26 June 2019   Leave a comment

Alida R. Haworth, Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino have published the results of a very interesting poll they conducted on the attitudes of American citizens about the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea. The authors constructed several different scenarios posing different probabilities of success in the use of conventional or nuclear weapons against different North Korean conventional and nuclear capabilities. Parsing through the scenarios requires close reading but the effort is worthwhile. The results offer some encouragement in that most Americans do not favor a preventive war against North Korea. But some of the results suggest that there is a sizable minority of Americans who do favor the use of nuclear weapons and that most Americans have an overly optimistic view of the efficacy of US missile defense systems against a North Korean nuclear attack.

“The first piece of disconcerting news, however, is that a large hawkish minority lurks within the US public; over a third of respondents approve of a US preventive strike across the scenarios and appear insensitive to informational cues that most security experts would expect to reduce such levels of support.

“Second, preference for the strike does not significantly decrease when the story says that the United States would use nuclear weapons in its attack; 33 percent preferred a preventive nuclear first-strike. Even more disturbing: There is no significant change in the percentage who would prefer or approve of a US nuclear strike when the number of estimated North Korean fatalities increases from 15,000 to 1.1 million, including 1 million civilians. As we have previously found, the US public exhibits only limited aversion to nuclear weapons use and a shocking willingness to support the killing of enemy civilians (Sagan and Valentino 2017 Sagan, S. D., and B. A. Valentino. 2017. “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think about Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants.” International Security 41 (1): 41–79.”

The authors also looked at how political preferences affected the attitudes of Americans.

“Across all scenarios, Republicans expressed greater preference for the use of military force than Democrats. This trend becomes even more stark when we tease out those who support President Trump specifically. A majority of Trump supporters prefer the US strike in every scenario, except when confidence in the effectiveness of the US conventional strike is 50 percent. Still, it is important to note that preference for the strike even in this scenario remains at 44 percent among Trump supporters, compared to only 8 percent among non-Trump supporters.”

One of the more depressing results of the poll is that it seems clear that the majority of Americans are deeply misinformed about the nature of nuclear weapons. There are a number of illusions–most notably concerning the effectiveness of missile defense systems–that make relying on public opinion in making nuclear decisions a highly problematic tactic.

A conference on Middle East peace began today in Bahrain and it was hosted by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law. The plan represents two years of work by Mr. Kushner, but very few Israelis or Palestinians were present. It is a two part plan. Today was the unveiling of the economic part of the plan, labeled “Peace Through Prosperity” which calls for $50 billion investments (for the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Egyptians) over ten years. The source of the funds was not identified. The second part of the plan is political, but apparently a Palestinian state is not part of that plan.

The proposals are ridiculous and it is insulting to think that anyone would consider them seriously. To comprehend fully how unlikely the success of the plans is one need only read the op-ed written by the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Danny Danon. It is entitled “What’s Wrong With Palestinian Surrender?” Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of world politics would know that there are some things that money cannot buy.

Posted June 26, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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