and South Korea, and US military presence in South Korea:
Arguments for and against keeping this treaty were then evaluated. The argument in favor did substantially better, overall and among both parties, than the argument against, which was not found convincing by any majority.
Finally, asked for their final recommendation, 87% favored keeping the treaty, with no partisan differences.
Respondents then evaluated arguments for and against the US continuing to have 24,000 troops based in South Korea.
The argument in favor did overwhelmingly better. The pro argument was found convincing by nine in ten, overall and among both parties. The con argument was found convincing by just four in ten, overall and among both parties.
Asked about the number of US troops in South Korea, clear majorities have found the number acceptable.
Majorities would favor partial withdrawal of US troops from South Korea if North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal, but not complete withdrawal:
There has been a debate over whether the mutual security treaty between the US and South Korea, created after World War II, is still beneficial for the US.
Respondents were briefly informed about the mutual security treaty, and US military presence in Japan:
As you may know, the United States has had a mutual security treaty with Japan since 1960. According to this treaty, the two countries pledge to join forces and act together if there is an armed attack against Japan or against U.S. forces based there.
The U.S. keeps 39,000 troops stationed in Japan. These troops are to help defend Japan, if necessary, and to send a signal of America’s commitment to them. The U.S. regularly does military exercises with Japanese forces to ensure that they will be able to work together effectively if it is necessary to defend them. These troops are also used for other purposes in Asia.
Japan covers 75 percent of the cost of basing U.S. troops there. Currently, there is some debate about whether the U.S. should continue to have this mutual security treaty with Japan.
Arguments for and against keeping this treaty were then evaluated. The arguments in favor did substantially better, overall and among both parties (88% for all), than the argument against, which was not found convincing by any majority (44%, Republicans 44%, Democrats 41%).
A majority has opposed the use of US troops to defend Japan if they enter a conflict with China over disputed islands, with opposition decreasing since 2015:
Respondents then evaluated arguments for and against the US continuing to have 39,000 troops based in Japan.
The argument in favor did overwhelmingly better. The pro argument was found convincing by around 87%, including 88% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats. The con argument was found convincing by just four in ten, overall and among both parties.
Asked about the number of 39,000 US troops in Japan, a majority has found the number acceptable.