July 24, 2007

A Rising Tide Lifts Mood in the Developing World

Chapter 3. Perceived Threats and Allies

People around the world often mention neighboring nations as posing the greatest threats to their own countries. Proximity also is a factor in peoples’ views of their country’s most dependable allies. However, world powers often make the list – and the United States appears prominently on the lists of major allies and threats.

In fact, publics in 19 of the 47 countries surveyed cite the United States more often than any other nation as a dependable ally in the future. At the same time, the United States also is named more frequently than any other country or group as one of the greatest threats by 17 publics, including several in Latin America and predominantly Muslim countries, as well as in China and Russia.

Iran tops the list of potential threats in the United States, Canada and in much of Europe. Majorities in Israel (65%) and Kuwait (52%) and nearly half of Jordanians (46%) also name Iran among the nations or groups that pose the greatest threats to their own country, but Iran does not register as a major threat in other parts of the world. Across much of the globe, opinions about potential threats and dependable allies often reflect regional conflicts and partnerships.

U.S. Viewed as an Ally and a Threat

Among the publics surveyed, Israelis are the most likely to consider the United States among their country’s most dependable allies. Nearly nine-in-ten in Israel (87%) cite the United States, in an open-ended format, as a country that Israel “can most rely on as a dependable ally in the future.” Three-quarters of South Koreans and nearly the same proportion of Japanese (74%) also name the United States as a close ally, as do close to seven-in-ten Canadians (69%).

Views of the United States as a dependable ally also are widespread in Africa, where majorities in eight of the ten publics polled list the United States among their countries’ top three allies. Yet several African publics also cite China as a trusted ally; in fact, as many people in Ivory Coast point to China as their country’s most dependable ally as name the United States (69% each), and China is mentioned nearly as often as the United States by Ethiopians, Malians and Tanzanians.

Religious divisions are evident in Africans’ views of allies. Majorities in Nigeria and Ethiopia (58% in each country) cite the United States as a reliable ally, but these views mostly reflect the opinions of Christians in those countries. Eight-in-ten Christians in Nigeria and about the same proportion of Ethiopian Christians (77%) say their countries can rely on the United States as a dependable ally. By contrast, just 37% of Nigerian Muslims and 27% of Muslims in Ethiopia agree.

Latin Americans offer conflicting views about the United States. For example, the United States is cited more frequently than any other country as a dependable ally by Mexicans (41%) and Brazilians (32%). But more Mexicans and Brazilians also volunteer the United States most often as a country or group that poses “the greatest threat” to their nations in the future (44% in Mexico; 45% in Brazil).

Venezuelans and Argentines are the most likely in the region to see the United States as a threat. More than half in those countries (54% in Venezuela and 52% in Argentina) share this opinion. Iran is named second most frequently as a threat in Venezuela, with just 14%. Al Qaeda is the second most frequently mentioned threat in Argentina, with 8%.

Publics in predominantly Muslim countries in Asia also are inclined to see the United States as a threat. The United States is cited most often as a major threat in Bangladesh (72%), Pakistan (64%), Indonesia (63%) and Malaysia (46%). In the Middle East, respondents in Turkey, a NATO ally, also are fearful of the United States. Nearly two-thirds in that country (64%) say the United States poses a great threat to their country. And while Israel tops the list of potential threats in four of the seven Muslim countries polled in the Middle East, about half (48%) in the Palestinian territories name the United States as a potential threat.

Nearly half of Russians (49%) say the United States poses a serious threat to their country. More people in Ukraine (31%) and Spain (29%) also name the United States more often as a threat than other countries or groups. In the rest of Europe, however, the United States is generally not viewed as a top threat.

Who Sees Iran as a Top Threat?

Despite widespread concern throughout the world over Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, publics in just nine of the 47 countries surveyed most often name Iran as the greatest threat to their own countries. Majorities in Israel (65%) and Kuwait (52%) see Iran as a major threat, as do pluralities in the United States, Canada and several European countries. Iran also is seen as a threat by a large share of Jordanians (46%), but it is a distant second to Israel, which is named by 81% of Jordanians. (For a more detailed analysis of opinions about Iran, see Global Unease with Major World Powers , released June 27).

More than four-in-ten Americans (44%) say Iran presents a major threat to their country, far more than name any other country or group. By contrast, North Korea, which was labeled as part of an “axis of evil” by President George W. Bush in 2002 along with Iran and Iraq, is seen as a threat by fewer than a quarter in the United States (23%). Iraq is mentioned by about three-in-ten Americans (31%).

