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81% in poll saying `no' to defense budget boosts

With the Cold War over, more than three-fourths of Americans want defense spending kept at current levels or cut, a new poll shows.

Fifty-seven percent of 2,000 American adults surveyed said they want the defense budget to remain the same, while 24 percent believed that spending should decline.Only 17 percent favored more defense spending, according to a national telephone survey conducted Sept. 4-11 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. It carries a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Those surveyed said U.S. leaders should spend their energy - and public tax dollars - on foreign policy projects that pay off at home, such as protecting American jobs from foreign competition and preventing terrorist attacks on domestic soil.

Also, most Americans now want responsibility and power for world stability to be spread among the leading nations. Only 12 percent said they want the United States to be the world's dominant leader.

Fifty-five percent of those polled said President Clinton has not explained the Bosnia mission well enough for Americans to understand why U.S. troops are stationed there.

In fact, the majority of those surveyed did not want the United States to act as the world's single most active player. One-half opted for shared world leadership and 11 percent said the United States should not play any leadership role.

Only 12 percent said the nation should be the single world leader while 22 percent saw the U.S. role as the world's most active player.

Asked to name the top international problem facing the United States, poll participants most often pointed to economic concerns, threats of violence from foreign sources and this country's role in conflicts around the world.

Protecting American jobs should be the nation's top foreign policy priority, according to 77 percent. Other priorities included: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, fighting drug trafficking and improving the environment.

Asked whether events in Western Europe, Mexico, Asia or Canada were relevant to their lives, more than 55 percent of respondents said no, the survey said.

Only one in 10 could name one nation seeking membership in the alliance, the poll found.