UNITED NATIONS - According to the results of a groundbreaking 18-nation poll released Wednesday, people around the world favor dramatic steps to strengthen the United Nations, including giving it the power to have its own standing peacekeeping force, to regulate the international arms trade and to investigate human rights abuses."Despite well-publicized disagreements over the role of the U.N. in world affairs, this survey clearly shows that international public opinion has coalesced around the notion that the U.N. should be the vehicle for conflict resolution and international cooperation on a wide variety of pressing problems," said Christopher Whitney, who worked on the poll as executive director for studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent forum for the discussion of world politics and U.S. foreign policy since 1922.
The survey found that 12 of 14 populations polled believe there should be a standing peacekeeping force "selected, trained and commanded" by the U.N.
Not all questions were asked in all countries, because of both financial constraints and government regulations.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs conducted the poll with WorldPublicOpinion.org (WPO), in cooperation with polling organizations around the world.
WPO is a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland in the U.S., which seeks to provide a source of in-depth information and analysis on public opinion from around the world.
"While leaders of nation states may be wary of giving the U.N. more power it is clear that publics around the world are comfortable with the idea of a stronger U.N.," said Steven Kull, editor of WPO.
The people of a country are not consulted when their respective governments get together at the U.N. to shape foreign policy, Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, told reporters here Tuesday.
Ross proposed that a simple reform the U.N. could make right away to change this would be to offer elected representatives of affected populations and non-governmental organizations the chance to address the Security Council when matters that involved them were being discussed.
"If policy makers were really committed to understanding what the public would do if they had information that would move us a long way," Kull told IPS, emphasizing the results of a poll question, "How much of the time do you think the decisions made by Congress are the decisions the public would make, the majority would make? Forty percent [agreed]."
The new study is based on interviews carried out in countries that represent 56 percent of the world's population: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, China, France, India, Iran, Israel plus the Palestinian territories, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United States.
Some of the highest support for a standing U.N. peacekeeping force was found in Peru (77 percent), France (74 percent), and the U.S. (72 percent).
Support for "giving the U.N. the power to regulate the international arms trade" is nearly as robust (55 percent on average).
Majorities or pluralities in 12 countries support this idea, especially France (77 percent), South Korea (75 percent), Israel (60 percent) and the U.S. (60 percent).
A plurality or simple majority refers to the largest share of respondents, whereas a majority is more than half of the population.
Giving the U.N. authority "to investigate violations of human rights" received very high levels of support in France (92 percent), the U.S. (75 percent), Peru (75 percent), and South Korea (74 percent).
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This idea is favoured by majorities or pluralities in the 13 of the 14 countries surveyed for an average of 64 percent overall.
The idea of giving the U.N. authority to fund its activities through a tax on the international sale of arms or oil is supported by nine out of 14 countries polled (on average 46 percent support this, while 37 percent oppose).
Only 45 percent of U.S. citizens support this tax, however, while 50 percent are opposed.
Support is not as robust among the populations polled for accepting U.N. decisions that go against their countries' preferences.
However, according to the poll, large majorities believe the U.N. Security Council should have the right to authorise military force to prevent nuclear proliferation, genocide and terrorism.
Using military force to "defend a country that has been attacked" and to "stop a country from supporting terrorist groups" is favoured by majorities in all countries polled.
Very large majorities also agree that the Security Council has the right to use force to stop genocide.
Majorities or pluralities in all 12 countries polled on this issue go further and say the U.N. has the responsibility to use force to stop massive human rights abuses.
Interestingly, the Chinese (76 percent) show the strongest support for this idea, followed by U.S. citizens (74 percent) and Palestinians (69 percent).
Support is more modest for using collective force to stop nuclear proliferation.
Nonetheless, in eight of 11 countries polled, the most common view is that the U.N. should have the right to use force to prevent countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.
This week, WPO also released a comprehensive analysis of public opinion surveys carried out in the U.S over the last five years.
This study found that though over the last few years Americans have expressed dissatisfaction with U.N. performance, they have nonetheless consistently favored a stronger U.N.
U.S. citizens also prefer that the U.N. -- not the U.S. -- take the lead in dealing with international problems, especially when military force is involved
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.