Tensions at the Ukraine-Russia border have risen dramatically in the last few days. Friday saw reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had allegedly decided to invade Ukraine. The same day, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the deployment of 3,000 combat troops to Poland to join the several thousand American soldiers already gathering in nearby NATO nations. The U.S. State Department has told nonemergency employees of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave due to the "potential for significant military action."
Biden also took steps over the weekend to defuse hostilities. During a one-hour call Saturday, he warned Putin of the potential for "widespread human suffering" if Russia invades, noting that the U.S. is "equally prepared" for situations other than diplomacy. But just before that call took place, the Pentagon moved to withdraw nearly 160 members of the Florida National Guard from Ukraine, repositioning them elsewhere in Europe.
Biden has thus far seemed uninterested in putting American boots directly on the ground in Ukraine. That is a good thing, and it reflects the American public's broad skepticism toward risking conflict with Russia.
According to a new poll conducted by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) and YouGov, 49 percent of the general population does not favor the U.S. going to war with Russia if it invades Ukraine. Only 9 percent strongly favor U.S. military involvement to counter Russia, while 15 percent somewhat favor it. A little more than a quarter of respondents were "not sure" if the U.S. should go to war. Opposition to conflict came in at 44 percent and 46 percent for independents and Democrats, respectively; for Republicans, it was 57 percent.
And the strongest opposition to military engagement over Ukraine comes from individuals with military ties.
Among the veterans surveyed, 60 percent opposed a U.S. war with Russia. For members of military families, the figure was 52 percent. Military families and veterans were also more likely than the general population to say there should be fewer troops stationed in Europe. A whopping 80 percent of veterans said European countries should spend more on their own defense rather than relying on the U.S., compared to 63 percent of military family members and 52 percent of the general population.
Dan Caldwell, senior adviser to CVA, says these results are unsurprising. "Based on our interactions with people in the veteran community and the polling we've done over the past several years," he explains, "we have seen pretty consistently high numbers of veterans being supportive of ending our current wars, not starting new ones, and also being supportive of a less militarized foreign policy."
Caldwell notes that veterans and military families have a deep knowledge of the costs and implications of U.S. military adventurism. "This community has borne the brunt of our wars over the past 20 years," Caldwell says. "I don't think it's surprising that they would be more wary than the general population of a new war, this time with nuclear-armed Russia, over Ukraine."
American opposition to war with Russia is part of a greater trend of war-weariness.
Pluralities or majorities of all groups surveyed by YouGov/CVA supported a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq—including 58 percent of veterans and 55 percent of military families. A staggering 82 percent of survey respondents believe that current U.S. military engagement in the world should be reduced or stay the same.
"If you look at the polling done around the Afghanistan withdrawal, even after the chaotic final evacuation you still had the vast majority of Americans believing it was the right decision to withdraw," says Caldwell. A poll conducted by The Hill and HarrisX last spring found that 73 percent of registered voters supported Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal plan. Even as the Taliban took over the country, 54 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey said the withdrawal was the right decision.
Americans are largely tired of war. Recognizing that our recent conflicts have been costly and ineffective, they have little appetite for a new one in Ukraine. If the general public's opposition isn't convincing enough, take it from the veterans and military families who know what a war with Russia would entail.