This piece was originally published on The Parliament Magazine’s website.

It’s evident that the Western world has experienced escalating tensions with Russia over the past year. Besides international conflicts and cyberattacks, Nato has intercepted the highest number of Russian military planes since the cold war, and Russian naval activity is reported to now exceed cold war levels. These conflicts have also coincided with an increase in military spending in the last year: a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) showed an increase in military spending by 2.6% in Western Europe, 2.4% in Central Europe, 5.9% in Russia, and 1.7% in the U.S. (its first growth in military spending after 5 years of reductions).

Nato, too, is undergoing efforts to increase monetary contributions from its members, to mixed reception. This issue, among others, will be tackled at the upcoming May meeting between Nato leaders and President Trump, who once called Nato “obsolete” during his election campaign. Trump’s wavering stance toward Europe and his complicated entanglements with Russia beg the question of where the EU-US alliance stands.

Dalia Research took a closer look at Europeans’ opinion of Nato, the US, and defence spending to better understand the dynamics leading up to Trump’s meeting with Nato on May 25th. Our study is derived from more than 11.000 interviews from all 28 EU countries, with an additional focus on the 6 largest EU countries. Our results show that regardless of ongoing political tensions with the US, Europeans have fairly high approval ratings of Nato and they feel even more strongly about keeping the US as an ally.

Opinions about Nato

Overall 25% of all Europeans say they ‘know a lot about Nato’, 63% ‘know what it is but couldn’t describe it’, and 12% don’t know it at all. The French are most familiar with Nato with 38% expressing they ‘know a lot about it’. The British are least aware with 25% not knowing anything about Nato.

 

 

Among Europeans who are aware of Nato, public opinion is relatively positive: 47% have a positive view of Nato, 10% have a negative view and 43% are neutral. Approval for Nato is highest in Poland (71%) and lowest in Italy (34%). Views of Nato are also fairly high in the UK (52%) and Germany (48%).

 

Military spending

By a narrow margin, Europeans as a whole want to increase defence spending: 37% want to spend more on defence, 34% want to spend the same amount and 29% want to spend less. Poland has the highest share of people who want to increase military spending (53%) and Spain has the lowest share (14%).

 

 

US Allyship

Perhaps what’s most interesting about our findings is that despite the wide range in opinions towards military spending and Nato, Europeans in general still think the US is a valuable ally. 66% of all Europeans consider the US to be a useful ally for Europe in international politics and global affairs, ranging from 78% in Poland to 61% of France.

 

 

The results of our study show that Europeans’ opinions of Nato are tied to their desire for increased defence; those that feel positively about Nato also want to boost their defence budget. Poland also stands out as the most enthusiastic supporter of Nato, US allyship, and increased budget spending, perhaps due to its higher tensions with Russia.

 

Header image by Laszlo Kertesz