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Americans Retain Regard for U.N., Poll Shows

June 25, 1995|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Despite failed peacekeeping efforts in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Americans still believe strongly in the United Nations and its goals, although not so blindly as to ignore the world organization's middling record of achievements, according to a new poll.

In fact, the poll found that Americans have a more favorable view of the United Nations than they do of Congress or the U.S. court system. Sixty-seven percent of Americans have a very favorable or mostly favorable attitude toward the United Nations, compared to 53% who hold those views about Congress and 43% who see the courts that way.

The results, from a survey by the Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press, were released by director Andrew Kohut at a seminar in San Francisco on Saturday, two days before the 50th anniversary of the signing of the U.N. Charter.

The results appear to back up U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's contention that the anti-U.N. mood of Congress' Republican leaders does not reflect the mood of the American public. She has made that point recently in various speeches and congressional appearances.

The public, however, does agree with Republican leaders that the United States pays more than its fair share of U.N. costs, the poll found.

American support is powered by hope, Kohut said in an interview.

"People hope the U.N. can be a force for peace," he said. "And the public wants the United States to play a multilateral role, not a unilateral role, in world issues. The United Nations fits that role nicely."

The poll also found that 62% of Americans think the United States should cooperate with the United Nations. That is a decline from the 77% who thought that way in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, but it is far ahead of the 46% who believed in cooperation in 1976.

The mid-1970s are looked on by many analysts as the nadir of the United Nations, when the Security Council was paralyzed by the Cold War and when Third World governments used their majority in the General Assembly to mount verbal assaults on the United States and the West.

The Times Mirror Center is a nonprofit public interest unit of Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and other papers. For the survey, phone interviews were conducted with 1,007 adults June 2-6 and with 1,500 adults June 8-11. The poll has a margin of error of three percentage points.

Despite favorable attitudes toward the United Nations, Americans tend to grade it as low in achievement. As a forum for the peaceful resolution of conflict, the world organization was rated fair or poor by 52% of those polled.

About two-thirds rated it as fair or poor as a force for peacemaking ("restoring law and order in parts of the world where it has broken down") or peacekeeping ("keeping the peace in world trouble spots when it has sent in troops").

The war in Bosnia appears to have had a major influence on the American view of U.N. effectiveness. Although Americans do not feel that the world organization is effective in peacekeeping and peacemaking, they do not want the United States to step into that conflict and sort things out, the poll showed.

Sixty-one percent--an increase of five percentage points over a year ago--opposed sending U.S. troops to end the fighting in Bosnia, and 64% said the United States has no responsibility to act. The United Nations, however, does have such a responsibility, in the view of 58%.

But Americans were willing to help U.N. peacekeepers in trouble: 71% would commit U.S. troops to help peacekeepers under attack, and 65% would commit U.S. troops to help peacekeepers move to safer ground in Bosnia.

On the knotty question of funding U.N. activities, Kohut said, "People are less willing to spend more money, but they are not saying, 'Spend less.' " In short, the results do not show sentiment for the vast reductions in U.N. spending advocated by many members of Congress.

Six years ago, according to the center, a majority or a plurality of Americans wanted the United States to give the United Nations more money to help poor countries, bring peace to regional conflicts, monitor human rights and provide relief to victims of disaster. In all four instances now, a majority or a plurality think the right amount is being spent, the poll showed.

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