4 April 2016

42% of Americans agree with Trump on reducing commitment to Nato


A couple of weeks ago Donald Trump told the Washington Post that America’s contribution to Nato should be scaled back and other richer European nations should do more. 42% of First Verdict panel members agreed with that view when we tested the issue immediately afterwards but, very slightly more, 45% disagreed.

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Mr Trump added to that sentiment two days ago when he more directly attacked Nato members for not “paying their fair share”. And he’s not wrong: Of Nato’s 28 members only America (3.6%), Poland (2.2%) and Britain (2.1%) meet the aspiration to spend one-fiftieth of national income on defence. Luxembourg spends just 0.5% and Spain 0.9%.

Quoted in the New York Times, Mr Trump complained: “That means we are protecting them, giving them military protection and other things, and they’re ripping off the United States. And you know what we do? Nothing… Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out.” He concluded by saying that Nato might be “obsolete” and if other Nato states refused to increase their defence budgets he was relaxed about what that meant for the alliance: “If it breaks up Nato, it breaks up Nato”.

In our latest questioning of YouGov’s US panel on the Nato subject we did not repeat the scale-back-or-don’t-scale-back question but we did ask if Americans supported Nato’s Article V and its commitment to collective defence:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Asked to endorse or reject this commitment 82% of YouGov Panel members agreed that the US should defend a fellow Nato member that was under attack. Just 8% said that the US should not:

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This clear result contrasts somewhat with the answer we received to a second related question. What, we asked, if the attack was on Turkey – a Nato member state that has “been accused of anti-democratic practices”? The number that would refuse to support an Article V defence almost tripled to 23% in this context. The percentage supporting defence of Turkey equalled 51%.

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Opponents of military action will always be able to find some reasons for not supporting a Nato ally that is under attack. The first result suggests Americans are overwhelmingly in favour of the principle of Article V but the answer to the second question suggests support for the Nato treaty is far from absolute.

For more about Portrait of America and the methodology behind First Verdict, click here.

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Tim Montgomerie is Editor of Portrait of America