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Military and Non-Military Means for Addressing Terrorism
When assessing various means for addressing the problem of terrorism, both before and after September 11, the public has shown at least as much support for non military means, --such as cutting off terrorists' funds, enhancing intelligence, strengthening international law, and building goodwill toward the US --as it does for military means. While it appears the public even believes non-military means will generally be more effective than military efforts in preventing future terror attacks, an overwhelming majority nonetheless feels that a failure to take any military action in response to the attacks will increase the chances of terrorist attacks in the future.

A November 1-4 PIPA poll asked whether respondents favored or opposed several "possible approaches for trying to reduce the problem of terrorism." More than 9 in 10 (91%) favored "using American military force against terrorist groups that were behind the September 11 attacks". However, nearly the same percentage (90%) favored "working through the UN to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members cooperate in enforcing them." Overwhelming majorities also favored other non-military measures, including "building goodwill toward the US by providing food and medical assistance to people in poor countries" (86%) and "building goodwill toward the US by helping poor countries develop their economies" (79%). Support for these measures was higher than for using "military force against groups in other countries that have committed international terrorist acts, but were NOT behind the September 11 attacks," which was favored by 77%. Only items relating to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute ranked lower, though strong majorities still endorsed them. Seventy-four percent favored "putting greater pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to reduce their level of conflict" and 63% supported "making a major effort to be seen as even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."[1a]

In a more limited context, the public has been asked to evaluate military and non-military means relative to US demands on Saudi Arabia in the war on terrorism. The highest-ranked area for "putting pressure on Saudi Arabia" was "to share more intelligence information to help identify terrorists and their sources of financial support" (83% "very important"; 10% "somewhat"). Intelligence was ranked well ahead of pressuring the Saudis "to give the US military more freedom to operate within Saudi territory" (64% "very important" 22% "somewhat") ( Newsweek, November 8-9).[1b]

Data from previous years show an even higher prioritization of nonmilitary means. For example, a poll conducted in 1998 by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations asked respondents whether they favored a series of "measures" "in order to combat international terrorism." As shown below, the measures based on international law and diplomacy did significantly better than those involving military force.[1c] Given that most probably perceive US military action in Afghanistan as justified self-defense, the increased readiness to embrace military solutions is not surprising.

Asked directly an overwhelming majority supports using non-military means. When asked in November 2001 whether "diplomatic and economic pressure" should be used alone, or together with military means, only 6% want to use non-military means alone while 89% favored using both(Gallup, November 2-4). While most feel that the US is putting enough emphasis on non-military means 35-36% say there has been "too little discussion of ways to stop terrorists other than using military force (Pew, October, November 2001).[1d]

The historical preference for non-military options is important for understanding a key finding in the PIPA poll: overwhelming support for going after those responsible for September 11, but a somewhat lower level of enthusiasm for pursuing other terrorists elsewhere.

Some recent polls have asked respondents to assess the effectiveness of various
means for addressing the problem of terrorism. In each case, the most favored military and non-military means garnered similar levels of support.

In an October 11-12 Newsweek poll, taken just after the beginning of the US air campaign in Afghanistan, both military and non-military means were seen as effective by strong majorities. "Cutting off sources of funding" was seen as the most effective method of fighting terrorism (94% effective, including 75% very effective). Three military options followed closely behind. Eighty-nine percent felt "this week's military action against targets in Afghanistan" would be effective, and 86% felt "possible future military action against targets in other countries linked to terrorism" would be effective. "Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden" was also thought to be effective in fighting terrorism. Measures that focused on producing change within Arab countries received the lowest support, though strong majorities still felt they would be effective. These were "putting pressure on the governments of Arab countries to be more open, democratic and responsive to their citizen's concerns (75%) and "Using mass media in the Arab world to counter the appeal of Islamic extremism and build support for the fight against terrorism" (75%).[2a]

In a September 21-22 Gallup poll, military means were rated highly. Asked, "How effective do you think each of the following will be in the US campaign against terrorism," "military efforts" was most often rated as "very effective." Still, when the "very effective" and "somewhat effective" scores are combined, "secret intelligence efforts" were seen as equally effective, and the differences between all the methods listed became barely significant. [2b]

