April 11, 2019 | By Dina Smeltz, Brendan Helm

Scholars vs the Public: Collapse of the INF Treaty

In early February 2019, the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty following President Trump’s October 2018 (and the Obama administration’s July 2014) accusations that Russia was failing to comply with the treaty. Russia withdrew from the treaty the next day.

Findings from a February 2019 Chicago Council on Global Affairs general public survey and a December 2018 Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) survey of International Relations (IR) scholars around the world illustrate how these different populations perceive the collapse of the INF Treaty.

The American public lacks consensus on the best way to deal with Russia, with many respondents viewing the issue along partisan lines. Self-described Republicans support the United States leaving the INF Treaty (72%). However, when asked whether the United States should undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with Russia or actively work to limit Russian power, Republicans are split—49 percent saying the United States should cooperate while 46 percent prefer working to limit Russia’s power. Democrats, on the other hand, oppose the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty (74%) but are more in favor of containment (66%, 31% cooperate). Independents also oppose INF Treaty withdrawal (56%) but are split between cooperation (47%) and limiting Russian power (50%).

IR scholars, however, oppose the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The TRIP survey breaks down results by economic ideology, in lieu of party affiliation, and finds strong opposition among moderates (82%) and liberals (90%) though there is less consensus among conservatives (51% oppose)[1]. Moreover, TRIP also asked scholars who opposed withdrawal from the treaty if they would support or oppose withdrawal from the INF if they were to see definitive evidence that Russia is in violation of its terms (conservative = 61%, moderate = 64%, liberal = 74%).

Despite the divisions among the public, the results also show that across the political spectrum, there is strong support for the United States and Russia to come to an agreement to limit nuclear weapons (Republicans = 90%, Democrats = 89%, Independent = 94%). This suggests that Republican backing for leaving the INF Treaty was the result of support for a Republican president. Whether the ruin of the INF Treaty will substantially affect US-Russian relations remains to be seen. Nonetheless, these developments will contribute to the global concerns about great power conflict and could further portray the United States as a unilateralist power.

 

[1] Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney, 2018, TRIP Snap Poll XI: What Experts Make of Trump's Foreign Policy, Global Research Institute, Do you support the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty? Totals broken down by ideology. Liberals (Support = 4%, Oppose = 90%, Neither = 7%), Middle of the road (Support = 8%, Oppose = 82%, Neither = 10%), Conservatives (Support = 35%, Oppose = 51%, Neither = 14%).

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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