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Congress and the Future of NATO; Public Opinion and Congressional Decision Making

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In democracies the formulation of foreign policy, or any policy, is complicated by the need for elected officials to consider the impact of public opinion on their political futures, rather than simply the impact of the policy on relevant conditions and events. Elected officials, and their political appointees, are exquisitely exposed to the pressures the public can bring to bear, as well as to the press and the media which can rouse that opinion. Democracy demands not that our leaders make the right decisions, but that they be perceived by the public to be right. Obviously even the most successful foreign policy maker needs to be aware of his real constituency. There is little doubt who would have won the recent contest for U.S. presidency, for example, had the electoral college been filled with other world leaders. This is a tricky business, as the French government has just discovered but one managed differently here than in Europe, where party platforms and party discipline offer more protection to the career of the individual politician, but can turn out a government almost overnight. Now, with the advent of the new American administration, one of the issues under consideration in both Europe and the United States concerns the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. All of the members are democracies, which means that the future of the alliance depends not only on the policies proposed by the leaders of these countries, but on the opinions held by the voting publics. In much of Europe, where loss of a vote of confidence in parliament can change national leadership immediately, as well as in the United States, where congressmen need to run for reelection twice as often as presidents, the volatility of public opinion is most immediately felt in the legislative branch. These things are generally understood by politicians who endorse, if not always by strategists who devise, public policy.

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  • Administration and Management
  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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