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Defensive attitudes

Defensive attitudes

The majority of the British public are opposed to taking military action either alone, or alongside the USA and its partners - according to a major study by the universities of Leeds and Strathclyde.

The online survey also found that 74 per cent of people also believe that too little is being spent on equipping the country's armed forces. However, 68 per cent thought the UK was investing too much in supporting the military activities of the US.

A majority - 53 per cent - also agreed or strongly agreed that Britain was too small a country to be "policing the world." The study also found:
  • 45 per cent thought it would be acceptable for the UK to be part of an EU operation;
  • 76 per cent thought it essential for the UK to work with other nations to solve problems such as hunger and climate change;
  • 39 per cent believed the UK was sending too much aid to developing countries;
  • 36 per cent believed the UK should not concern itself with world affairs but should instead concentrate on domestic matters.

The results of the survey, conducted by YouGov and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, follows the publication last week by the Ministry of Defence of a Green Paper identifying questions for the future of defence in advance of the Strategic Defence Review, which will take place after this year's General Election.

Dr. Graeme Davies, a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at Leeds said: "The surprising finding was that people would rather fight alongside their EU partners or alone than they would fight with the United States.

"It seems that, since operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British public are far more reluctant to involve themselves in US-led operations and even see EU military operations as a more appealing prospect."

Dr Robert Johns, a Lecturer in Strathclyde's Department of Government and co-director of the research, said: "We found significant support for a UN military operation, which would involve the US but which would also have the influence of many other nations. Conversely, participation in an operation with the US and a far smaller group of nations faced equally significant opposition. 

 "There is disagreement within the public about the appropriate role for Britain in the world. This probably reflects a conflict between ambitions for Britain as a major player on the one hand, and the dangers of overstretching ourselves - especially given recent military action and the general financial situation - on the other."

Further information

For more information, or requests to interview Dr Davies, please contact press office, University of Leeds on 0113 343 4031 or email

Notes to editors
  1. Dr Graeme Davies is a lecturer in International Security in the faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law at the University of Leeds.
  2. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.
  3. Its Faculty of Social Sciences brings together internationally-renowned expertise in these key areas of human interaction. Its four schools - education; sociology and social policy; politics and international studies; law - embed world-leading research into a range of undergraduate, postgraduate and professional development courses.
  4. YouGov surveyed 2,628 adults over the internet on 18-20 January. The results presented in the study are based on data weighted to make the sample demographically representative of the British electorate. In every case, the base number of respondents is 2,628. Percentages may not sum to exactly 100 due to rounding.

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