In Tough Economic Times, Informed Americans Support Cuts to Defense, Focus on Non-Traditional Warfare

Thousands of highly informed Great Decisions participants voice their opinions on U.S. foreign policy

Key Findings Support:
  • Cuts to defense budget
  • Emphasis on counterinsurgency, special operations and irregular warfare
  • Circumvention of Haitian government in aid delivery
  • U.S. participation in global financial regulatory regimes
  • Opposition to military intervention in Horn of Africa
by Genevieve Long
NEW YORK—A national survey reveals that concerns over financial stability permeate beyond populist culture and dominate a key cross-section of Americans with an ongoing connection to, and interest in, foreign affairs. 
The results, part of the Foreign Policy Associations National Opinion Ballot Report that surveys participants in the Great Decisions program, come amidst a gloomy global economic outlook and worldwide protests against the status quo.
In the face of ongoing economic concerns that continue to dominate the political landscape, many of the thousands of highly-educated and informed Americans who took part in the FPA survey say that the U.S. should cut defense spending and focus on more non-traditional warfare techniques that have proven to be successful – and often more cost effective –in dealing with national security challenges. 
49 percent of survey respondents think the Obama Administration should either reduce the defense budget or increase taxes. Alongside cutting defense-related expenses, 71 percent of respondents are “in favor of a combination of counterinsurgency capability [COIN] and traditionalist military strategy, with an emphasis on the former,” according to the poll. 
One tack the U.S. military has taken in reducing human loss and financial strain associated with deploying troops is an increased reliance on drone attacks in some of the most hotly contested theaters of defense, including Afghanistan and areas of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. 
The struggling global economy was also a major concern of poll respondents, 54 percent of whom agreed that they want to see the U.S. participate in a global, binding, treaty-based financial regulatory regime. The sentiment of a more controlled, regulated, and responsible international economy reflects recent large-scale protests in Wall Street and around the world.
Problems and concerns stemming from the European debt crisis also led poll respondents to note that Germany—with its fiscal austerity measures—should play a leading role in reforming stability in Europe. 91.5 percent of poll respondents praised Germany’s fiscal conservatism and their tough line on austerity measures for crisis-prone countries.

Another major finding of the FPA survey was the strong support  for giving aid to Haiti—not directly to the Haitian government—but through intermediaries like NGOs.
Only 2 percent of those surveyed felt aid should go directly to the new Haitian government, led by President Michel Martelly, despite the fact that his administration has been making an effort to reconcile the country’s troubled past in light of the massive work needed to rebuild the country. Just last week, Martelly met with former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. He also met with Prosper Avril, an army colonel responsible for overthrowing a transitional government in 1988, only to resign two years later amid popular protests. 
But the meetings and Martelly’s efforts at reconciling Haiti’s troubled past have proved to be double-edged swords, raising domestic and international concern that the corrupt approaches of past regimes will be perpetuated by new leadership.
The Great Decisions survey also found seriously waning support for U.S. military involvement in the crisis-plagued Horn of Africa. An overwhelming 66 percent of respondents were against American military involvement in an international mission to help resolve governance failures in Somalia. 
The U.S. military has been involved in a number of military operations in the region in recent years, including drone attacks, often in search of al-Qaeda operatives. In fact, 33 percent of poll respondents think that preventing al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups from establishing base operations in Somalia should be the number one priority for U.S. interests in the region. Nearly half of poll respondents reject the idea of even providing assistance—either economic or military—to Somalia.
The survey, run since 1955, is part of the FPA’s Great Decisions national civic-education program, and the results are sent to the White House, the departments of State and Defense, members of Congress, and the media and citizens. Great Decisions Participants read background articles, watch television episodes produced by FPA, and consume online resources about the top foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. in a given year.  They share their views on the topics studied through the survey.  
According to Karen M. Rohan, Great Decisions Editor in Chief, the need for the program is evident in the response from the participants.
 “Almost half of the people who participated in the 2011 Great Decisions program and balloting process said that they had changed their opinion ‘in a fairly significant way’ after taking part in discussions of foreign policy issues,” stated Rohan. “The fact that a well-educated group of people already interested in foreign policy was exposed to enough new material to change their opinion speaks to the need for this kind of program, and for more public education in general.” 

Read the National Opinion Ballot Report