Public opinion on defence and security issues: the role of public opinion in Serbia




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Public opinion on defence and security issues: the role of public opinion in Serbia

Zorana Atanasović


Introduction


Global security environment has changed in the last several decades. The end of Cold War has initiated changes in understanding of the concept of security and mission of armed forces. Concept of security encompasses military aspect, but political, economic, social, societal and environmental dimensions as well. The study and analysis of security includes not only national level, but individual, regional, international and global as well.

One of the consequences of the changed security environment is that the armed forces face new security challenges which changed their mission. Security sector is today term that encompasses armed forces, non-statutory security forces, civil management, legislature, legal framework1. Civil society bodies are the fifth dimension of security sector that includes: NGOs, (independent) media, think-thanks, research institutes, public opinion, and the electorate…2 In this article we will focus on the role of public opinion on security issues because of the limited space. Research and analysis of domestic and foreign authors will be used in an attempt to answer the question what are the possible roles of public opinion in shaping and managing the security sector and to provide the sketch of public opinion on defence issues in Serbia.


Public opinion and defence policy


General definition of public opinion is “format of collective reasoning of political public about current social situations that develop into issues important for the life and practice of social community.”3 Public opinion defined in this way is the format of expression of social attitudes of the representatives of political public about given situation-problem, and this implies the function of public opinion in stimulating the actors of political practice to behave in certain way during the process of resolution of socially relevant problems.

The reasons for carrying out public opinion research are numerous. One of them is the complexity of the notion of attitude, which makes it possible to achieve a better insight into complexity of human behavior. Attitudes encompass all three aspects of psychological life – cognitive, affective and conative4. Research and analysis of attitudes enables overcoming of one-sidedness of sociological or psychological approach in explaining human behavior. Attitudes connect two important moments for social behavior: influence of social factors and attributes of personality.

Public opinion research started to expand during the first and the Second World War when the power of propaganda and media was observed and developed to real industry. Not only scientists and experts are interested in public opinion research, but industry, health system, public administration, politicians, as well, and the list of interested sides is constantly expanding5.

Public opinion depends on several factors6: a) on the strength of traditional norms in the society and the given culture; b) on the integrity of the normative system across various layers within the society; c) on the general perception of the main institutions within the society (esteem, trust, image); d) on the preceding societal or collective experience (e.g. totalitarian or democratic past); e) on the subjective evaluation of credibility of various sources of information (specific media, specific channels of interpersonal communication); f) on the personal or group capabilities of integrating contradictory pieces of information into the framework of previous knowledge and experience (ability to cope with cognitive dissonance).

Consensus on the national level on major security issues is precondition of successful security policy and resolving of security and defence issues. Attitudes of citizens are integral element of the defence policy and one step in the process: perception – policy conception – decision – implement­ation – professional evaluation – public opinion feedback7.

Specialized knowledge is precondition for understanding security issues and this fact puts additional pressure on the relation between public opinion and security policy. Average citizen can not estimate ex. Which sort of weapons is efficient for a certain security threat, what number of soldiers is required in national army or where to build barracks. Very often, the information important for security is classified. It is sometimes hard to draw the line between information of the public importance and classified information, or to define the period until which a certain information is classified. Furthermore, security issues are usually sensitive, especially when they refer to life or death issues. All mentioned attributes additionally broaden the gap between the request for democracy and the request for efficiency of security policy.8


Is public opinion competent to judge on security and defence issues?


“Almond-Lipman consensus” is a result of two decades of public opinion research after the Second World War. The main conclusions are that “public opinion is volatile and thus provides inadequate foundations for stable and effective foreign policies; lacks coherence and structure and it has little if any impacts on foreign policy9. This view is advocated by the Realist School of international relations which pointed out that problem of foreign policy (of which security is a part) are far from the knowledge and experience of average citizens. Hans Morgenthau, one of the leading realists considered that foreign policy can not rely on the support of public opinion whose preferences are rather emotional than rational10. According to this school of thought, public opinion does not influence creation and implementation of foreign and security policy and its role is passive, i.e. to provide support to policy decision makers.

