Polls Show Support for Tougher Sanctions against Iran, But not for Military Force

July 17, 2012

Majority-Muslim Nations Less Concerned About Iran Acquiring Nukes

Stewart Patrick analysis

As the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program intensifies–with stronger sanctions against Iran coming into effect and the United States beefing up its forces in the waters around Iran–international public support for sanctions on Iran is fairly strong, but not for the use of military force. These are some of the findings in a newly updated digest of polls from around the world and the United States on the topic of nuclear proliferation.

Majorities in 12 of 21 countries favored “tougher international sanctions on Iran to try to stop it from developing nuclear weapons” in a May 2012 Pew poll. These included Germany (77%), the United States (75%), the Czech Republic (74%), Britain (72%), France and Italy (both 71%), Spain (68%), Mexico (63%), Poland (62%), Japan (57%), Brazil (56%) and Jordan (52%).

But in nine of the 21 countries less than half approved. This included three major powers–China (21%) Russia (35%), and India (19%)–as well as five majority Muslim nations (Egypt 46%, Lebanon 46%, Turkey 18%, Tunisia 18%, and Pakistan 4%).

Even in Europe and the United States, where support for a tough stance toward Iran is the highest, support for military action is low. A June 2011 German Marshall fund poll of 12 European nations and the United States presented five different options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. The option to “take military action against Iran” received support from only very small minorities, never higher than 13 percent in any country surveyed.

Among the twelve European countries polled, the most common preferences were to “offer economic incentives to Iran in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons” (32%) or to “impose economic sanctions” (28%). In the United States the most popular option was to impose sanctions (33%), followed by offering economic incentives (20 percent).

These digests have been developed by the Council on Foreign Relations’ International Institutions and Global Governance program and the Program on International Policy Attitudes. They provide comprehensive analyses of international and U.S. polls on the world’s most pressing challenges — and the institutions designed to address them. The digest of international polling on nuclear proliferation can be found here and the digest of U.S. polling here. Analysis of these findings by CFR’s Stewart Patrick can be found on his blog.

Even when pressed to consider the most extreme scenario, in few countries does a majority favor the use of military force. In the 2011 GMF poll, those who chose an option other than military force were told to “now imagine that all of these non-military options have been tried, and the only option left to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is the use of military force,” and were then asked to choose between taking “military action against Iran” or “simply accept [ing] that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Combining those who initially favored the use of force and those who did so when pressed, 49% of Americans, and an average 42% of Europeans, favored the use of force under this scenario. However, in three European countries a majority did favor the use of force–France (55%), Spain (54%) and Portugal (63%). Naturally, a complexity with this kind of question is that it poses a hypothetical scenario that specifies an unambiguous certainty that only a military option will be effective–though in reality such lack of ambiguity is rare.

While international polling shows widespread concern about the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, concern in majority Muslim countries is more muted. Asked what the likely outcome would be for the Middle East if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, an aggregate sample of six Arab nations had only 35 percent saying this would be negative in a 2011 poll by the Sadat Chair, University of Maryland. Half felt the outcome would be more positive (25 percent) or would not matter (25 percent). Even in the Sadat Chair’s polling of Saudi Arabia in 2010, only 45 percent said the outcome would be more negative, while 55 percent thought the outcome would tend to be positive (32 percent) or would not matter (23 percent).

Not all Muslim nations have majorities opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. A 2012 Pew poll of six majority Muslim nations found majorities opposed to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon in Jordan (76 percent), Egypt (66 percent), Lebanon (62 percent), and Turkey (54 percent). But Pakistan had a plurality in favor of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon: 50 percent, with 11 percent opposed and 39 percent not answering. Tunisians were divided.



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