NATO Seen Favorably Across Member States

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: NATO member countries' views on the alliance remain largely positive. While the publics in most countries are reluctant to defend NATO allies in the event of an attack, most are certain the United States would do so.

Founded in 1949, "NATO serves as a political and military alliance for its 29 member states spanning Europe and North America." A Pew Research Center survey of public opinion in 16 member countries surveyed found that "NATO is generally seen in a positive light across publics within the alliance, despite lingering tensions between the leaders of individual member countries."

A median 53 percent of people across the countries surveyed view the organization favorably, while 27 percent view it negatively. However, opinions of NATO vary from country to country. In Poland, 82 percent of those surveyed view NATO positively, as do 65 percent in the United Kingdom and 52 percent in the United States.

Towards the lower end of the spectrum are France, with 49 percent viewing NATO favorably; Greece, with 37 percent, and Turkey, with 21 percent. Support also varied in the three nonmember states surveyed with 63 percent of Sweden and 53 percent of Ukraine finding NATO favorable, compared to only 16 percent of Russia.

Current favorability ratings also differ from years past. Since 2007, favorable views of NATO have increased by 10 percentage points in Ukraine, Lithuania, and Poland, but have dropped a similar amount in Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, and France.

Even countries that favor NATO are reluctant to fulfill the obligations outlined in Article 5 of the organization's founding charter, which states "that an attack against one member nation is considered an attack against all members."

Using the example of a hypothetical attack by Russia, Pew found that a median of 50 percent of publics across all 16 countries "say their country should not defend an ally, compared with 38% who say their country should defend an ally against a Russian attack."

Only in five states (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Lithuania) do half or more people "say that they should use such force." Despite this reluctance, "half or more in nearly every country surveyed agree it is sometimes necessary to use military force to maintain order in the world."

While member countries are reluctant to use force to defend a NATO ally from an attack, most are confident that the United States would do so if necessary. "A median of 60% say the U.S. would defend an ally against Russia, while just 29% say the U.S. would not do so." In fact, the publics in most member countries surveyed are more likely to say that the United States would defend a NATO ally in the event of an attack "than say their own country should do the same."

Many NATO member countries "prefer a close relationship with both the U.S. and Russia," but few want to prioritize their relationship with Russia over their relationship with the United States. 

One interesting difference between the United States and other member countries pertains to the role political ideology has in shaping public opinion of NATO. Democrats have historically been more likely to view NATO favorably than Republicans. "That remained true in 2019, as 61% of Democrats had a positive view of the alliance, compared with 45% of Republicans."

This doesn't conform to international views. In six of the surveyed countries, those who self-identified as being on "the right side of the ideological spectrum [were] more favorable toward NATO than those on the left."

Read the full survey here.

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