Defense of NATO’s eastern flank a priority, surveys show

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NATO leaders meeting in Madrid last week announced an influx of troops to defend the alliance’s eastern borders and endorsed the new alliance Strategic design. As our new public opinion data shows, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a convergence of views among NATO’s most powerful members.

In the strategic concept, the NATO allies describe Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to the security of the Allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”. Polls now show that people in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US have become more willing to push back against Russia.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point

Our Munich Safety Index analyzes public perceptions of risks in G-7 countriesas well as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa BRICS — through surveys conducted by Kekst CNC, a global communications company. Participants from the adult population are selected from online research panels using a stratified random design aimed at producing a representative sample of age, gender and region. Previous editions of the index were based on two waves in March and November 2021, respectively.

Things to watch at this week’s NATO summit

In the lead up to this year’s G-7 and NATO summits, we’ve conducted a new wave of surveys just in G-7 countries to find out how public perceptions of risk have changed since then. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This effort was partly funded by the Press and Information Office of the German government. May resultswith approximately 1,000 participants in each G-7 country, indicate that between 60 and 70% of respondents agree with the statement that “the invasion of Ukraine represents a turning point in world politics” – a “Zeitenwende” or decisive moment.

Absolute majorities in all the countries surveyed also say that “we are entering a new cold war with Russia”. These results are in line with other polls, including one suggesting that “Europe break with russia is irreversible, at least in the short and medium term”, and another which corresponded record unfavorable views of Russia.

G-7 citizens are ready to push back against Russia

Compared to a November 2021 version of the index, respondents have become much more willing to see their country oppose Russia, both economically and militarily, as shown in the figure below. Previous differences in how continental Europeans and English-speaking G-7 members preferred to approach Russia have all but disappeared. In fact, respondents in Italy, the most reluctant to stand up to Russia in November 2021, are more hawkish now than British respondents – the most hawkish in that month’s survey – were then. .

Respondents are also willing to provide military support. NATO countries provided Ukraine with arms, intelligence and non-military support to fight the invasion. Besides Italy, an outlier in other surveys as well, more respondents say their country should do more to support Ukraine with weapons. However, people in Canada, the UK and the US are much more supportive of doing more than those in mainland Europe.

Is there a difference between “defensive” and “offensive” weapons?

The citizens of the G-7 seem less concerned about escalation than their leaders. Some officials fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the supply of advanced systems as a reason to attack NATO countries, and therefore continue to argue over what kind of weapons NATO members should send in Kyiv.

On the other hand, relative majorities in Italy (38%), Germany (44%), France (48%) and the United Kingdom (50%), as well as absolute majorities in Canada (51%) and the United States States (53%). ) agree with the statement that “NATO members should push back harder against Russia even if the risk of military escalation between NATO and Russia increases”. The only countries where more than a quarter of respondents disagree are Italy (27%) and Germany (26%).

Respondents also appear ready to consider a major overhaul of NATO’s eastern flank, one of the key issues discussed at the summit. While a considerable part of the public opinion of NATO members surveyed remains undecided (from 31% in Germany to 41% in Canada and Italy), pluralities in Canada (43%), France and the United United (46 percent each), Germany (48 percent) and the United States (49 percent) say their countries “should massively increase their military presence on NATO’s eastern border.”

In the absence of clear public opposition, politicians in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States can thus rely on general support for a major change in NATO’s strategic position. . These are the four countries that lead the multinational battalions stationed as NATO’s forward presence in Poland and the three Baltic countries.

NATO leaders again reaffirmed the alliance’s 2008 general decision that “Ukraine will become a member of NATO” – without offering a timetable. For now, Ukraine’s membership in NATO is not a realistic option due to the ongoing conflict with Russia and fears of escalation.

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But supporters outnumber opponents in G-7 countries when it comes to whether Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO, we found. The net scores (those who support Ukraine’s candidacy minus those who oppose it) that we have counted are generally slightly lower than the questions on EU accession for Ukraine, but continental Europeans and other NATO members have differing opinions. We found lower net scores on the question of Ukraine’s NATO membership in Italy (+14), Germany (+16) and France (+28), compared to scores in the United States. United (+44), UK (+44) and Canada. (+58).

At the summit, NATO leaders decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members. The net scores in every NATO country we polled on whether Finland and Sweden should join the alliance indicate a high level of support – from Italy (+44) to Canada (+65).

Overall, respondents appear willing to support moves beyond the policy framework that has long guided the Western approach to Russia. These survey results suggest that people think we are in a long confrontation with Russia and are increasingly willing to oppose Russia economically and militarily. Respondents also seem open to expanding NATO membership to include more countries bordering Russia. At least for public opinion, it is indeed a “Zeitenwende”.

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Tobias Bunde (@TobiasBunde) is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hertie School’s Center for International Security (@Hertie_Security) and Director of Research and Policy at the Munich Security Conference (@MunSecConf). He is co-author, with Sophie Eisentraut, of a new Munich Security Brief, “Zeitenwende for the G7which examines the results of the latest edition of the Munich Security Index, in the context of Germany’s current G-7 Presidency.

Tom Lubbock (@tmlbk) is a public opinion specialist at Kekst CNC and co-founder of JL Partners, after working as a political scientist at the University of Oxford.


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