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2.2.5  Roles of the UN and the US

The desire of the American people to give the UN a lead role in global security, ahead of the US, came from a question asked three times in March ‘91, June ‘91, and June ‘95. In the latter two instances, ATI also asked a follow-up question which clarified the difference in the roles of the UN and the US that people desired. The people’s choice is really quite ingenious, for it handles in a reasonable fashion all situations of potential conflict between the UN and US on whether a response to aggression is required. Here is a case of the statistical wisdom of the people.

The initial question was stated as follows: "When faced with future problems involving aggression, who should take the lead, the US or the UN?" The follow-up question was, "If the UN refused to take the lead and a dictator was pursuing aggression against another country, what should the US do: take the lead, wait for other nations to act, or stay out of it?" The responses are shown in Table 1 ranked by the preference of the public. The rank order has not varied at all over the years.

ATI Surveys




Four Policies




  1. The UN should take the lead.




  1. The US should take the lead, either immediately or if the UN fails to act.




  1. The US should take the lead.




  1. The UN should take the lead and the US stay out of it, if the UN does not act.




Table 2. Who Should Take the Lead
Against Aggression, the UN or the US?


In the more recent survey, ATI #28, the overwhelming preference is for policy 1, the UN to take the lead, not quite the consensus it was four years earlier, but still a substantial majority, while those who say policy 3, the US should take the lead is still clearly a minority.

In ATI #28 the sample was split on this question-set and instead of "Who should take the lead?," a half-sample was asked "Who should be the policeman to the world?" The "policeman-to-the-world phrase was tested, in part because it had crept into discussions and was increasingly used as shorthand in public forums. With the new phrase, the margin siding with the UN grew (to 76%, up from 69%) and with the US dropped (to 19%, down from 28%).

The public is making an entirely sensible distinction. Being "policeman," implies much more responsibility than simply "taking the lead." The overwhelming majority of Americans who would personally have to do the hard and dangerous work the job implies by four to one say, "Let the UN handle it." The people don’t worry about the UN dropping the ball. That is taken care of by the US back-up position.  

>>> 2.2.6  When Americans Favor the Use of Force

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