Page and Shapiro wanted to answer the question if citizens` preferences influence foreign policy decisions by analyzing public opinion trends. They collected 3319 items about policy preferences of which 609 were repeated in identical form at least in two public opinion surveys in the period from 1935 to 1979. One of their findings was considerable congruence between changes in preferences and policies, especially for large and stable opinion changes on salient issues. Congruent changes in policy were more frequent than non congruent, and public opinion had the tendency to change before the policy change occurs more frequently than reverse process. Public opinion according to the results of this research changes before the change of policy, but authors lave opened the possibility that congruence of public opinion and policy can be result of manipulation by political elite or interest groups.11 Another research conducted by the same authors included 6000 items of public opinion research from 1935 to 1982 confirmed stability of public opinion. Changes in preferences of foreign policy were rational response of public on national or international events that were objects of media reports or interpretations of policy creators or other elite. This research showed that objective events do not influence public opinion directly, but that citizens of USA form their attitudes relying on mass media, especially reports of experts and reporters. Public opinion reflects the quality of information and choices presented to public.12

The research related to the impact of public opinion on public policy, using the results of 30 studies, showed that public opinion affects public policy three-quarters of times the impact was gauged. The effects of public opinion were of substantial importance at least a third of the time. The salience of issues is important factor and decision makers were more responsive to public opinion on defence issues than other spheres of public policy13.

Political environment influences competency of citizens, according to results of the researchers at University of Illinois. Limits in citizens competency are, according to this experimental research, rather result of deficiencies in political environment than individual capabilities and dispositions14. Favourable political environment provides combination of general information with increased motivation to act responsibly and neutralizes individual differences in education and information on political issues15.

Domestic structures are an intervening variable between public opinion and foreign policy. The degree to which political institutions are centralized and the degree to which state dominates policy network seem to be the determining factor16. The illustration are two states on the opposite sides – USA where public opinion has the greatest and France where has the least importance.


Public opinion on defence and security issues in Serbia

Interested public is one of the basic components of democracy because it provides critical rethinking of policy and the government decisions. Free, developed and differentiated civil society is a base for competent public. Serbia is country in transition and is in process of building democratic institutions, public is one of those. Public and security come from opposite theoretical and practical traditions, based on the opposite values and that fact creates additional tension. Public is concept that refers to public good, something available to everyone. Security issues, on the other hand, deal with classified information and are protected from the influence of public. This tension was one of the criteria in Serbian society and security issues were out of the reach of researchers. As an example, in Serbia (FR Yugoslavia) there were no public opinion research with the focus on the Army or civil-military relations until 200117.

Centre for Civil Military Relations, non-governmental organization from Belgrade, carried out seven surveys of public opinion research on the military reform of the then Serbia and Montenegro, from June 2003 till April 2005, with sets of items referring to how citizens are informed about defence, confidence in defence institutions, expectations from defence reform and attitudes towards security integrations.

Over a half respondents during seven polling periods were for the most part interested or completely interested in security issues. Having in mind that over a half of citizens in Serbia estimate that are fully or for the most part informed about security and defence there is a good base for constructive potential of Serbian public opinion in public debate on security issues18. On the top of the list of security threats that public opinion perceives are security threats within the country more frequently than threats coming from abroad. Potential conflicts in nationally mixed communities, organized crime and economic and social conflicts and tensions are perceived as the most important security threats. Professionalization and modernization of equipment are according to public opinion top priorities in the Army reform.


Graph 1 Should our country join NATO?





Public opinion in Serbia holds a negative opinion towards joining NATO19. In all seven circles of research the same question was raised Should our country become NATO member? The support for the NATO joining is negligible, but we must not forget that the citizens of Serbia experienced traumatic experience during bombing 1999. A rise in support has a positive trend which is probably a result of the circumstances that political elite since 2000 mention Euroatlantic integrations as one of the most significant goals. The support for the NATO joining is the most relevant among the young and the educated respondents, which indicate that additional attention and information on the positive and negative aspects of the NATO joining should be focused on the elderly and uneducated citizens. The biggest percentage, about half of the respondents with slight variations was against NATO joining.

Although NATO membership is not welcomed by the majority of people of Serbia there is a positive attitude toward some forms of cooperation with it. The cooperation within the Partnership for Peace is according to the research till 2005 been supported by the huge majority, and the support had a growing trend, whereas the percentage of opponents did not exceed 15%.

In the public opinion research conducted by TNS Medium Gallup from Belgrade in February 2008 over a half of respondents (58,5%) supported Serbia’s joining of Euro-Atlantic integration. However, there are differences in understanding the concept of Euro-Atlantic integration. More than one half of respondents includes European Union as Euro-Atlantic integration. One third considers NATO and PfP as Euro-Atlantic integration.


Graph 2 What we mean by euro-atlantic integration?




The results of the research which was done by the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy20 go to say that on average half of those who want the EU integration do not want the NATO membership. But still the percentage of those who accept one or the other form of integration is sufficient enough to be a firm foundation for building a huger support for NATO.

The biggest percentage of people (almost two fifths) holds that the country security would benefit most of the Western orientation and EU membership. According to the results of the opinion poll organized by Serbian European Integration Office, Serbian joining EU on a prospective referendum would be supported by huge majority of people - 70%. Joining EU is a thing many people of Serbia long for, but most of them regard EU as merely an economic integration, although a significant part of the cooperation refers to the security (mainly in the field of legislation and home affairs and in the foreign, security and defence policies).

Probably the most significant circumstance which contributed to such results is that majority of European countries belong to Partnership for Peace and that among political elite there is an agreement that Serbia should be part of such a programme. At the end of the research 72,8 % of the respondents supported joining Partnership for Peace. It is true that 15% of the opponents of this cooperation within Partnership for Peace were against any form of cooperation with the institutions of “the West”. Comparing the percentages of the advocates of NATO joining and the membership in Partnership for Peace, truth is a harsh reminder that there is enough space for additional rise in the support of NATO joining. If the people were familiar with the positive experience of the armed forces during cooperation within Partnership for Peace, it will probably serve as an additional stimulus for the rise in support of extensive cooperation within NATO. The fact that the armed forces will specialize in medicine and engineering which do not involve direct involvement in combat operations will most certainly have positive impact.

Serbia is different from other countries in Central and Eastern Europe in that it has a number of particular traits which shape its attitudes towards NATO. It seems the argument that bombing in 1999 had a goal of ending the humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo was not plausible enough for the people of Serbia, and the grim impression was worsened by the fact that the operation was done without the approval of the UN Security Council. Besides, Serbia is a country which is still in transition period ensuing after the confict and authoritarian order and its citizens are primarily interested in improving standard of living, and the security is regarded as yet another domain in need of reform.

One part of the general public still has an attitude of Serbia not having the tradition of joining military alliances, and non-aligned policy in the period after the Second World War goes to prove it. On the other hand, most of the neighbouring countries are NATO members, candidates to join NATO or they see the membership in prospect. This argument is used by the elite / for instance by the President of Serbia / as a reason why Serbia cannot remain neutral and why it is preferable to join NATO.

Up to now the stated results indicate that the citizens of Serbia do not see the connection between the economic and security integration. Security integration, i.e. membership in NATO is not a formal precondition of economic integration, i.e. EU joining. The experience has shown up to now that post communist “new” EU members had joined EU before and the NATO membership for most of them added many bonus points for the accession to EU.


Graph
3 Confidence in institutions



Social and political environment influences attitudes of citizens. Good illustration is drastic decrease in the confidence in Army after death of the two conscripts in military barracks in 2005. Media reports analysis showed that response of the officials of the Army was informing the public about the event in a way that was not in a proper time frame, not coordinated and not corresponding to given situation. This manner of informing the public did not respond to the need of citizens to have clear information about the event and to resolve the issues that were uncertain and contested. This resulted in spread of the rumors and decrease in confidence in Army (Graph 3)21.

Media report on security and defence issues that was analyzed paralelly showed that these issues took significant portion of media report. However, media report had not provided pluralism in treatment of issues and factography dominated over analytical approach. Official interpretation dominated media reports, and the issues of public importance (such as financial aspects of military reform or war crimes on the territory of former SFRY) were marginalized and out of public discourse22.

Reaching the consensus on security issues in Serbia is additionally burdened by ideological division. We can differentiate group that is interested in security and defence issues, has strong confidence in Army and is strongly opposed to joining NATO and the group that is not so much interested in security and defence issues, is critical towards Army and shows more than average support to NATO integration23. These two groups can not be simply qualified as right wing and left wing oriented, but provisory can be qualified as pro-reform and anti-reform forces of society.


Conclusion


Widening of the concept of security to include along with military sector political, economic, social, societal and ecological security threats intensified the role of public opinion in security sector. Individual security is leading reason for states to pursuit for security and because of that security is public good and part of public discourse. Public opinion in Serbia is interested and according to selfestimation well informed on security issues. According to research, public opinion has potential for competent participation in security sector reform and wider in security policy.

There is a clearcut European orientation of Serbia but it is an open ended question whether Serbia can be independent from Euroatlantic dimension of integration.This question is not a subject of serious social debate in Serbia yet. It is rather uncertain whether Serbian people bear that in mind and hence there is a need to open a debate on whether it is possible to join EU, which is a wish of most people, and remain out of NATO. The experience of countries which became members of NATO in the two last enlargements prove that the membership in NATO occurred prior to EU membership and that full membership in NATO has made a positive shift in the negotiations with EU.

