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Global Issues >> Terrorism


Support for Multilateral Approaches

A near-unanimous majority favors the US dealing with the problem of terrorism in a multilateral fashion. Overwhelming majorities favor seeking UN Security Council approval for military action. Working through NATO elicits a positive, though milder response. Contrary to US policy, a very strong majority has favored including other countries' forces in the military action in Afghanistan, even though the US would be constrained by the need to make joint decisions. A majority prefers for the US to act multilaterally in responding the problems of post-war Afghanistan.

An overwhelming majority of Americans favors dealing with the problem of terrorism through multilateral approaches. A near-unanimous 95% said that it is important (80% very important) "for the war on terrorism to be seen by the world as an effort of many countries working together, not just a US effort" (PIPA November 1-4). Questions that ask about building an international coalition or working together with allies also get near-unanimous support. A September 19-24 Harris poll that asked how important it is, when responding to the September 11 attacks, to "build a strong international coalition of many countries to support us," found 95% saying it was very (79%) or somewhat (16%) important--although the question added the phrase "even if this means exercising more restraint than we'd like." [1] The same poll asked how important it is to "get the support of as many Arab and Islamic countries as possible" and 88% said that it is very (58%) or somewhat (30%) important. [2]

On September 12, when NBC presented a list of possible responses to the attacks, the one that received the highest level of support was to ""Work with our allies to combat and, over time, eliminate the terrorists responsible for these attacks," which was favored by 94% (strongly 84%, somewhat 10%). [3]

One poll question even elicited results that suggest that a majority would only be willing to act multilaterally. A Los Angeles Times poll question of September 13-14 that was asked in a sequence of questions about the attacks posed two options. Fifty-nine percent chose the very strongly stated position that the US "should work only in a coordinated effort with its allies to fight violations of international law and aggression" (emphasis added) while 34% chose the one that said the US should do so "even without the cooperation of its allies."[4]

Support for acting multilaterally does not mean, however, that the public does not want the US to play a strong leadership role. In mid-November 2001-with success in Afghanistan coming into view-Harris asked: "The United States has been leading the military actions (in Afghanistan) against terrorism with the support of other countries. Do you think that the United States' taking leadership was the right thing, or do you think that the United Nations should have led this effort instead?" Eighty percent thought that the US had done the right thing. [5]

Americans also feel that it is very important to get UN Security Council approval for military action. In a September 19-24 Harris poll, 84% said that it was important (54% very, 30% somewhat) to "get the support of the United Nations--including a vote of the Security Council--supporting our response to the attacks, even if this means exercising more restraint than we'd like."[6]

When asked whether the US should proceed with military action if it failed to get UN approval, the public was divided-- though one could argue, even based on the UN Charter, that the US would have the right to act unilaterally out of self-defense. Only ten days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, 45% said that "the US should take military action against terrorist organizations in other countries only if the United Nations Security Council authorizes it," while 50% said military action should be taken regardless (CNN/USA Today, September 21-22, 2001). [7]

This support for getting UN approval is highly consistent with earlier polls (See United Nations: Using Military Force through the UN.) However, the public does not see the UN only as a vehicle for using force. When presented a list of things that the UN could do, the most popular were of a diplomatic nature, with military action appearing third (Associated Press, September 2001). [8] This response, though, is not specific to the UN. As discussed in "Military and Non-Military Means For Addressing Problem," in general Americans put a stronger emphasis on non-military means for addressing terrorism.

Older polls suggest that support for working through NATO to address terrorism may receive a more lukewarm response. A 1997 Pew poll that asked whether NATO forces should be used "to combat international terrorism" found only 51% favoring the idea. [9] A 1996 PIPA poll asked respondents to rate possible missions for NATO on a scale of 0 to 10 (with 0 being "not at all the right kind of thing for NATO" and 10 "being very much the right kind of thing"). Asked about "Dealing with threats to NATO countries such as the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," the mean response was 7.39.[10]

Polls that have asked about using force through NATO as compared to doing so through the UN generally find substantially higher support for working through the UN. However, the idea of working through NATO generally gets higher support than the idea of the US acting on its own. (See United Nations: Using Military Force through the UN.)

Including Other Countries in Current Afghan Operation

Contrary to current US policy, a very strong majority favors including other countries' forces in the current military action in Afghanistan. In the November 1-4 PIPA poll, respondents were asked which one of two statements was closer to their position. As shown below, by a three-to-one margin respondents chose the statement in favor of including other countries. [11]

Responding to Post-War Afghanistan

A majority prefers to take a multilateral approach in responding to the problems of post-war Afghanistan. A November 16 Newsweek poll asked "Who do you think should be responsible for shaping a new government in Afghanistan?" and offered four alternatives. Fifty-five percent chose either the UN (40%) or "some other multinational group, with strong Muslim representation" (15%). Twenty-two percent said it "should… be left to the Northern Alliance and Afghani people to figure out for themselves;" only 17% chose the US. [12]

In most aspects of assisting post-war Afghanistan, only small minorities want the US to either take the lead or play no role. A strong majority wants the US to either take "a large role but not the lead" or "take a lesser role"-implying US participation in a multilateral effort. ABC/Washington Post, in a series of questions on November 27, asked whether the US "should take the leading role, a large role but not the lead, a lesser role or no role at all" in "sending peacekeeping forces to Afghanistan"; "providing food and economic aid"; and "establishing a new government." For these activities, just 22-32% said the US should take the lead; and only 7-11% said the US should take no role. However the largest percentage--38-42%--said the US should take "a large role but not the lead;" and 18-22% said the US should take a lesser role. However, in the event of a need for "military action against terrorist groups that try to re-establish themselves in Afghanistan," a majority (55%) thought the US should take the lead.[13]




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