Throughout the Cold War, United States national security policy, and the public attitudes that supported it, seemed anchored in the great ideology and power rivalry with the Soviet Union. A basic component of that policy, the ups and downs of American military spending, was largely predictable by changes in the level of Soviet military spending and by public preferences, as expressed in opinion surveys, for increases or decreases in American military spending. Public beliefs about the appropriate level of military spending, moreover, appeared firmly rooted in a larger set of foreign policy beliefs. Attitudes toward the Soviet Union, toward the circumstances justifying the use of military force internationally, and toward cooperating with other countries were all part of a stable and well-defined system of beliefs. In turn, foreign policy attitudes frequently were predictable from a reasonably coherent set of attitudes toward domestic policy.
The end of the Cold War brought remarkable changes in both policy and attitudes. The major anchoring point for the rivalry—the Soviet Union itself—has ceased to exist, and Russia no longer poses the same level or kind of military threat. Rationales for U.S. military spending, for the use of military force abroad, and for international cooperation have likewise changed. But in some respects they have not changed so greatly. These historic events present us with an extraordinary opportunity to study the structure of Americans' foreign policy beliefs and the dynamics of attitude change. They also provide a chance to speculate about how changed and stable attitudes may affect national security policy.