The support of the general public for the NATO joining will remain negligible as long as the general public does not see the benefits of Serbian joining NATO. The belief that Serbian accession to EU will bear propitious results in the economy growth and indirectly in the higher standard of living are the strongest stimuli of all. As one can see in the results shown, economic progress, i.e. the growth of investments after joining NATO was a good sign of the country’s stability and thus investment safety for the foreign investors. To get familiar with the experience of economic development of „new NATO members“ would definitely lend itself to the growth of general public support. 24 This is even more important when we have in mind that around four fifths of respodents mention TV and one third dailies as a main source of information on security and defence25.

A public debate on NATO where the arguments pros and cons of the joining are examined, has started, but on and off organization of public debates will not bring about huge shifts in the attitudes of the general public. It is necessary to stop the ambiguous wording such as Euroatlantic integrations and begin an open national dialogue at the highest level on the benefits and challenges of joining NATO26.

Presented trends are relatively stable and show the widest public is not emotive in reaction. Public opinion is very responsive to social environment especially media and interpretations of political leaders and elites. Political elite should have in mind when creating messages for the public that public opinion reacts to inadequate and improper treatment by decrease in legitimacy to government institutions.


References



  1. Almond, Gabriel A, Public Opinion and National Security Policy, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2, str. 371-378, 1956.




  1. Burstain, Paul, The Impact of Public Opinion on Public Policy: A Rewiev and an Agenda, Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 56. No.1 (March 2003), pp. 29-40




  1. Glišić, Jasmina, Miroslav Hadžić, Milorad Timotić i Jovanka Matić, Javnost Srbije i Crne Gore o reformi Vojske, I –VII krug, Centar za civilno-vojne odnose, Beograd, 2003-2005.




  1. Đorić, dr. Toma, Političko javno mnenje, Radnički univerzitet „Radivoj Ćirpanov, Novi Sad, 1975.




  1. Đurašinović, Dragana, Case Topčider: Reporting on the death of two conscripts in barrack Topčider on 5 Octobre 2004, presentation at workshop Strategy of Communication of MoD of SCG, in Kanjiža, 23- 25 April 2005




  1. Hadžić, Miroslav, Timotić, Milorad ur, Javnost i Vojska, Centar za civilno-vojne odnose, Beograd, 2006.




  1. Hartl, Jan, The Importance of Public opinion in Security and Defence Policy Making, in: Marie Vlachova (ed.), The Public Image of Defence and the Military in Central and Eastern Europe, DCAF, CCVO, Beograd, 2003.




  1. Holsti, Ole R., Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Challenges to the Almond-Lippman Consensus Mershon Series: Research Programs and Debates, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Dec. 1992), pp. 439-466




  1. Kuklinski, James H. and Paul J. Quirk, Jenifer Jerit, Robert F. Rich, Political Environment and Citizen Competence, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 45, No. 2, (Apr. 2001.), pp. 410-424.




  1. Law, David, Security Sector Reform in the Euro-Atlantic region: Unfinished Business, u: Bryden Alan, Hanggi Heiner (Eds.) Reform and Reconstruction of the Security Sector, DCAF, Geneva, 2004, pp. 21-45




  1. Page; Benjamin I. Shapiro, Robert Y. Effects of Public Opinion on Policy. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 77, No. 1. (Mar., 1983), pp. 175-190.




  1. Page; Benjamin I, Shapiro, Robert Y, Foreign Policy and Rational Public. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 32, No. 2. (Jun., 1988), pp. 211-247.




  1. Rise-Kappen, Thomas, Public Opinion, Domestic Structure, and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies, World Politics, Vol. 43, No. 4 (July 1991), pp. 479-512.




  1. Petrović, Predrag: An attempted debate – mapping the debate about NATO in Serbia’s civil society, in: Western Balkan Security Observer No 5, April-June 2007, pp. 31-41




  1. Rise-Kappen, Thomas, Public Opinion, Domestic Structure, and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies, World Politics, Vol. 43, No. 4 (July 1991), pp. 479-512.




