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Inter Press Service

Few Govts Seen to Take the Foreign Policy High Road

Ali Gharib

WASHINGTON  - Nationalism, both as an internal and an external consideration, has been a major factor in geo-political wrangling in the 21st century. But strangely, the populations of most countries don't necessarily see their governments as carrying out estimably moral foreign policies, according to a new poll.

People in 19 of the 21 countries polled did not think their national governments had above average foreign policies, according to the survey released by, a global collaborative project of the Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

Averaged across all countries polled, only about a quarter of respondents said that their countries had foreign policies with above average morality, while just over 20 percent thought their countries have below average morals in foreign policy.

"Certainly, the governments of nation states are preoccupied with enhancing the power of their states, and that flows from a nationalistic ideology," said Steven Kull, the director of PIPA and, told IPS.

However, Kull pointed to the results of poll as showing that while governments act on these nationalistic calculations, the populations of countries see beyond that state-based nationalism when evaluating how their countries' foreign policies affect the "world as a whole".

Kull was quick to caution that doesn't mean that populations of the world have turned against their countries' foreign policies.

"They're not saying that [acting on state interests] is a terrible thing," he said. "You don't see harsh criticism here."

Indeed, just over 40 percent of those surveyed said their countries have foreign policies of average morality, a rather moderate view of their national governments' dealings on the world stage.

The percent of U.S. respondents who felt that Washington's foreign policy was of average morality is higher than the global number, at 49 percent, but the number that chose above average moral foreign policy was the same as the world average, at 24 percent.

Russia just surpassed the worldwide numbers with 27 percent of its population saying that Russia's foreign policy is morally superior when compared with the rest of the world.

The countries where the most respondents saw their foreign policies as morally superior were Jordan (44 percent), India (40 percent), Azerbaijan (39 percent), and China (38 percent).

Those countries with the greatest numbers who saw their foreign policies as having below average morality were Mexico (with a majority 54 percent) and Argentina (39 percent). They were the only two countries with a plurality who made the below average selection on the survey.

Among major world powers, the British were the most down on their own foreign policy, with nearly a quarter of respondents picking below average. Though nearly a majority (49 percent) of Brits did say their country's foreign policy was of an average morality.


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In a notable counterpoint to nationalistic tendencies, populations of the world also tend to think of other countries' foreign policies as average when asked about the topic in the same survey.

"A characteristic of national governments is that they're not particularly moral," said Kull describing how people see their own governments. "They tend to see other national governments as having characteristics that are pretty similar."

But there was a little room to wiggle around the middle.

China, for example, got the worst ratings of any of the major powers. That fact comes as little surprise given the negative attention that China's foreign policy has gotten in cases like its dealing with Tibet and its perceived blocking of resolutions to conflicts and issues such as in Sudan - and to a lesser extent, Burma - where the country's economic and other interests are seen as trumping moral considerations.

The publics of six other countries - the most opposition by tallying the number of countries - said that China's foreign policy was morally inferior. The four Western European countries polled - France, Germany, Britain and Italy - along with the U.S. and South Korea took this view.

Russia also had a similar number of detractors in five nations, suggesting Russia's foreign policy is morally deficient, though most of Russia's detractors had pluralities that picked below average. For China, the below average votes won with majorities in most of its detractors.

The U.S., as evaluated by the populations of other countries, yielded the PIPA study's most starkly erratic charts. Five countries said predominately that U.S. foreign policy was below average, but two said that it was above average.

"Overall, the U.S. has the largest number worldwide saying it is below average (32 percent), but it also has one of the highest numbers saying it is above average (20 percent)," noted the poll report.

Britain was the nation that got the most positive rating. Even though only about a fifth of global respondents (not including those in Britain) said that its foreign policy was above average, it was the only country for which that number was greater than the amount of people who chose below average (17 percent).

Only two countries had pluralities or majorities that felt predominately one way or the other about Britain's foreign policy - one negative, Palestine, and one positive, Kenya.

France, on the other hand, was perfectly balanced in this regard: No nation surveyed had a predominate view of France as either having a morally below or above average foreign policy.


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