HOUSTON — There was much debate over President Joe Biden’s decision to keep the U.S. military from getting involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine. New research from Rice University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas reports most Americans are staunchly against the United States engaging in any solo military conflicts or interventions. Instead, the public prefers when America works with other military powers, protects civilians, and resolves conflicts in a peaceful manner.
To gauge public opinion regarding direct U.S. military involvement in a conflict situation, study authors presented subjects with a hypothetical civil war scenario in which there may be several “motivators” encouraging U.S. involvement.
More specifically, survey respondents were presented with several scenarios that may or may nor draw the U.S. into a war due to numerous political or humanitarian interests. Study authors focused on three key aspects of any military intervention: the motivation, the form, and the mandate (or what it will take to achieve success). While there have been plenty of earlier studies gauging public sentiment on this topic in the past, this latest work took a decidedly different approach.
“Those types of surveys conducted amid specific military conflict may not offer all the options and dimensions for the public to consider, and thus don’t often paint a complete picture of public preferences,” Songying Fang, an associate professor of political science at Rice, says in a statement. “By using this hypothetical scenario and with a survey experimental design, we were able to use a consistent framework to compare public support across different scenarios.”
One finding is clear: Americans are very much opposed to U.S. boots on the ground in an armed conflict without allies. On the other hand, people are more likely to support multilateral intervention (such as a U.N. peacekeeping mission), protecting civilians, and resolving conflicts peacefully. The only exception to this finding is if the “solo intervention” is to fight terrorism.
Notably, study authors also report concerns regarding the perceived legitimacy of U.S. military interventions were actually considered more important by Americans in comparison to the cost and success of a given military campaign.
When researchers broke down their results according to gender, political views, and education levels, it became clear that Republicans are less likely to support U.N.-led peacekeeping measures in comparison to Democrats. Also, Americans with at least a college degree are significantly less likely to support the U.S. engaging in a solo military intervention.
On the other hand, people with a higher degree of nationalism and/or less education are more likely to support a solo military intervention. Regarding gender, women are more likely than males to support both the protection of civilians and overall peacekeeping efforts.
“Our study shows that Americans are highly supportive of the U.S. becoming militarily involved in the scenarios we presented,” Prof. Oestman concludes. “However, perhaps because of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they also display a strong preference for the U.S. to prioritize efforts that focus on protecting civilians and peacefully resolving conflicts over engaging directly in combat. Also related to this may be the finding that they are also highly concerned about the legitimacy of any actions the U.S. might take.”
The study is published in Armed Forces & Society.