  1. Rot, Nikola, Osnovi socijalne psihologije, Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva, Beograd, 1994




  1. Savković, Marko, Does joining NATO contribute to the more stable business environment and economic development in Serbia, , in: Western Balkan Security Observer No 5, April-June 2007, pp. 48-55




1 According to: Law, David, Security Sector Reform in the Euro-Atlantic region: Unfinished Business, in: Bryden Alan, Hanggi Heiner (Eds.) Reform and Reconstruction of the Security Sector, DCAF, Geneva, 2004, pg. 27-28


2 Ibid.

3 Đorić, dr. Toma, Političko javno mnenje, Radnički univerzitet «Radivoj Ćirpanov», Novi Sad, 1975, pg. 60


4 Rot, Nikola, Osnovi socijalne psihologije, Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva, Beograd, 1994, pg. 294


5 More details: Hartl, Jan, The Importance of Public opinion in Security and Defence Policy Making, in: Marie Vlachova (ed.), The Public Image of Defence and the Military in Central and Eastern Europe, DCAF, CCVO, Beograd, 2003.


6 Ibid, pg. 17

7 Ibid, pg. 16

8 More details: Almond, Gabriel A, Public Opinion and National Security Policy, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2, str. 371-378, 1956.



9 Holsti, Ole R., Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Challenges to the Almond-Lippman Consensus Mershon Series: Research Programs and Debates, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Dec. 1992), str. 439-466


10 Ibid, pg. 440

11 More on the results of this research: Benjamin I. Page; Robert Y. Shapiro. Effects of Public Opinion on Policy. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 77, No. 1. (Mar., 1983), pp. 175-190.



12 More on the results of this research: Benjamin I. Page; Robert Y. Shapiro. Foreign Policy and Rational Public. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 32, No. 2. (Jun., 1988), pp. 211-247.



13 Burstain, Paul, The Impact of public Opinion on Public Policy: A Rewiev and an Agenda, Political Research Quaterly, Vol. 56. No.1 (Mar., 2003)pp. 29-40


14 The main advantage of this research is that used experimental research design on respectable sample (1160 citizens of Illinois), but the main disadvantage is that it did not refer security issues.

15 More on the results of this research: Kuklinski, James H. and Paul J. Quirk, Jenifer Jerit, Robert F. Rich, Political Environment and Citizen Competence, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 45, No. 2, (Apr. 2001.), str. 410-424.


16 Rise-Kappen, Thomas, Public Opinion, Domestic Structure, and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies, World Politics, Vol. 43, No. 4 (July 1991), pp. 479-512.


17 Centre for Civil-Military Relations included several questions on the Army and security integrations in the poll on state of human rights within the project Protection of Human Rights in Army and Police in FR Yugoslavia, more details: Milorad Timotic, Serbian Public Opinion on Human Rights in the Yugoslav Army, in: Hadzic, Miroslav (ed), Protection of Human Rights in Army and Police, Centre for Civil-Military Relations, Beograd, 2006 pp.69-91


18 More details in: Glišić, Jasmina, Koliko javnost zna o Vojsci i odbrani i da li je to važno in: Hadžić, Miroslav, Timotić, Milorad (eds), Javnost i Vojska, Centar za civilno-vojne odnose, Beograd, 2006, pp. 55-82

19 More details in: Timotić, Milorad: Očekivanja građana od reforme vojske, Ibid, pp 105-133

20 It refers to the research Perception of State and Party Divisions done in spring 2006, more details on www.cesid.org

21 Đurašinović, Dragana, Case Topčider: Reporting on the death of two conscripts in barrack Topčider on 5 Octobre 2004, presentation at workshop Strategy of Communication of MoD of SCG, in Kanjiža, 23- 25 April 2005.





22 More details: Matić, Jovanka, Mediji o Vojsci SCG u procesu reforme, in: Hadžić, Miroslav, Timotić, Milorad ur, Javnost i Vojska, Centar za civilno-vojne odnose, Beograd, 2006. pp. 155-176.


23 Atanasović, Zorana, Političke partije Srbije i stavovi o Vojsci SCG, in: Ibid. pp. 133-152


24 More on the connection between the joining NATO and the investment increase can be found in the text by Marko Savkovic Does joining NATO contribute to the more stable business environment and economic development in Serbia, , in: Western Balkan Security Observer No 5, April-June 2007, pp. 48-55



25 Glišić, Jasmina, Koliko javnost zna o Vojsci i odbrani i da li je to važno, in: Hadžić, Miroslav, Timotić, Milorad (eds), Javnost i Vojska, op. cit, pg. 75


26 More about debate on NATO in Petrović, Predrag: An attempted debate – mapping the debate about NATO in Serbia’s civil society, in: Western Balkan Security Observer No 5, April-June 2007, pp. 31-41




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