BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO’s public image in the United States and France worsened sharply last year, according to a Pew Research Center study, after U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron questioned the value of the Western alliance.
Positive views of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which relies on the commitment of its allies to collective defense, fell to 52% in the United States last year, from 64% in 2018, the study released on Monday said.
In France, where Macron said last year the alliance was experiencing “brain death” because of a perceived failure to help resolve world conflicts, support fell to 49%, from 60% in 2017 and 71% in 2009. A figure for 2018 was not available.
NATO diplomats have long feared that Trump’s portrayal of NATO as an alliance in crisis might erode U.S. public support.
NATO, founded in 1949 to contain a military threat from the Soviet Union, relies on U.S. military superiority to face down a host of threats on Europe’s borders, including a resurgent, nuclear-armed Russia and militant attacks.
While Macron’s comments stunned other NATO leaders on the eve of a December summit in Britain, Trump has harangued allies since taking office in 2017 over perceived under-spending on defense. Trump threatened to pull America out of the alliance in 2018 and last year called low-spending allies “delinquent”.
The Pew study noted that several countries “have soured on the alliance”, including Germany, where support for NATO fell to 57% in 2019, from 63% in 2018.
Macron has defended his remarks as a useful wake-up call for allies, who he said were too focused on defense spending and other internal issues, rather than relations with Russia, NATO-member Turkey in Syria and the Middle East.
In Britain, however, where NATO is taking on greater symbolic importance following the country’s decision to leave the European Union, favorable views of NATO improved to 65% of Britons last year from 62% in 2017.
Overall, the study said 53% of people in 16 NATO members had a positive opinion of NATO, with less than a third expressing a negative view. The alliance is seen most favorably in Poland and least liked in Turkey.
Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Ed Osmond