Survey finds transatlantic rift hardening

REUTERS

Thu 9 September, 2004 05:14

By Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States and Europe are drifting further apart on security issues and the use of force in the aftermath of the Iraq war, a major transatlantic opinion survey released today shows.

The Transatlantic Trends 2004 opinion poll of 11,000 Americans and Europeans, conducted in June and issued two months before a crucial U.S. presidential election, suggested a fundamental change in transatlantic relations may be under way.

A growing majority of Europeans seek a more independent role from the United States and three-quarters say they disapprove of President George W. Bush's international policies, the survey found.

Some 58 percent of Europeans said strong U.S. leadership in the world was undesirable, an increase of nine percentage points from a similar poll last year. Only in Britain and the Netherlands do a majority desire strong U.S. leadership.

By contrast, 79 percent of Americans say they support strong European Union leadership in world affairs and look to Eu rope as their preferred partner for solving global problems, even though 51 percent of them approve of Bush's foreign policy.

The poll, conducted for the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo think-tank in Italy, highlighted wide differences over the justification for war and who should legitimise military action.

While Americans are almost evenly divided along ideological lines, 80 percent of Europeans surveyed do not believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year was worth the loss of life and cost. Some 73 percent of Europeans believe the Iraq war increased the risk of terrorism, as do 49 percent of Americans.

EU SUPERPOWER?

Asked whether war is necessary in some situations to obtain justice, more than 80 percent of Americans -- but only 40 percent of Europeans -- supported the proposition. Only Britain, with 69 percent, came close to the U.S. figure.

The poll was taken in nine EU states -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spa in and Slovakia -- as well as EU candidate Turkey.

More than half of those countries participated in the Iraq war or subsequent peacekeeping operations.

The findings reflected policy differences that are at the centre of this year's U.S. presidential election campaign.

Democratic challenger John Kerry has taken positions closer to European views on the importance of consulting allies and winning broad international support, preferably through the United Nations, for military action.

While Americans and Europeans agree on the main threats they face, a higher percentage of Americans support using force to prevent a terrorist attack, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, defend a NATO ally or remove a regime that abuses human rights.

The survey found 59 percent of Americans support bypassing the United Nations when the vital interests of their country are involved. Europeans were more evenly split but a majority in several EU countries -- Britain, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Poland and Portugal -- support ed that proposition.

Seventy-one percent of Europeans said the EU should become a superpower like the United States, but most who expressed that view did not want to increase military spending.

Despite transatlantic strains, the survey found Europeans and Americans believe they share enough common values to cooperate on international problems.

The poll was conducted by EOS Gallup Europe between June 6 and 24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, the organisers said.