In Western Europe, Iran is named most frequently as a serious threat in France (45%), Germany (38%), and Britain (37%). Iran also receives more mentions than any other country in the Czech Republic, where a third of the public views Iran as a potential threat to their country. In Slovakia, slightly more name Iran than Iraq as major threats (27% name Iran as a threat; 25% name Iraq).

Few people in Latin America, Asia, and Africa volunteer Iran as a country that might pose a threat to their own countries. In Latin America and Asia in particular, Iran is considered far less threatening that the United States. Mexicans are more likely than other Latin Americans to name Iran as a potential threat, but only a quarter in that country does so.

Allies and Threats in the Americas

The relationship between the United States and Canada is viewed very differently on either side of the border. Nearly seven-in-ten Canadians (69%) cite the United States as a country that Canada can most rely on as a dependable ally in the future. By contrast, just 28% of Americans say the same about Canada. One-in-five Canadians also think about their neighbors to the south when asked about potential threats, but virtually no one in the United States names Canada as a threat.

For the most part, however, Americans and Canadians share similar concerns regarding threats to their countries. Iran tops the list in both countries, with Iraq and China close behind. About three-in-ten (31%) Americans and nearly a quarter of Canadians (23%) name Iraq as a threat to their country. A quarter in the United States and about one-in-five in Canada (22%) say China is a threat.

Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, relatively few Americans cite al Qaeda as the biggest threat to the United States, though the question asks about countries or groups that represent the greatest threats. Just 5% of Americans name al Qaeda among the greatest threats to their country.

Majorities in the United States and Canada see Great Britain as a dependable ally. More than six-in-ten Americans (62%) say their country can depend on Great Britain, more than name any other country. About half of Canadians (51%) agree.

In the Latin American countries surveyed, regional countries – particularly Brazil – often appear on the list of most dependable allies. A third of Argentines and about as many Bolivians (32%) say Brazil is a reliable ally, more than name any other country. Nearly half of Venezuelans (47%) share this opinion, as do 30% of Peruvians.

In Bolivia (27%) and Argentina (25%), roughly a quarter consider Venezuela a dependable ally. And Argentina is named by about one-in-five in Bolivia (19%) and Venezuela (18%). Mexicans, however, are not inclined to cite other Latin American countries as close allies.

While the United States is mentioned as an ally by a number of Latin American publics, its importance in Mexico is particularly notable. About four-in-ten (41%) in Mexico say their country can rely on their neighbor to the north. The next most frequently mentioned allies are Canada and the European Union, at just 15% each. But the ambivalent views that many Mexicans have regarding the United States are reflected in the relatively large percentage viewing the United States among the greatest threats to Mexico (44%). In fact, 6% of Mexicans simultaneously list the United States as both as Mexico’s greatest threat and most dependable ally.

In four of the seven Latin American publics surveyed (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela) more see the United States as a threat to their nation than as a reliable ally. This is particularly the case in Venezuela, where a 54% majority cites the United States as a threat while just 17% see it as an ally. But in Chile and Peru, the United States is named as an ally more often than it is named as a threat.

While the U.S. presence in the region looms large – both positively and negatively – it is not the only country perceived as a threat. In Peru, Bolivia and Chile, opinions reflect an unresolved border dispute that dates more than a century. A majority in Peru (53%) and a large proportion in Bolivia (43%) say Chile is a major threat to their countries. Chileans, for their part, see Bolivia and Peru as their country’s greatest threats (42% name Bolivia and 41% name Peru).

Allies and Threats in Europe

Europeans generally are more likely to see international rather than regional actors as serious threats. Iran is viewed as the top threat by several publics in the region, and China and Iraq also are frequently mentioned.

In addition, al Qaeda raises more concern among European publics than it does in the United States. Fully half of Bulgarians name bin Laden’s organization as a threat to their country, as do 27% in Russia and Italy, and 23% in Spain, where a 2004 terrorist attack linked by authorities to al Qaeda killed nearly 200 people. One-in-five in Poland and a similar number in Ukraine (19%) also cite the terrorist group as a threat to their countries.

In Poland, 36% cite Russia as their country’s greatest future threat, more than name other countries or groups. Nearly one-in-five Germans (18%) and Czechs (19%) also say Russia poses a threat. And while no country emerges as a clear threat in Sweden, