Climate change, terrorism top global security concerns: study

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A new survey has found rising concerns about climate change, the “Islamic State” and cyberattacks. But more people now see US power and influence as a threat, marking a significant rise from only two years ago.

A 26-country survey published on Monday found that a majority of countries see climate change “as the top international threat.” Terrorism, especially the kind perpetrated by the “Islamic State” militant group, came up as the second highest threat, topping security concerns in eight of the countries surveyed in the Pew Research Center study.

China’s power and influence was at the bottom of the threats list, which included cyberattacks, North Korea’s nuclear program and the condition of the global economy. Meanwhile, more people now believe US power and influence is a major threat to their country compared to similar surveys conducted in 2013 and 2017.

Top threats:

  • Thirteen countries, including Germany and Canada, see global climate change as the top threat “to our country.”
  • The “Islamic State” is seen as the top threat in eight countries, including France and Italy.
  • State-sponsored cyberattack is seen as the top threat in four countries, including the US and Japan.
  • Russia’s power and influence is seen as the top threat in only one country, Poland.
  • Nearly half of German respondents said US power and influence is a major threat to their country.

In depth

Deutsche Welle caught up withJacob Poushter, associate director of the Pew Research Center and lead author of the study, to discuss the study’s findings.

DW: How does the rise in the perception of the US being a threat contrast with the perception of Russia and China globally?

Jacob Poushter: Globally, across the 22 countries which have trends going back to 2013, a little over a third say that Russia’s power and influence is a major threat to their country and the same is true for China’s power and influence. More people across this selection of countries say US power and influence is a major threat compared to Russian and Chinese power and influence. That is actually a change from 2013 when slightly more people across these countries said Russia and China were more of a threat compared to the US. That is a pretty stark change as well.

I just want to add that there are caveats where this pattern does not exist and one good example is Poland, where Russia’s power and influence is seen as the top threat across all the questions we asked and in South Korea, where China’s power and influence is the second highest threat. There are exceptions to that rule, but generally that’s the case.

Climate change is viewed as the top threat by the largest number of countries. In the US, which is often considered an outlier on this issue, the perception of climate change has also increased, correct?

More Americans named climate change as a major threat in 2018 than in 2013; in fact it’s up 19 percentage points. It’s a growing threat to Americans as well as those in European countries. The difference might be that in the United States, the partisan divide is very large, where Democrats are much more likely to say climate change is a major threat compared to Republicans. There is a gap of 56 percentage points, which is very large.

Even though there are ideological gaps in other countries, the American gap seems to be a particular standout.

Is there something else you would want to point out from your study?

There is also an interesting gender difference where women are generally more concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program, global climate change and ISIS (another name for the “Islamic State”) than are men in many of the European and North American countries that we surveyed.

Also, cyberattack is an issue that has been rising in the minds of many people. We saw increases in many countries and worries about cyberattacks since we first asked the question in 2017.

The interview was conducted by DW’s Washington correspondent Michael Knigge and edited for clarity.

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