What Americans Think About the UN in US Foreign Policy

The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations just published one of its exhaustive surveys of American attitudes of US Foreign policy.

The Chicago Council has been conducting these surveys since 1974, and this year, not surprisingly, respondents overwhelmingly said that protecting American jobs ought to be the single most important American foreign policy goal.

Protecting the jobs of American workers continues to elicit the broadest support as a “very important” foreign policy goal of the United States, with 83 percent of respondents naming it. To put that number in perspective, 72 percent say that “preventing the spread of nuclear weapons” is “very important,” 64 percent say “combating international terrorism,” 33 percent say “climate change,” and just 14 percent say “helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations.”

The survey dealt in detail with American attitudes toward the United Nations. Like the Better World Campaign’s periodic polling of likely voters’ feelings toward the UN, the Chicago Council showed that Americans still feel that the strengthening the UN ought to be an American foreign policy priority. (The big difference between the BWC and Chicago Council poll is that the former offers a richer sense of where Republicans and Democrats agree and diverge in their attitudes toward the UN and specific UN-related foreign policy goals).

The survey shows that Americans prefer a cooperative approach to American foreign policy and believe the UN should be a platform for cooperation even when it means the USA must compromise a bit.

And Americans overwhelmingly believe the UN is effective in advancing American foreign policy goals.

On the other hand, when asked whether or not the UN is doing an effective job dealing with the world’s problems a much narrower majority says, “yes.”

It is interesting, though not all together surprising for those of us who follow the UN, that the extreme opposition to the UN is more intense than extreme support of the UN; but the moderate middle still generally believes the UN does a good job given the challenges and constraints it faces.

Another related part of the polling asks respondents attitudes toward various international treaties to which the USA has not acceded, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and a post-Kyoto international climate change convention. Guess what? Americans are very supportive of the USA joining all three!

All in all, this survey shows what many of us who follow these issues closely have always known to be the case: the pundit class may sometimes demagogue international institutions, but Americans overwhelmingly believe that international cooperation advances American interests at home and abroad.