Global Issues >> Globalization


International Cooperation on Global Problems

To address global problems, a very strong majority supports increased international cooperation. Support is strong for international institutions dealing with global problems like terrorism, the environment, and human rights issues. Only a small minority prefers to see the US tackle these problems on its own.

Within the Washington policymaking community there is a widespread assumption that the American public is very wary of international cooperation and of the international institutions that were built for that purpose, such as the United Nations (see Steven Kull and I.M. Destler's Misreading the Public: The Myth of a New Isolationism). However, many poll findings show that this is not the case.

On the contrary, a very strong majority supports international cooperation to address global problems. For example strong majorities favor the US working through the UN. In February 2000, for example, a Belden, Russonello & Stewart poll posed the following question:

As I read two statements, by Jones and Smith, please tell me if Jones or Smith comes closer to your way of thinking, even if it isn't exactly how you think.... Do you agree more with Jones who says global problems make it necessary for the US (United States) to work closely with other countries through institutions such as the UN (United Nations), or with Smith who says US interests are better served when we act on our own, rather than through institutions like the UN where our interests are often compromised?

In response, nearly two-thirds (65%) agreed with Jones, who favored more international cooperation. Thirty percent agreed strongly. Only 33% agreed with Smith. [1]

Similarly, in PIPA's October 1999 survey on globalization, an overwhelming 78% agreed with the following:

Because the world is so interconnected today, the US should participate in efforts to maintain peace, protect human rights, and promote economic development. Such efforts serve US interests because they help to create a more stable world that is less apt to have wars and is better for the growth of trade and other US goals.

Only 39% agreed (58% disagreed) with the argument against such efforts:

It is nice to think that joining in international efforts makes a more stable world. But in fact, the world is so big and complex that such efforts only make a minimal difference with little benefit to the US. Therefore, it is not really in the US interest to participate in them. [2]

Strong majorities believe it is necessary to create more international agreements to solve a variety of problems, such as terrorism, environmental degradation, inadequate labor standards and human rights violations. Only small minorities prefer the US acting on its own. Again, Belden, Russonello & Stewart posed a "Smith vs. Jones" question that demonstrates this support:

As I read two statements, by Jones and Smith, please tell me if Jones or Smith comes closer to your way of thinking, even if it isn't exactly how you think. Do you agree more with Jones who says it is becoming necessary to have more international standards and agreements among many nations on labor, human rights, and the environment; or, with Smith who says individual countries should decide their own standards on labor, human rights and the environment without international agreements?

Sixty-three percent favored the idea of establishing more international standards and agreements, while 33% favored the idea that individual countries should decide these matters on their own. [3]

PIPA survey results reinforce this view. Presented two statements in a January 2004 poll, 64% agreed with the one that read:

As the world becomes more interconnected, and problems such as terrorism and the environment are of a more international nature, it will be increasingly necessary for the US to work through international institutions.

Only 30% agreed with this opposing argument:

International institutions are slow and bureaucratic, and often used as places for other countries to criticize and block the US. It is better for the US to try and solve problems like terrorism and the environment on our own instead.

When this question was asked in October 1999, it yielded similar results, with 56% choosing the argument in favor of working with international institutions and 39% preferring to see the US solve problems on its own. [4]

Support for Working Through International Institutions Graph

Other sections of this report, and of Americans and the World, deal at length with several specific areas in which the public prefers to act in concert with other nations. For example, polls have found very strong majorities prefer to see more international agreements on the environment (see "International Environmental Agreements"); more multilateral efforts to fighting terrorism (see the Terrorism report, Support for Multilateral Approaches); and a multilateral approach to American use of force (see the United Nations report, Using Military Force Through the UN).

In some cases, such as when genocide is occurring, a majority favors having the international community intervene in states' domestic affairs, thus rejecting the inviolability of national sovereignty (see "Intervention in the Internal Affairs of States"). In questions about America’s global role, the public expresses a desire for the US to play an important but not dominant role in world affairs, working with other countries and international institutions in a cooperative effort to address international problems (See US Role in the World).

In addition, there is substantial support for strengthening international institutions, especially the United Nations (see the United Nations report, Strengthening the UN). Some polls on trade bodies like the WTO and NAFTA, and on including environmental and labor protections in trade agreements, are already included in the report on International Trade.