Thursday, October 11, 2007

Six-Nation Survey on Nuclear Weapons Yields Mixed Results

The Simons Foundation and Angus Reid Strategies recently released a six-nation survey on citizens' views toward nuclear weapons. The good news is that over 70% of the publics in Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the U.S. think that nuclear weapons make the world a more dangerous place. The bad news is that, in spite of this, opinion in these countries differs significantly as to who should possess nuclear weapons, who should develop them, and when they should be used.

Conducted late this summer amidst concerns over nuclear weapon development in Iran and North Korea, issues surrounding the U.S.-India nuclear deal, and the consideration of new nuclear weapons in the U.S., the poll yields some interesting results. Overall, opposition to nuclear weapons was strongest in Germany and Italy and weakest in Israel, with Britain, France, and the U.S. generally falling somewhere in between.

On Their Country's Non-Proliferation Goals
When answering the question, "What should be the goal of your country's national government when it comes to nuclear weapons?" respondents in all countries agree on the whole that the world needs to have less nuclear weapons. However, they disagree strongly as to the degree of change needed. A plurality of respondents in Britain (50.9%), Italy (68.5%), Germany (80.7%), and the U.S. (48.7%) voted for "eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide," while a relative majority in France (44.6%) and Israel (45.8%) voted only to reduce stockpiles.

While stockpiles perhaps should be reduced worldwide, respondents don't necessarily want this to happen in their own countries. Almost forty percent of respondents in Britain, France, and the US selected, "Nuclear weapons place [my country] in a unique position, so it is not in our interest to participate in treaties that would reduce or eliminate our nuclear arsenal." Over 70% of Israeli respondents argue the same.

On the Justified Use of Nuclear Weapons
A greater number of respondents maintain that the use of either their country or NATO (in the cases of Italy and Germany) would be justified in their use of nuclear weapons than the first question (on the goals to reduce or eliminate nukes) might lead you to believe. Less than half of respondents in Britain, France, Israel, and the U.S., believe that "it would never be justified." 45.5% of respondents in Britain, 52.1% in France, 45.1% in the U.S., and a whopping 71.6% in Israel believe that the use of nuclear weapons by their country would be justified either in the context of an actual war or as a deterrent against a possible attack. Germans (76.9%) and Italians (76.9%) responded overwhelmingly that the use of nuclear weapons would never be justified.

On the Survey Itself
While it does provide more comprehensive results per country, one weakness of the Simon Foundation's poll is the limited scope of its "global" nature. For data from additional countries, see Nukes of Hazard's previous post on the Pew Research Center's data collected earlier this year. Even within its limited scope, however, this new poll succeeds in surveying a variety of countries—from those that possess nuclear weapons (Britain, France, and the U.S), to one that under a policy of "strategic ambiguity" has refused to discuss its program (Israel), to participants of NATO's nuclear sharing concept who do not produce their own weapons (Germany and Italy).

And on one final note, on all but two questions, the United States placed embarrassingly high on the percentage of people who were "unsure" of nuclear policies when compared to the other countries surveyed. Regarding a question on individuals' views toward the NPT and nuclear sharing, the survey's analysis finds Americans "particularly unaware." In a world where the United States possesses the influence and potential leadership capacity that it does, this seems especially frightening. If you're reading this, you're likely not in that group--let's work on making these issues a topic of discussion.

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