The use of military force

The transatlantic debate concerns many specific issues but in most of these issues the role of power, military power in general, and the question of what can be achieved by it, takes a central position. Pundits of assorted beliefs claim that the 'smoking gun' evidence of a widening transatlantic drift is to be found in the differential willingness to use force (Finnemore, 2006). Americans, it is argued, are ready, should the need arise, to turn to the threat and use of force, while the Europeans are wary of even contemplating it. Remarkably, until a few years ago rather the opposite seemed true when Americans, still suffering from the 'Vietnam syndrome', were seen as shy to actually employ their military power compared to the Europeans (e.g., Luttwak, 1994, Everts, 2002: 158-181). Whatever the case, the September 11, 2001 attack surely seems to have awakened the US public to the (military) requirements of world power. Europeans are now said, on the contrary, to still indulge in a Kantian view of the world around them. Different beliefs concerning the question of what military force can and cannot do and the appropriateness of its use have been at the core of the transatlantic debate since 2001 (Kagan, 2003). The debate on the necessity of a war against Iraq, as well as its legitimacy, and the likelihood of a successful and effective result of such a conflict, is only the most recent example of the apparently fundamental differences of opinion on the use of force.

The central place taken in current debates by the questions concerning the appropriateness and desirability of using military force rather than other instruments of influence constitutes the main reason why this book focuses on two main themes. It looks in detail into the nature of public attitudes on the threat or actual use of military force and their conditions and determinants, and it does so in the context of the transatlantic relationship, examining the breadth and depth of existing differences, their causes and possible remedies.

The debate is, however, not merely a transatlantic one, but also one creating and maintaining divisions among Europeans as well as within the United States.

A large part of the recent studies on the nature of the alleged Transatlantic Gap has focused on the governmental and elite level and aims to trace, among other things, whether the gap can and should be mended. This book takes a different perspective and focuses on the question of what can be said about the gap thesis from the level of public opinion at the mass level. In doing so, it seeks to complement rather than contrast the available policy level studies.

In summary form, our argument is that understanding how people structure their view of transatlantic relations, and whether Americans and Europeans do so in different ways, can contribute to a better understanding of why transatlantic relations are sometimes characterized by crises and tensions and at other times by unity of purpose and action. These arguments could in principle be extended to different issue areas, but in this book we focus only on security and military relations, with particular reference to so-called out-of-area operations in the post-Cold War period.4

Before outlining what this book aims to accomplish with respect to the conditions shaping public attitudes toward the use of military force, it is useful to frame our argument in the wider context of the current debates about the role of public opinion in foreign policy in general and in transatlantic relations in particular, in order to clear the implicit assumption underlying this effort, that is, that knowledge of public opinion and its sources is relevant to understanding empirically how foreign policy decisions are shaped and, normatively, whether and to what extent public opinion deserves a place among the considerations of policymakers when making policy decisions. In short: Does public opinion matter? Does it affect policymaking? Should it be taken into account?

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