Supporters of the Fridays for Future climate action movement, including one holding a sign depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images
China and Russia are now seen as less of a threat to Western populations than a year ago as public concern focuses on non-traditional risks such as mass migration and radical Islam, according to new research.
Public perception of traditional hard security risks is still higher now than three years ago, but has fallen since 2022, the year Russia invaded Ukraine, according to survey results from the Munich Security Index 2024.
The findings point to a disconnect between public sentiment and political policy, as world leaders meet later this week at the Munich Security Conference to discuss what organizers called a “downward trend in world politics, marked by an increase in geopolitical tensions and economic insecurity.”
At the top of the agenda will be the ongoing wars between Russia and Ukraine and Israel and Hamas, as well as NATO expansion and a possible return of Donald Trump to the White House.
However, public opinion was largely unanimous on the medium-term economic and geopolitical risks, with the majority of respondents in Western countries believing that China and other powers from the Global South would become more powerful over the next decade, while the Western powers would be more likely. stagnate or decline.
The survey of 12,000 people in the G7 countries plus Brazil, India, China and South Africa found that few Western respondents believed their country would be safer and more prosperous in ten years. In contrast, most people in emerging economies thought they would be better off financially and politically.
Although Russia was identified as the biggest threat to the G7 countries last year, the majority of these perceived risks have since disappeared, according to the survey, conducted from October to November 2023.
Only citizens of Britain and Japan still consider Moscow a major risk this year, while in Germany and Italy concerns have subsided significantly. This also included declining concerns about the risks of nuclear conflict and energy supply disruptions.
China was also rated more favorably this year than last by five of the G7 countries, with Canada and Japan being the exceptions. What is striking, however, is that Chinese respondents now view all countries, with the exception of Russia and Belarus, as more threatening than before. It was also the only country to mention the US as a threat.
However, perceptions of non-traditional risks increased in all countries, with people around the world expressing concerns about threats to the environment, the risks of mass migration due to war or climate change, and organized crime. Environmental issues are among the top three concerns in all countries except the US
The perceived threat from radical Islam also showed a marked increase, although the report’s authors noted that sentiment was mainly concentrated in Europe and North America, and was likely a result of the war between Israel and Hamas.
Cybersecurity issues, meanwhile, are seen as one of the biggest risks in China and the US, as both countries step up their restraints against each other in the race for technological dominance.
The index was accompanied by a report entitled ‘Lose-Lose?’, which highlighted the continued shift from global cooperation to transactional, protectionist policies.
“As more and more states define their success relative to others, a vicious circle of relative profit thinking, prosperity losses and growing geopolitical tensions threatens to unfold. The resulting lose-lose dynamic is already unfolding in many policy areas and engulfing several regions. ,” the report said.
It added that this year’s super-election cycle could further exacerbate the risks of “democratic backsliding, growing societal polarization and rising right-wing populism,” further disrupting international cooperation.
“Populist forces have further strengthened the sentiment that some actors win at the expense of others, as an extreme form of liberalism ‘exacerbates who wins and who loses from economic globalization,’” it added.
The report suggested that Trump’s re-election as US president could “mean the end of trusted cooperation between democratic states.” On Saturday, the Republican presidential candidate said he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO allies if they failed to meet their spending commitments.