Is World Opinion Important?

By Glick, Edward Bernard | Military Review, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

Is World Opinion Important?


Glick, Edward Bernard, Military Review


In the war against terrorism, the United States worries too much about international coalitions, just as it does about world public opinion. There is nothing wrong with building a coalition, whether against the al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden or against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But before it crafts a coalition, the United States should first inoculate itself against "coalitionitis," a potentially crippling politico-military disease that lets the most diffident members of an alliance diminish American resolve and results.

In the current phase of the antiterrorist war, when all is said and done, Pakistan and Uzbekistan are the only countries in Central Asia that are cooperating with the United States. Great Britain is its only true ally in Europe. And Turkey and Israel-which have more experience fighting terrorism than any other nation on Earth-are its only reliable partners in the Middle East.

As for international public opinion, nothing delights good people more than seeking solutions that are acceptable to it. Yet, nothing is more difficult for them to grasp than the myths and realities of international public opinion. In the heat of an issue, how many people realize that world public opinion is not based on a universally agreed-upon value system, that it is not always objective, that it is difficult to define, that it is easily manufactured or manipulated, that it is fragmented and ephemeral, that it has a very short memory, and that it can often turn out to be wrong?

Take the matter of definition. How does, or should, one define world public opinion on a given issue? By the level of violence committed in its name? By its loudness? By its repetition? By its media coverage? By the language and number of resolutions the United Nations has adopted on the issue? By the tally of states invoking it on a particular side of an issue? By the total population of those countries?

Or take the fickle and forgetful nature of world public opinion. The Russia that international opinion condemned decades ago for invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia is the same Russia that was hailed for its anti-Israel attitude during those decades. The world public opinion that condemned U.S. intervention in Vietnam is the same public opinion that ignored China when it conquered Tibet. The intellectuals who condemned America's sometime use of nonlethal tear gas during the Vietnam war were the same ones who were silent when Iraq used lethal poison gas during the Iraq-Iran war. In short, world public opinion, to the extent that it exists, is always conditioned by multiple perceptions of democracy, self-determination, wars of national liberation, colonialism, and imperialism. …

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