The Ambiguous Politics of Parity: Power and Deterrence in European Public Opinion

  • Richard C. Eichenberg


It is ironic that a “crisis” in Western security began in 1979. This was the year of NATO’s 30th anniversary, and among scholars the stability of the Alliance remained a prominent — even dominant — point of view. In fact, it was in 1979 that Anton DePorte convincingly analyzed the historical roots of the Western security “sub-system” that had endured for thirty years. In DePorte’s view, the most important features of that sub-system remained intact. Since the end of the Second World War, the crucial consideration had been the rise to pre-eminence of the United States and the Soviet Union, with all its implications for the security dependence of Western Europe and the subjugation of Eastern Europe. For West Europeans, Soviet power combined with geography to produce a threat that was palpable, however much it might vary with circumstances. And failing a unified European effort in defense as in the economic sphere, alliance with the United States remained a sine qua non of security and perhaps even of survival. Although NATO had seen many bitter controversies, the Alliance endured because the forces of change had been insufficient to overturn the “profound, precise and lasting consequences” that had been wrought by the Second World War.1


Public Opinion National Security Military Force Military Power Defense Spending 
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    Anton W. DePorte, Europe Between the Superpowers: The Enduring Balance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979) pp. ix–xii, 243–4; the quote is from p. ix.Google Scholar
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    The 1982/3 edition of the Military Balance concluded that “even with the inclusion of the Poseidon/Trident [submarine systems] on the Western side, the balance is distinctly unfavorable to NATO and is becoming more so” (International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1982/1983 (London: 1982) p. 135).Google Scholar
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    Age differences were examined in five surveys, including the 1979 survey shown in Table 3.6 and the USIA’s Multi-Regional Security Survey for 1980. Educational differences were examined in eleven surveys conducted between 1979 and 1981. Only in West Germany (in 1979) and the Netherlands (in 1978) were age or educational differences of any significance. These are discussed below.Google Scholar
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    Exactly the same pattern was found in two German studies of opposition to INF deployment. The deployment was opposed most by those who perceived East-West military parity. See Karlheinz Reuband, “Issueorientierung und Nachrüstungsprotest”, in Jürgen Falter, et al. (eds), Politische Willensbildung und Interessenvermittlung (Opladen: West-deutscher Verlag, 1984) p. 596; andGoogle Scholar
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  41. 44.
    Surveys on arms control negotiations and détente in general will be presented in Chapter 4, but one example will illustrate the point made here. In West Germany, the percentage of poll respondents who thought that Ostpolitik had reduced “the extent to which we must fear an attack from the East” was never higher than 36 per cent from 1974 to 1980, while the percentage who thought that “in this context Ospolitik has changed nothing” was never less than 52 per cent. See Press and Information Office, Federal Ministry of Defense, Meinungsbild in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zur Sicherheitspolitik (Bonn: 1 October 1984) p. 2.Google Scholar
  42. 45.
    Surveys on defense spending are presented in Chapter 6. The Dutch poll is reported in Netherlands Institute for Public Opinion [NIPO], Bericht Nr 1650. During the 1970s, the West German Defense Ministry conducted a survey asking if the Bundeswehr was “sufficiently armed” or “underarmed”; the percentage answering “sufficiently armed” rose from 41 per cent in 1972 to 63 per cent in 1978; see Press and Information Office, Hinweise für Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Nr 7/79 (Bonn: 14 September 1979) p. 78.Google Scholar
  43. 46.
    Lloyd Free, How Others See Us: Report of the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1976) p. 69.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Richard C. Eichenberg 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard C. Eichenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Tufts UniversityUSA

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