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Survey Says
EU Free-Rides on NATO, Russia’s Heart Belongs to Vladdy

A major new Pew survey being released today must be music to Vladimir Putin’s ears, putting into stark relief the extent to which many Europeans happily free-ride off of American defense guarantees.

A majority of Germans (58 percent), French (53 percent) and Italians (51 percent) say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia, the survey found. At the same time, the survey found that 68 percent of Europeans were confident that the United States would come to their aid should the need arise. (Canada, at 53 percent, and the United States, at 56, were the only countries where more than half of the respondents favored coming to the aid of allies.) The New York Times has more:

The survey is likely to send an unsettling message to Baltic members of the alliance, which have been looking for more assurances from NATO that it will protect them from Russian meddling.

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have been worried that they may become targets of some of the “hybrid war” tactics that Russia has used to try to mask its operations in eastern Ukraine. They include the use of specially trained troops without identifying patches whose operations are denied by Moscow.

“Our data shows that Germans, French and Italians have little inclination to come to a NATO ally’s defense,” said Bruce Stokes, the director for global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center, “and if the next military conflict in the region is hybrid warfare, and there is some debate who these Russian-speaking fighters are, such attitudes will only further inhibit NATO’s response.”

Additionally, the survey found that Germany, Spain, and Italy were deeply skeptical of sending arms to Ukraine (with less than 25 percent supporting it). German opinion in particular stood out as least suspicious of Russia’s actions, with only 38 percent thinking Russia was a danger to neighboring countries (apart from Ukraine), and only 29 percent blaming Russia for the violence in Ukraine.

Finally, the survey ought to put to rest any speculation that extant public polls of the Russian population are somehow being manipulated by the Kremlin. In more good news for Putin, Pew found the Russian President to have widespread support in Russia, with his approval ratings dipping into the 60s only on the issue of fighting corruption. 88 percent of Russians said they had confidence in Putin to “do the right thing on international affairs.”

There’s a lot to digest here, and it’s worth thumbing through the full report. As TAI board member Tyler Cowen writes on his blog, “It is also worth thinking about how this entire state of affairs has come to pass.”

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  • Pete

    Now boys & girls, you can see why I’ve been saying all along that the U.S. should dump these freeloaders and get out of NATO.

    What American can rationally argue otherwise?

  • WhatDifferenceDidSheMake?

    What is the aggregate value of the all the free-riding done by NATO member states for, let’s say, the last 30 years? I.e. calculate the % of GDP that was not paid according to each member’s obligation, and what is the number?

    And why isn’t Germany being required to re-arm? WWII ended 70 years ago … Their institutional ability to wage war has been well purged …

  • Andrew Allison

    The US should announce a 5-year withdrawal plan for its forces in Europe.

    • Fat_Man

      Why 5 years? Do it now.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Not an option with The One(tm) in office, but certainly it should be high on the to-do list for President Walker. I suggest a careful perusal of the shutdown of NATO bases in France following DeGaulle’s semi-withdrawal in the late 60s would be a good place to begin.

      • Andrew Allison

        They need to be given time to put up their own umbrella if they wish to. The only thing that will get their attention is implementation of a phased withdrawal.

    • Dan Greene

      Would that be part of a total withdrawal of forces to CONUS?

      We use the 6th Fleet and its Naples base to support an array of non-European operations. Same with the airpower we have based in Europe.

      As for ground forces, at the end of the Cold War, we had 18 brigade or brigade-equivalent size ground maneuver units in Europe. Today we have two: the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Vilseck, Germany. There is just not that much more to withdraw.

      What exactly will a “withdrawal” do for us?

      If such a withdrawal is part of a renunciation of the ongoing attempt to perpetuate our unipolar global hegemonic role, then it at least has an internal logic, but if it is merely meant to “punish” the Europeans or coerce them into doing something, it ends up being an instance of cutting off our nose to spite our face. “F**k the EU” is NOT a policy.

      Ultimately, I think we are confusing symptoms with the problem itself. NATO is not the problem. Our terrible and self-destructive strategic decision-making is the problem in connection with Ukraine, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Severing our military links with Europe is not the solution to that problem.

      • Andrew Allison

        No. As noted below, the draw-down of US military presence in NATO does not imply withdrawal from the organization. In addition, the forward support for other missions can be handled by individual treaty.
        Draw-down would do two things for us: incentivize the other members to defend themselves rather than relying on the US and reduce our costs. It is you who is confusing symptoms and problems: the utter incompetence of US foreign policy has little, if anything, to do with the fact that most of the members of NATO are not pulling their weight.
        Finally, as our impotence in Ukraine and the Middle East has demonstrated, our unipolar global hegemonic role is a thing of the past.

        • Dan Greene

          “Draw-down would do two things for us: incentivize the other members to defend themselves rather than relying on the US and reduce our costs.”

          But given how much we have already drawn down, without the effect you are seeking, why do you believe incremental additional drawdowns would achieve your goal?

          Replacing the NATO agreement with a host of bilaterals would probably increase costs for us. Pulling assets back to the US would have SOME cost savings but would not be overwhelming and would be exceeded by increased deployment costs for aircraft and ships. That’s why I asked if you wanted to pull everything back to the US, since otherwise there’s not much logic to it.

          NATO countries may not be pulling their weight, but what is it that we want them to do that they are not doing now? Without the strategic incompetence demonstrated in this Ukraine episode, this whole discussion wouldn’t be taking place.

