Whether it’s the Russia-Ukraine war, or the Israeli-Hamas war, NATO remains a big part of U.S. decision-making. Indeed, the U.S.-led postwar alliance has lasted 75 years, and it’s fair to say that nearly everything the U.S. does overseas involves NATO, directly or indirectly. But increasingly, average Americans are uneasy about the alliance, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows.
A significant number of Americans, though not yet a majority, feel the burdens of the U.S.’ NATO leadership as unfairly distributed, according to the online I&I/TIPP Poll of 1,378 adults taken from Sept. 27-29
The first question was elemental: “Does the U.S. participation in NATO increase or decrease the likelihood of U.S. getting involved in a military conflict?”
A surprising plurality of 38% answered “increase,” while 15% responded “decrease” and 19% said “no impact.” Another 28% said “not sure,” making it the second-largest answer. The poll has a margin of error of +/-2.7 percentage points.
This was the rare question in which political affiliation didn’t make too much of a difference. While 34% of Democrats said NATO raises the chance of war, that response wasn’t too far below the Republicans (44%) or independents (38%).
In a similar vein, I&I/TIPP asked voters which of the following statements most reflected their views of the multinational coalition: “NATO benefits more from the U.S.”; “The U.S. benefits more from NATO”; and “It is a balanced two-way street.”
The first answer, (“NATO benefits”) received 36%, the second (“The U.S. benefits”) got just 12% of the responses, while the third (“two-way street”) took 28%. Again, “unsure” was prominent, at 23%.
The final question involved finances: “The U.S. contributes over two-thirds of NATO’s budget, with European members contributing the remaining one-third.” Respondents were again asked which of four possible answers most matched their opinion about the U.S.’ spending: “Too high” received 64%, “Too low” just 3%, “Just right” 15%, and “not sure” 18%.
Clearly, many Americans, though not a majority, have serious issues with NATO — mainly its heavy reliance on U.S. money for its existence. Members are supposed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on their own defense, but only 10 do.
Within NATO, the U.S. is always near the top in terms of military spending as a share of GDP. But this obscures the fact that U.S. funds are far and away the largest financial backing within the defense organization, accounting for 70% ($821.8 billion in 2022) of all military spending among the rest of NATO’s 31 members ($353.4 billion in 2022).
Right now, NATO is undergoing serious growing pains.
From 12 members initially, it now has 31. They include a large number of former Soviet-bloc nations, which joined following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. They include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
Most recently, Finland became a member, to be followed soon by Sweden, after Turkey gave its approval. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine all have expressed a desire to join — mostly to counter-balance Russia’s growing aggressiveness in the region under Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The irony that NATO was founded mainly to oppose the Soviet bloc and now includes at least 15 of its former members isn’t lost on anyone, especially Putin himself. Foreign policy experts often talk about Russia’s “paranoia” about being encircled by the West and now, thanks largely to Putin, it seems to be happening.
Meanwhile, Turkey, a NATO linchpin, has recently been strongly criticized for the policies followed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He dragged his feet for months before finally letting Sweden join the NATO club.
But a greater concern about Erdogan is his apparent desire to be a powerbroker in the Mideast, especially among the hardline Islamist nations, and with the Russians, often putting him directly at odds with NATO policies.
Following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas, Erdogan said Hamas was not a terrorist group, and condemned Israel as a “war criminal” when it defended itself.
“Hamas is not a terrorist organization, it is a liberation group, mujahideen waging a battle to protect its lands and people,” said Erdogan.
The statement is at cross purposes with U.S., EU and NATO positions, and brought strong criticisms from pro-Israel members of the U.S. Congress, and calls for Turkey to be booted from NATO.
“Hamas murders innocent babies, burns families alive & is holding Americans hostage,” Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott wrote last Wednesday in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “Erdogan has again shown that his interests don’t align with those of the U.S. We need to seriously consider Turkey’s membership in NATO if it’s willing to side with Iran-backed terrorists.”
South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, likened Erdogan to the far-left, anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian “Squad” in Congress.
The recent expansion of NATO has brought other problems. There may be safety in numbers, but nearly tripling NATO’s size to 31 members, soon to be 32, has its dangers too. NATO’s keystone policy, as a military alliance, has always been that an “attack on one is an attack on all.”
That’s now being tested, almost daily.
Recently, Belarus, Putin’s puppet, has threatened its neighbor and NATO member Lithuania with military action after Lithuania closed several border crossings and stopped issuing visas to Belarusians. Lithuania strongly supports Ukraine, and fears Putin will use Belarus to attack its own territory in retaliation.
“Lithuania has effectively banned us from moving our goods across the border,” Belarus First Deputy State Secretary Pavel Muraveiko said, according to Newsweek. “Under all norms of international law, such a step is considered economic aggression.”
Latvia, also a NATO member, has likewise restricted its border with Belarus. While NATO expansion into the Baltic region has helped build confidence and strengthen among the region’s economies, it has also led to resentment from Russia and its allies.
In another possible flashpoint, NATO recently requested Putin to remove troops from Moldova.
While neutral Moldova, a former Soviet republic, is not a member of NATO, it has been part of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” since 1994, and currently receives military aid and assistance from the alliance.
With the onset of the Israeli-Hamas war and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, some fear that the seeds of a possible World War III are being sown, as nations take sides in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Americans worry about paying for wars they either don’t understand or don’t want any part of. And the idea that a global conflagration, possibly pitting Russia, China and a number of Mideast nations against NATO, is a real worry.
This comes at a time, too, when many Americans are deeply concerned about the new “woke” U.S. military and its apparent lack of preparedness for major conflict.
Just last summer, a Gallup poll found just 60% of Americans expressed confidence in the military, the lowest since 1997, when defense was being cut sharply following communism’s collapse. Meanwhile, this month’s I&I/TIPP Poll showed that 53% of Americans said they were not satisfied with President Joe Biden’s efforts to end the Russia-Ukraine war.
As the I&I/TIPP Poll shows, you can now add NATO to the growing list of U.S. defense-related policies that worry average Americans.
I&I/TIPP publishes timely, unique, and informative data each month on topics of public interest. TIPP’s reputation for polling excellence comes from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.