April 17, 2002

Americans and Europeans Differ Widely on Foreign Policy Issues

Bush's Ratings Improve But He's Still Seen as Unilateralist

Introduction and Summary

A multinational survey conducted in association with the International Herald Tribune and Council on Foreign Relations

Europeans have a better opinion of President George W. Bush than they did before the Sept. 11 attacks, but they remain highly critical of the president, most of his policies, and what they see as his unilateral approach to international affairs. There also is a wide gap between the United States and Europe over the conflict in the Middle East, although recent U.S. efforts to forge a settlement there win broad European support.

Americans, who are generally sympathetic to the Israelis, approve of the overall U.S. approach toward the Middle East. In contrast, people in three of four major western European nations — France, Germany and Italy — have been mostly critical of U.S. policies in the region, with the British public split on this question. Many more Europeans than Americans express sympathy for the Palestinians, and this is especially the case among well-educated Europeans.

There are gaps of opinion over other U.S. policies as well. The president’s decision to impose tariffs on imports of foreign steel is condemned in Europe, but generally favored in the United States, at least by Americans who have an opinion on this issue. On the other hand, Europeans express overwhelming support for the president’s decision to increase American aid to poor countries, while a much more modest majority of Americans (52%) approve of this action. But in light of the U.S. public’s traditional opposition to foreign aid, it is noteworthy that a majority would support any aid increase.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan enjoys strong approval among the publics of the four countries, and most believe that the United States is not overreacting to the threat of terrorism. Even so, large majorities in each country think the U.S. is not taking allied interests into account in conducting the war, and Bush’s “axis of evil” rhetoric elicited a strongly negative reaction in France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain.

The survey of 4,042 people in the four countries (along with 1,362 Americans), conducted April 2-10 by the Pew Research Center in association with the International Herald Tribune and the Council on Foreign Relations, finds major transatlantic differences over possible military action to end Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq. In the United States, 69% favor military action, compared with 46% in Great Britain and France and even fewer (34%) in Germany and Italy. However, the survey does show European publics potentially responsive to the idea of using force against Iraq if it is established that Baghdad is developing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Evidence of Iraqi involvement in the Sept.11 attacks also would be very important to a majority in Great Britain, but fewer in France, Germany, or Italy.

The survey revealed considerable European support for taking a more independent course in security and diplomatic affairs. Majorities in France, Germany and Italy think western Europe’s partnership with the United States should not be as close as it has been in the past. People in Great Britain are divided on the question. European support for a more independent approach is not especially linked to negative reactions to recent U.S. policies, such as the steel tariffs. Rather, it is more associated with general criticism of President Bush, the feeling that the United States has ignored allied interests in conducting the war on terrorism, and general disapproval of U.S. policies in the Middle East.