World Opinion on General Principles of World Order
from International Institutions and Global Governance Program

World Opinion on General Principles of World Order

August 12, 2009 9:58 am (EST)

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

This page is part of Public Opinion on Global Issues.

More From Our Experts

This publication is now archived.

International Law

More on:


Global Governance

Polls and Public Opinion

Most people around the world support an international order based on international law and treaties. Majorities in most countries believe that international laws create normative obligations like domestic law, and believe that nations should feel obliged to abide by international law even when doing so is at odds with their national interest. However, people tend to underestimate how much their fellow citizens feel such an obligation. Europeans and Americans express readiness to contribute military force to uphold international law. Limited international data reveal strong support for participation in a variety of international treaties.

Multilateralism and the International Order

International polling reveals a strong consensus that world order should be based on a multilateral system led by the United Nations or a group of regional powers, rather than a system based on hegemony or bipolarity. Large majorities in countries around the world reject a hegemonic role for the United States, but do want the United States to participate in multilateral efforts to address international issues. 

Strengthening the United Nations

Large majorities around the world have endorsed having a stronger United Nations. Large majorities also support giving the UN a variety of expanded powers, including having a standing peacekeeping force, the power to investigate human rights violations, and the power to regulate the international arms trade. National publics are more divided when it comes to giving the United Nations the capacity to impose a tax. Support for working through the United Nations is somewhat tempered, especially among smaller countries, when poll questions highlight the prospect of subordinating national policies to collective decision-making processes.

More From Our Experts

Multilateralism and the Use of Military Force

In international polling, large majorities around the world favor the United Nations having the right to authorize the use of military force for a wide range of contingencies. The approval of the UN Security Council plays a powerful—and in many cases a necessary—role in conferring legitimacy on the use of military force. Among Europeans and Americans, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) does provide some legitimacy, but by much smaller margins than does the United Nations. 

Intervention in Internal Affairs

Robust majorities approve of the United Nations intervening in the internal affairs of states to investigate human rights abuses and to promote human rights in member states. Perhaps most dramatic, equally large majorities approve of the United Nations using military force to forcibly deliver urgent humanitarian aid if the government tries to block the aid, and to protect people from severe human rights abuses even against the will of the government. 

More on:


Global Governance

Polls and Public Opinion

UN Monitoring of Elections

Publics in most nations say that when there are concerns about the fairness of elections, countries should be willing to have UN observers monitor the elections. Most countries polled, including developed democracies, say that their own country would benefit from such monitoring.

When the United Nations Should Take the Lead

Asked whether the United Nations, national governments, or regional organizations should take the lead in dealing with various issues, responses vary according to the issue. The most common view is that the United Nations should take the leading role in addressing aid for economic development, dealing with refugees, and international peacekeeping. The most common view is that national governments should take the leading role on protection of the environment. Views are more mixed on human rights, but most say either the United Nations or a regional organization should take the lead.

National and International Identity

Large majorities in publics around the world perceive themselves as citizens of the world as well as of their nation, but in all nations national identity is still stronger than global identity.

International Cooperation

Large majorities of Europeans and Americans alike believe that they have enough common values for transatlantic cooperation on international problems and that it is critical for their own nation to act together with its closest allies on national security issues. Europeans strongly favor cooperation over competition between the European Union and the United States. Internationally, more publics think their government should be more cooperative than it is than think that their government tends to be too ready to compromise.


Top Stories on CFR



Ebrahim Raisi was more loyal to hard-line Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei than previous presidents, and whoever succeeds him is likely to be just as conservative.  

United States

A proposed Japanese takeover of U.S. Steel is facing domestic political pushback that could challenge Biden administration foreign policy aims.