Nato Divided Over Response to Russian Invasion, Survey Finds

NATO survey Russian invasion
Estonian soldiers take part in NATO military exercise Hedgehog 2015 at the Tapa training range in Estonia May 12, 2015. Over 13,000 allied troops from Estonia, Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Poland, the Netherlands, UK and the U.S. are taking part in the NATO military exercise in the Baltic Sea region. Ints Kalnins/REUTERS

More than half of people in Germany, France and Italy would reject military intervention to protect a Nato ally from Russian invasion, a new survey has found.

Opposition to intervention was highest in Berlin, with 58% of Germans opposing the use of its armed forces to protect an ally, a direct contravention of Nato's founding treaty.

Appetite for intervention was also weak in the UK, with less than half of Britons saying the country should use its military to defend Nato allies.

In contrast to European reluctance to intervene, 56% of Americans and 53% of Canadians would support the use of force to protect a Nato partner.

The Pew Research Center survey raises further questions about Nato's effectiveness in the face of increasing Russian aggression and dwindling defence spending by its members.

A recent study predicted that, out of 14 European Nato members including the UK, France and Germany, only Estonia would meet Nato's target of spending 2% of national GDP on defence this year.

The Pew survey focused particularly on attitudes to the conflict in Ukraine. The research found widespread support among eight Nato publics for financial support, with an average of 70% supporting economic aid to Kiev.

However, there was less support for arming the Ukrainian forces, with just 41% on average support sending military arms.

The research also revealed a worrying reliance by Nato members on the US to uphold the conditions of the North Atlantic Treaty. 68% of Nato publics outside Washington believe that the US would use force to defend an invaded ally, though many of the same countries showed a reluctance to offer military assistance themselves.

Article 5 of the treaty states that an attack against one Nato member is considered an attack against all, and member states promise to support an ally under invasion by using military force among other things.

Katie Simmons, associate director of research at Pew, says that the study highlights polarised views towards defence in Berlin and Washington in particular.

"There is an interesting divide between Germany and the US, at least among the publics, about what to do. There's more support in the US to use military force, there's more support among the US to send arms, but they do agree on economic sanctions and aid," says Simmons.

Falling defence spending in Europe has been been a growing cause for concern in Washington. Cuts to the UK's defence budget, totalling around 8% in real terms over the last four years, have been sharply criticised by Washington which has said it may have to review the deployment of British troops alongside US forces in future conflicts.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, told the BBC in March that a "dangerous" gulf was emerging between the US and Europe in terms of defence spending and urged Nato leaders to meet the 2% target.

Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London, believes Europe is growing increasingly complacent about defence, despite evident security threats coming from Moscow and the Middle East.

"The survey wasn't massively surprising and it reinforces the point that the Europeans have started to believe that the world is safer than it is or that the Americans would bail us out," says Anand. "This wouldn't be very happy reading for someone in Washington."