Washington, 9 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A new study says a majority of Americans support expanding NATO to include countries such as Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, although there is a low understanding of the complexities of the issue and little sense of urgency.
The study, released in Washington last week and titled "Americans on Expanding NATO," is part of a larger ongoing program called the Project on Attitudes Toward the Transatlantic Community. The project is conducted by the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland and the independent non-profit organization, the Center for the Study of Policy Attitudes.
The study surveyed randomly-selected American adults from across the nation and included information gathered from small groups and previously polled data.
Results from the study indicate that American public support for NATO expansion is fairly strong, and the majority would even agree to granting membership to Russia, the U.S.'s former military adversary.
The reasons most often given for support of NATO expansion were that the United States should be more inclusive in world affairs, and that the United States should erase the artificial divisions created by the Cold War.
Fewer respondents were concerned about a potential Russian threat.
Only a minority of those Americans polled were opposed to contributing U.S. troops to defend a new NATO member from attack.
A strong majority agreed that NATO expansion should be paced to accommodate Russian security concerns. But an equal majority strongly opposed making a commitment not to station American troops or nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe.
American support for NATO expansion was consistently strong, even when faced with potential challenges. But it did lessen notably when respondents were presented with the full financial cost of such an expansion.
Steven Kull, principal investigator of the project, told RFE/RL that the purpose of the study was to increase politicians' awareness of accurate public attitudes on foreign policy.
Kull said that government officials often rely too heavily on letters and faxes that come into their offices, instead of having a true representation of the public's attitudes toward complex foreign policy issues.
"Overall, there is a tendency on the part of policy makers to assume that the public has turned to isolationism in the post Cold War era," Kull said.
"We've done a series on polls on international issues and the recurring theme is that the public does want the United States to move away from being a world policeman, but they want to stay engaged primarily through participation in cooperative, multilateral organizations such as NATO and the United Nations."
Kull stressed that there was a "great need" for better communication between the public and policy makers on foreign policy, and added that he hopes the study will bridge that gap.
Kull said the report is distributed to scholars, researchers, journalists, government officials, and most importantly, members of Congress and the executive branch.