European Union foreign ministers meet in Dublin this Friday to discuss whether to lift or ease the EU’s arms embargo on Syria. YouGov surveys this week in Britain and France find that voters in both countries are reluctant to back David Cameron’s and President Hollande’s demands to allow military supplies to flow to the Syrian forces ranged against the Assad regime.
The surveys, for Channel 4 News, find overwhelming backing in both countries for continuing to send in humanitarian supplies, which both countries have been sending throughout the conflict. There is also widespread, if less overwhelming, support for sending in protective clothing such as helmets and flak jackets – something the EU already allows.
After that, support for any greater form of military support ebbs away sharply:
Thinking about the conflict in Syria, here are some things [country] could do. Would you support or oppose each of the following?
Sending food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to civilians in Syria
Sending protective clothing, such as flak jackets and helmets, to the troops fighting to overthrow the Assad regime
Sending defensive military supplies, such as anti-aircraft guns, to the anti-Assad troops
Sending small arms such as hand guns to the anti-Assad troops
Sending full-scale military supplies such as tanks and heavy artillery to the Anti-Assad troops
Sending [British/French] troops to fight alongside the anti-Assad troops
Great Britain: sample 1920; fieldwork March 18-19
France: sample 924; fieldwork March 18-20
In one respect, Hollande is better placed than Cameron. Supporters of the French President’s own party, the socialists, on balance back his wish to send in defensive military supplies (by 45-25%) and small arms (by 42-26%). In contrast, Cameron’s Conservative supporters in Britain are clearly opposed to both measures (by 51-24% and 57-19%) respectively. And whereas French Socialists are evenly divided over whether to send tanks and heavy artillery, British Conservatives reject this by an overwhelming margin: 68-12%.
British attitudes towards Syria are very different from those towards Libya two years ago. Then, too, Britain and France led the way within the EU on stopping Col Gaddafi. And although public opinion was divided, supporters of military action outnumbered opponents at the outset; and Conservative voters backed Cameron by more than two-to-one. This time the Prime Minister will have his work cut out to persuade Tory voters, let alone the wider public, that any form of military support to help topple a tyrant is a good idea.