October 7, 1997

Public and Opinion Leaders Favor NATO Enlargement

As Senate Begins Consideration

Introduction and Summary

Majorities of the American public as well as the nation’s Opinion Leaders approve the expansion of NATO into Central Europe, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press released today (Tuesday 4 p.m.) as the Senate begins hearings on Alliance enlargement.

These results come from a comprehensive study, conducted initially four years ago and repeated now, of what the public and leadership groups believe are the dangers and opportunities for America’s foreign policy in the post-Cold War world. The survey report will be released in its entirety on Thursday (4 p.m.) as America’s Place in the World, Part II.

Public approval of the expansion was more than three to one in favor (63% for, 18% opposed) in the poll of 2,000 adult Americans, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 2%.

A separate and more in-depth poll of nearly 600 Opinion Leaders in ten groups — including foreign affairs and security specialists, scholars, scientists, religious leaders, governors and mayors, top business executives, Congressional staffers who specialize in international matters, labor union leaders and senior media figures — found majority support for enlarging NATO among every group. Most enthusiastic for expansion are Union, Business and Religious leaders. Least welcoming (although still a majority) are the Foreign Affairs and Security groups, whose members are ostensibly the most knowledgeable about diplomatic and defense issues.

There appears to be little change in the level of support among these Opinion Leaders when the potential price tag of $200 million a year was cited, although this specific question was asked only of three groups: Foreign Affairs, Security, and the Media.

A significantly lower level of support was found among these Influential groups for a second round of NATO expansion in which more former Soviet bloc nations would eventually join the Alliance. Nonetheless, majorities in every group except one still favored the additional enlargement, and the exception, Foreign Affairs, gave it plurality approval. The Security group and Congressional aides were next most dubious about a second round.

The Leadership groups were also asked about expanding the role of NATO beyond Europe. Seven of the ten groups approve using Alliance (including American) forces to defend Western interests outside the continent such as in the Persian Gulf, with majorities of Religious leaders and particularly Business leaders opposed. All groups by huge majorities endorse using NATO forces to provide peacekeeeping in countries that border on NATO nations such as Bosnia. Lesser but still substantial majorities approve the use of NATO forces for peacekeeping in case of conflict between NATO member nations.

More than half of all Americans (53%) have a favorable view of NATO, but the overwhelming approval of its expansion plans was surprising in view of the scant knowledge among the public about which countries have been invited to join. Specifically, only 10% of the public was able to identify even one of the potential new members. Those who have some information about international affairs (based on respondents who answered correctly at least one of three knowledge questions1) more often approve of expanding NATO than those who have no such information (74% vs. 50% approval).

  1. The name of the president of Russia, the Canadian province threatening to secede, and at least one of the potential new NATO members.