East-West Arms Control: Challenges for the Western Alliance

By David Dewitt; Hans Rattinger | Go to book overview

9

Up (or down) on arms: American and Canadian public attitudes in the mid-1980s

Don Munton

INTRODUCTION

If arms control is, as Clausewitz might have said, ‘a continuation of politics by a mutual restraint on military means’, 1 then, like all international politics in this interdependent age, it must have a domestic side. Yet the study of arms control only rarely touches seriously on questions of popular demands and pressures, or of domestic support and consent.

The reasons why the study of arms control matters has afforded so little attention to that of public opinion on arms control seem to rest partly in the perspective from which students of military strategy stalk their subject and partly from the way in which purveyors of public opinion present theirs. The former usually assume the general public is much too ill-informed to comprehend the complexities and subtleties of their subject, and thus assume the public has little in the way of logically related ideas about arms control. If strategists think of public opinion as having any substantive content, they tend to regard it, among other evils, as something of a threat to the dual need for rational choice and bargaining flexibility in the making of national security policy. The latter, for their part, generally do so little with their basic polling data on security and arms control issues as to give the former cause to reconsider their assumptions. 2

And yet, there is mounting evidence that public attitudes are having an important impact on arms control and disarmament policies. The evidence, of a largely anecdotal sort, to be sure, stems from evident public pressures to conclude the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, 3 and from the more recent debate, at least in some NATO countries, concerning the modernization of short-range nuclear forces. If public opinion is having some impact, or even if it is only thought to be having some effect, then there is clearly a need

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