The NATO response Americans want if Russia uses chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
March 29, 2022, 7:23 PM GMT+0

President Joe Biden said at a news conference last week that NATO countries would respond “in kind” if Russia attacked Ukraine with chemical weapons. Biden’s comments followed an emergency meeting between the U.S. and its NATO allies with the aim of aligning Western powers against Russia’s attacks. Biden would not commit to whether NATO would respond militarily, saying that “we’d make that decision at the time.”

A new YouGov poll conducted March 24 - 28 indicates that Americans are split on sending military forces to fight in Russia in the hypothetical case of the Russian military using weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine. The poll asked about three kinds of weapons of mass destruction: biological, chemical, and nuclear. One-third of the poll’s respondents, chosen at random, were asked to evaluate possible NATO responses to Russia using chemical weapons against Ukraine. One-third was shown the scenario of Russia using biological weapons against Ukraine, and the remaining one-third was asked about a response to nuclear weapons. 

There is more support for sending NATO forces to Russia if the country deploys a nuclear weapon against Ukraine (38%) than in the scenario where Russia uses a chemical (30%) or biological weapon (29%). There is more support, generally, for targeting Russian military planes than for sending military forces to fight Russian troops. By 43% to 28%, Americans say that NATO should be willing to shoot down Russian military planes flying over Ukraine if Russia uses WMDs, with more support if those weapons are nuclear (49% to 27%) or biological (43% to 28%) than chemical (38% to 30%).

Comparatively few Americans think it is a good idea for NATO to deploy chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against Russia in response to a hypothetical use by Russia of each of the respective types of weapons against Ukraine. In the hypothetical scenario in which Russia targeted Ukraine with chemical weapons, 13% of Americans think it would be a good idea for NATO countries to respond by deploying chemical weapons. 

Given the scenario of Russia using biological weapons, 16% of Americans think it would be a good idea to respond by deploying biological weapons. Lastly, in the hypothetical situation of Russia using nuclear weapons against Ukraine, 18% of Americans think it would be a good idea to respond with NATO countries deploying nuclear weapons of their own.

— Ian Davis and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from this YouGov poll

Methodology: This U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between March 24 - 28, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as news interest and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the entire sample. 

Image: Getty