A September 20-21 Newsweek poll asked respondents, "How effective do you think each of the following would be in preventing terrorist attacks in the future?" They were then presented a list of five options. The three most popular were non-military means. They included:

Not Too
Not At All
Don't Know
"More intelligence agents in the field to monitor terrorist activities and infiltrate terrorist groups"
"Locating and freezing the sources of funding that support terrorism, even if it intrudes on normal banking operations"
"Capturing and putting on trial Osama bin Laden and others suspected of orchestrating terrorist attacks"

Two military options were given somewhat lower ratings. [3]

"Military strikes against terrorist targets, even if there might be civilian casualties"
"Killing suspected terrorist leaders, as Israel does"

The difference in response to these Newsweek questions compared to other recent polls may be explained by the fact that the above poll asks about "preventing" terrorist attacks, not just about addressing or reducing the problem. That is, while strong majorities support military action as an effective means of combating terrorism, there is not a majority that believes that military strikes will actually reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks. In fact, nearly as many believe that they will increase the chances of attacks. Asked in a September 14-15 CNN/Gallup poll "If the US takes military action against the terrorists, do you think this will increase or decrease the chances that additional terrorist attacks against the US will occur in the future?" only 49% said that they thought it would decrease the chances, while 43% thought they would increase the chances. [4] Also, asked in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll "How worried are you that, if the United States launched a military strike against terrorist targets, terrorists would respond by striking again in America?" 65% said they were very (43%) or fairly (22%) worried. [5]

Nonetheless, an overwhelming majority thinks that if the US fails to take military action, this will increase the chances of further attacks. In the September 14-15 poll, CNN/Gallup asked "If the US does not take military action against the terrorists, do you think this will increase or decrease the chances that additional terrorist attacks against the US will occur in the future?" In this case, 89% said they though it would increase the chances, while just 7% thought it would decrease the chances. [6] Thus Americans believe that it is essential to take military action to prevent an increase in attacks, even though many are not confident that it will result in a decrease. Similarly, when asked by Washington Post/ABC News on September 20, ""What do you think would create a greater risk of further terrorism in this country: if the United States DOES take military action against terrorists, or if the United States does NOT take military action?" 73% said that the greater risk would be if the US does not take military action. [7]

Perceived Effectiveness of Military Force in Past Crises

Americans have been struggling with the conundrum of the effectiveness and consequences of military force for some years now-especially relative to terrorism.

In February 1998, the US was deploying forces to the Persian Gulf in anticipation of possible military conflict with Iraq. Though the possible military action was not in response to a terrorist strike, there was substantial concern that it would lead to terrorist strikes. Newsweek asked, "If the US does take military action against Iraq, do you think it would inspire terrorist acts against American citizens?" and 75% said yes. [8] However, a CNN/USA Today poll showed a more modest majority expressing such pessimism. Asked how confident they were that "the US can launch military attacks on Iraq without provoking an increase in terrorism against the United States?" 54% said "not too confident" (36%) or "not at all confident"(18%). [9]

In 1998, after US Cruise missiles were launched against a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, the public was, as now, divided about whether these attacks were likely to reduce terrorism (38%) or increase it (40%; ABC, August 1998). However, a CBS/New York Times poll found a plurality of 49% believing that "If the United States took military action every time a terrorist attack affected Americans" this would reduce terrorism, while 34% said it would make things worse. In other words, though there was no consensus about what the consequences would be of a particular strike, a consistent effort to respond militarily to terrorism was seen by a plurality as likely to be at least helpful. [10]

In October 2000, at the time of the attacks on the US Navy ship in Yemen, NBC/Wall Street Journal asked whether "the US should retaliate because terrorists need to know that they will suffer consequences," or whether "the US should not retaliate because it would encourage more terrorism and violence." Because the question articulated the principle of making sure that terrorists do not think they can attack with impunity, a strong 69% supported retaliation--even when the possibility that it might encourage further terrorism was mentioned. [11]



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