Americans Support Biden’s Response to the Ukraine War But Worry About Nuclear Escalation

, | Oct 24, 2022

By Mark Hannah and Dina Smeltz

This article appeared in TIME on October 24, 2022. It includes references to the Eurasia Group Foundation, now known as the Institute for Global Affairs.

NATO and Russia will soon conduct their annual nuclear exercises. These otherwise routine drills come at a perilous moment. For the first time since the Cold War, an American president is tested by a major power on how he might respond to a nuclear attack. Thus far, President Biden has aided Ukraine (and pressured wealthy European allies to do likewise) while not directly embroiling the U.S. in the war.

But many prominent voices in Washington urge him to do more. After two decades of overly ambitious and unsuccessful military interventions, several serious foreign policy pros yet again call on the U.S. to flex its muscle, to escalate America’s involvement in this conflict. Some urge the U.S. to double down in the face of “nuclear blackmail,” lest dictators be emboldened and the chances for nuclear war and proliferation increase. Others contend the U.S. should swiftly respond to a Russian nuclear attack with conventional strikes or even tactical nuclear use of its own.

The president, however, seems more attentive to the risks of nuclear war. He recently said he doesn’t think Putin is joking, and invoked the prospect of nuclear “Armageddon.” Biden’s more cautious approach has earned him public support and were he to depart from it and bow to the pressure emanating from hawkish enclaves inside the Beltway, he could jeopardize that. This caveat stems from two new national surveys of Americans’ foreign policy views conducted by our organizations, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Institute for Global Affairs.

Survey results show substantially more Americans think the Biden administration responded well to Russia’s invasion than think it did not. The top reason given is how the U.S. strengthened the Ukrainian resistance through military aid. However, the fact that the U.S. avoided a direct confrontation with Russia or that it encouraged NATO to strengthen Europe’s self-defense capability were, together, cited about as frequently. In other words, many support the president’s response because it’s not doing too much, not because it’s doing enough.

Read more of this article in TIME.

Written by Mark Hannah

Mark is a senior fellow with the Independent America project at the Institute for Global Affairs and host of IGA’s podcast, None Of The Above.

Written by Dina Smeltz

Dina is a senior fellow on public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

More from Mark

This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by IGA senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how US foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.

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