We present the results of the second wave of the Barómetro del Real Instituto Elcano (BRIE), a periodic survey of foreign policy and defense that began in November 2002. The survey was carried out in mid-February with a representative sample of 1,200 interviewees. It contains information on the main issues on the international agenda in the past months: EU reform, the Iraq crisis and the image of the U.S.
For a comparative study of some of these issues, and in particular of the image of the United States, we have repeated questions from the international survey, Global Attitudes Project, by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press (Washington), carried out in autumn/winter 2002 in 42 countries of North America, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Arab countries and the EU, but not in Spain.
We have highlighted the most significant results of the study below.
1. Lack of interest or awareness of international politics
The Spanish live with their backs turned to international reality, even in a situation as serious as the present one. Only one in three Spaniards (38%) declares an interest in international politics.
As a result, there is a terrible ignorance of international issues, which is especially serious in the case of certain issues that have clear repercussions on our own country. The Spanish are unaware of key aspects of European policy. 80% of those interviewed could not correctly identify any of the countries in the enlarged EU. This figure is even higher than in November 2002. Furthermore, 90% of interviewees do not know the main objectives of the Convention on the Future of Europe presided by Giscard D’Estaing, similar to the 89% in November 2002.
2. The sense of threat grows
Despite this lack of interest or and information, the sense of outside threats has spread. This began to be noticed after 9-11 and has continued since. Whereas in November 2002, 62% of Spaniards considered the international situation to be bad, this has now risen to 77%.
An analysis of this development between November 2002 and February 2003 suggests that Spanish public opinion has become more sensitive to certain issues, especially those involving the Middle East: the Arab-Israeli conflict, Islamic terrorism and Iraq. The percentage of Spaniards who consider certain threats “very significant” has risen:
- International terrorism: from 47 to 52%
- Iraq: from 22 to 33%
- The Palestinian-Israeli conflict: from 15 to 21%
More specifically, belief in the possibility of acts of Islamic terrorism occurring in Spain has risen significantly from 65 to 81%.
The proliferation of mass destruction weapons is a very significant threat for 43% of interviewees. Related to this issue, the Korean situation was also included in the survey. Practically half of all Spaniards (45%) consider Korea to be serious threat (dangerous or very dangerous) to the stability of Asia.
In this climate of generalized risk and growing threat, only immigration dropped from 43 to 40%.
3. Iraq as a threat
Iraq is perceived as a real threat. To begin with, there is clear agreement that Saddam Hussein
- is a dictator who oppresses his people (85%)
- flouts international law (73%)
- is linked to international terrorism (67%)
- possesses mass destruction weapons (58%)
Continuing with possible justifications for a hypothetical attack (at the time the survey was being carried out) on Iraq, interviewees were asked if they considered Saddam’s regime a threat to stability in the Middle East. 60% consider it dangerous (18%, very dangerous and 42%, quite dangerous); 20%, somewhat dangerous; and 6%, not at all dangerous. In fact, surprisingly, the Spanish consider Saddam’s regime to be a greater threat (39%) than the Arab-Israeli conflict (18%).
There is a medium-level sense of threat in Spain. This is similar to France, both in terms of size and socio-demographic make-up. Compared to our country or to France, the sense of danger is greater (around 80%) in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. However, it is lower in Russia and Turkey (about 50% of the population).
4. “No to the war”
Although Saddam Hussein’s regime is considered a threat, the general opinion continues to be that an attack is not the correct response. In February 2003 the question that had been asked in November 2002 was repeated: “Do you think the U.S.:
- should not invade Iraq?
- should invade with the approval of the UN and the support of its allies?
- should invade Iraq even if they have to do it alone?
- Don’t know/ No response
Between November 2002 and February 2003 rejection of war increased three percentage points, from 61 to 64%. However, according to Barómetro data, conditional support also rose by 5 points, from 24 to 29%. Unconditional support remained steady at 2%.
5. Pacifism, but not radical
Opposition to the attack is not a result of radical pacifism. The Spanish are certainly not bellicose: asked whether a war to disarm a country by force is justified when that country does not respect the law and develops mass destruction weapons, 59% responded “no”.
But the Spanish consider forceful intervention legitimate in certain cases. The survey asked interviewees to evaluate military intervention in previous armed conflicts where Spanish troops have participated. In the case of Kosovo and Bosnia positive opinions greatly outweigh negative ones (44% to 35%, for example, for the latter conflict). This was not the case, however, with the first Gulf War or the campaign in Afghanistan. This indicates that the Spanish differentiate between different kinds of intervention.
6. Suspicion of U.S. motives
The attack is rejected because there is suspicion of U.S. motives. Two out of three interviewees (68%) believe the U.S. wants to attack in order to take control of oil resources and 21% because the Iraqi regime is indeed a threat to stability in the Middle East.
Compared to other countries, this suspicion is more intense in France (75%) and Russia (76%) than in Spain where, in any case, it is greater than in most countries.
7. Conditioned rejection of the U.S.
As a result of the above, the image of the U.S. is now more negative than positive:
52% of those interviewed have a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion; 40% have a somewhat favorable or very favorable opinion. Since November 2002 Bush’s popularity has also declined: on a scale of 0 to 10 it dropped almost a point, from 3 to 2.1. This shadow is not cast on all U.S. citizens, who are seen more in a positive light (46%) than in a negative one (43%).
The Spanish believe the United States does not take the interests of countries like Spain into account in its international policy (79%), that its policy increases differences between rich and poor countries (67%) and that it does too little to solve international problems (46%). They also feel that it is bad for American ideas and habits to spread around the world (57%) and, in this light, they have a negative impression of American democracy (50%) and the American way of doing business (53%).
On the positive side, they admire American scientific advances (66%) and the country’s music, cinema and television (60%).
8. Radical multi-polarity
The information in the section above should not be interpreted as a symptom of a tidal wave of anti-Americanism. To begin with, the Spanish clearly believe that the world would be a less safe place if another country had military power similar to that of the U.S. (42%, compared to 22% who feel it would be a safer place). But they also think it would be a safer place if the U.S. did not exist (34%, compared to 23% who think the opposite). Clearly, they reject both American unipolarity and bipolarity.
Entirely in line with the attitudes indicated above, the Spanish are the Europeans who are least in favor of Europe increasing its military spending to establish a counterweight to American power: 47% reject this strategy (which we could call the “French” thesis), compared to 31% who favor it far below the European average (50%). The majority (42%) are of the opinion that Britain and France ought to dismantle their nuclear arms, while only 20% think they should put them at the disposal of European defense.
9. Satisfaction with Spain’s current power in the world
Finally, as part of the BRIE, interviewees were asked to compare Spain’s power with that of other middle powers. The Spanish feel their country now has:
- more power than Poland, Brazil or South Korea
- as much as Italy
- less than Canada
Therefore, their evaluation of Spain’s weight in world is a realistic one. Nonetheless, they do not feel it is necessary to increase it. In the BRIE they were asked whether or not the State allocates enough material and human resources to action abroad. Only 22% of those interviewed consider these resources to be insufficient, compared to 47% who believe they are sufficient. The Spanish do not want to invest more in foreign policy.