This is remarkable since NATO and the EU had apparently reached a compromise on this issue with the so-called ‘Berlin-Plus’ package of March 2003. With this agreement the EU is given the possibility to use NATO assets in case it wanted to act independently in an international crisis, provided that NATO does not want to act itself – the so-called ‘right of first refusal’. With regard to Darfur ‘Berlin-Plus’ was not invoked. By now NATO and the EU have reached a laborious compromise.
The question is whether the Darfur issue is exemplary for the future NATO-EU relationship. In practice, and on the basis of allied decisions, NATO is able to operate far outside of the European territory. The NATO Response Force has been created just for this purpose. The EU – pushed by France in the Darfur issue – opposes an active NATO role on the African continent, but the Union itself is not able to act forcefully – and thus credibly – in that part of the world. The military capabilities of the EU are too modest for this. The EU would show common sense to acknowledge this aspect in questions such as these, without abandoning the long term perspective of an independently acting EU.
The Netherlands Atlantic Association has the intention to regularly conduct public opinion polls on abovementioned and related issues. In the weeks preceding the Dutch ‘no’ against the European constitutional treaty, the Netherlands Atlantic Association asked the reputable research bureau TNS/NIPO to conduct a poll among some 1,100 Dutchmen asking them various questions regarding NATO.
The results of the poll show that the Dutch population thinks that NATO is still highly relevant to Dutch security (78%). This percentage has been consistently high both during and after the Cold War. Another remarkable outcome of the poll is that a large majority (70%) supports the proposition that NATO is important for good relations between the Netherlands and the United States. Furthermore, 55% of the interviewees think that the enlargement of NATO with countries in Central and Eastern Europe has a positive effect on the stability of Europe. Another question deals with the amount of faith that the population has with regard to NATO operations in Afghanistan: two out of five Dutchmen (41%) think that NATO will succeed in carrying out the mission in Afghanistan. A last question concerns the desirability of a possible NATO role in the Middle East to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A majority (50%) sees a role for NATO, while 30% of the interviewees do not envisage a task for NATO in the Middle East.
What conclusions can be drawn from this poll? There is nothing as volatile as public opinion – especially in the Netherlands after 9/11. What we can conclude however is that NATO has built up a strong position in the eyes of the Dutch public, both during and after the Cold War. In academic circles, the image of NATO as an important link between two continents is sometimes doubted, but this is not supported by public opinion polls. Apparently NATO has less of an image problem than is sometimes presumed. The public also shows faith in NATO’s capabilities when it comes to new tasks, like in Afghanistan. Only a small percentage (12%) indicates to have no faith in NATO’s mission over there. Also the remarkably high percentage of respondents who see a role for NATO in the conflict in the Middle East is at least a sign that NATO is seen as a credible security organisation.
In May 2005 the Netherlands Atlantic Association asked research bureau TNS/NIPO to conduct a public opinion poll on NATO issues. 1.092 adults that form a representative cross-section of the Dutch population were interviewed. Following are the questions that have been posed and the main results of the poll.
Question No. 1 How important is Dutch membership of NATO for the security of the Netherlands?
Very important 32%
Reasonably important 47%
Reasonably unimportant 6%
Very unimportant 2%
Don’t know 13%
Question No. 2 To what extent does NATO contribute to the relationship between the United States and the Netherlands?
Very positively 10%
Very negatively 1%
Don’t know 23%
Question No. 3 NATO currently has military troops stationed in Afghanistan. The mission of these troops is to enhance stability in that country. To what extent do you have faith in NATO to accomplish this mission?
All faith 11%
A lot of faith 30%
Some faith 35%
Little faith 10%
No faith 2%
Don’t know 11%
Question No. 4 What effect will the enlargement of NATO with countries from Central and Eastern Europe have on stability in Europe?
Very positive 5%
Very negative 1%
Don’t know 27%
Question No. 5 Do you think NATO should make an effort to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
A lot of effort 17%
Some effort 33%
Not too much effort 20%
No effort at all 12%
Don’t know 17%