  • qet

    I have gone back and forth over the years on the question of whether the US ought to terminate its participation in NATO. Frankly I have always felt that when de Gaulle kicked NATO out of France, the US should have terminated it. Or maybe not. Hence the back and forth. The question for me today boils down to whether NATO is necessary for US force projection. Forgetting European free riders, the fact is that NATO is a complex military command-and-control, logistics, deployment system that could not be easily put back together once dismantled. I don’t know the extent to which the US Central Command relies on troops, supplies, aircraft etc. based on NATO facilities.

    • Andrew Allison

      There’s a difference (which Mr Greene ignores) between terminating our relationship with NATO (bad idea) and incentivizing the other members to pull their weight (necessary).

  • Fat_Man

    I am not surprised. I have repeatedly called for the dissolution of NATO.

  • Dan Greene

    >>”A majority of Germans (58 percent), French (53 percent) and Italians (51 percent) say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia, the survey found.”

    False. How about a little intellectual integrity, TAI? Here is the question that was actually posed from the linked report:

    “If Russia got into a serious military conflict with one of its neighboring countries that is our NATO ally, do you think our country should or should not use military force to defend that country?”

    Notice that the word “attack,” which TAI uses, is absent from the framing of the actual survey question. What the response, especially from the Germans, shows is that they are distrustful of Polish and Baltic state leadership and are worried that a “blank check,” which is what the question’s wording implies, should not be extended to leaders who might want to use it to try and lead NATO into war against Russia and “solve the Russia problem once and for all.”

    An alternative wording of the question would have been:

    “If Russia attacks or attempts to destabilize a NATO member state, should or should we not use military force to defend that country?”

    If that wording had been used, I think the responses would have been substantially different, especially from the Germans who would bear a lot of the burden of a NATO response. Don’t know why Pew thought it was a good idea to employ weasel words like “…got into a serious military conflict…”.

    So, what we know is that the Germans are not going to support some crazy Polish or Lithuanian attempt to engineer a crisis and then get Germany and the rest of NATO to come to the rescue.

    • Andrew Allison

      Sophistry. Given the fact that NATO is only required to defend a member which has been attacked the chances of a NATO member attacking Russia are precisely zero, i.e., a “serious military conflict” could only occur as a result of an attack on a NATO country by Russia!

      • Dan Greene

        Well, if a Russian attack is the only realistic scenario that would lead a war with NATO, then why didn’t Pew use the phrasing I suggested? What do you have against clear-cut language?

        The question was about the polling results, which is essentially a psychological question. Do you really believe that a majority of Germans would not agree to defend Poland (and essentially itself) if Russia attacked it? I don’t! But I DO believe they are leery about being drawn into conflict with Russia outside of that scenario regardless of whether you think their fears are well-founded or not. The conniving of Nuland and Co. as well as the unguarded babbling of our NATO commander has probably intensified those fears, the statutory requirements of the NATO Charter notwithstanding.

        The main issue here is not ultimately what I think or you think. It’s what the Germans are thinking as expressed by the vaguely worded poll question and then fallaciously interpreted by TAI.

        • Andrew Allison

          It was you who objected to the clear-cut language (attack) used by TAI and, IMO, the poll was not fallaciously interpreted.

          • Dan Greene

            Can’t agree. A poll asking about a Russian attack should use the word “attack.” TAI’s analysis should not have falsely implied that the actual question employed the word “attack” when in fact it did not.

          • Tom

            “Attack”=”serious military conflict.” I realize you think TAI is an organ of the neocons, the source of all evil in the world, but this is possibly your most ridiculous objection yet.

          • Dan Greene

            The only thing your comment shows, Tom, is your ignorance of military doctrine.

          • Tom

            (Rolls eyes) Sorry, Mac, but your ignorance of what people mean when they say things is showing. I can’t believe I’m having to explain this, but in the sense used in the article, “attack” means “serious military conflict”–not cyberwarfare, but ground and air assault.
            And, even if your deliberate misunderstanding corresponded to reality, that Western Europe is chill with hanging the Baltics out to dry is worrisome.

          • Dan Greene

            Don’t know why you roll your eyes. If you don’t want “ignorance,” then don’t start off the exchange with “ridiculous.”

            It’s true that serious military conflicts undoubtedly involve offensive operations (attacks) and defensive operations. “Conflict” and “attack” are not synonymous, however.

            The main point, though, is that in presenting a survey question to German and other civilians, the issue of how THEY are likely to interpret the question is key.

            As I told AA above, Germans are leery of a hostilities with Russia, and if you want to ask them what they would do if Russia attacked, then ask them that specifically. Otherwise, the aggregate response you get will be different–to one degree or another.

            That is polling 101.

          • Tom

            Who else could they be involved in a serious military conflict with?

          • Dan Greene

            Don’t understand your question. We’re agreed that the subject is Russia. Please retransmit.

          • Tom

            Excellent. We are in agreement, then, that Western Europe is willing to throw the Baltics under the bus in regards to Russia.

          • Dan Greene

            No, we’re not. What needs to happen to validate that view is the addition of a reworded question–the one I suggested above* or something to that effect–to the survey. The aggregate answer to that question will, in my view, confirm or deny your hypothesis–at least insofar as a survey can capture the reality of the issue.

            *”If Russia attacks or attempts to destabilize a NATO member state, should we or should we not use military force to defend that country?”

          • JR

            Are you trying to use logic while talking to Dan Greene? Good luck to you, Good Sir, you will need it!

  • Angel Martin

    Putin’s number one goal is to blow up NATO by driving a wedge between USA/UK/Can and the the western europeans.

    more good news for Putin, he is succeeding…

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