Opinion Formers Poll: Commitment to NATO, but split views on Russian intentions

Alec FolwellSenior Research Executive
September 04, 2014, 8:43 AM GMT+0

With events in Ukraine raising difficult questions for the West, there will be lots to discuss at the NATO summit in Wales this week.

The Commons Defence Select Committee recently warned that the conflict in Ukraine had exposed some serious deficiencies in NATO’s ability to counter a threat. “Whatever the likelihood of a Russian attack on the territory of NATO countries”, the Committee’s report states, “NATO is obliged to have a detailed contingency plan for such a scenario. As the UK prepares to send a 1,350 strong ‘battlegroup’ to bolster the RAF Typhoon jets already patrolling Eastern Europe, defence secretary Michael Fallon has refused to rule out even “further enhancements”. With events in Ukraine rattling its newest members, talks at the NATO summit to be held in Wales tomorrow are sure to concentrate on how best the alliance can show their commitment to its European members in the East.

Disquietude over Russian actions is not merely confined to the West’s central and eastern European allies, with both the GB public and YouGov’s Opinion Formers seemingly sharing similar concerns to those of the Defence Select Committee. When asked to imagine a scenario where Russian troops invaded a neighbouring state, over half of Opinion Formers (59%) said that ‘if Russia uses its troops or backs insurgents to take over an EU state or NATO member and diplomatic and economic efforts to stop them fail, other EU and NATO member countries SHOULD take military action to stop it’. However, a quarter (25%) felt that should such a scenario occur, EU and NATO members should not take military action and continue to exercise restraint.

Indeed, intervening on behalf of a NATO ally received similar levels of support from the public. When asked whether the UK should be willing to use military force if Russia attacks its NATO allies, around half the British public are in favour of defending Western allies such as the United States (52%) and France (51%). Conversely, less than a quarter (23% and 22% respectively) said Britain should not be willing to offer military support in the case of the United States and France. However, the willingness to defend other NATO countries drops the further east you go. A little over two-fifths (43%) would support intervening on behalf Poland (27% against) in the event of a Russian attack, while just a third (32%) would support Latvia (33% against).

Deciphering Russia’s intentions – which are far from transparent - will be central in deciding what policies the West is to enact. YouGov found that 48% of UK Opinion formers see Russia today as having an ‘aggressive foreign policy and is actively trying to control or take territory off neighbouring countries’. By contrast however, over a third (38%) view Russia as having ‘no aggressive foreign policy, but will actively support Russian minorities in other territories if it sees clear benefits to itself’, while only 5% view Russia as having ‘no aggressive interest in its neighbours and is rightly trying to keep peace in troubled areas and protect Russian minorities’.

The West’s post 9/11 ‘democracy agenda’ has certainly irked Russia, in which its response is posing some familiar policy headaches for the West once again. If the West is to take a more pro-active role in the East, recognising how its actions have contributed to renewed rumblings of Cold War dichotomy must certainly be up for consideration when the allies convene at the largest NATO summit in the UK since 1990.

See the full poll results

See the full poll results

YouGov completed online interviews with 674 opinion formers from its UK Opinion Formers Panel. Opinion Formers are leaders in their field from business, media, politics, NGOs, academia and beyond. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th and 22nd May 2014. The figures have not been weighted.

General public results cited come from a YouGov survey of a representative sample of 2,083 GB adults, undertaken between 31st July and 1st August 2014.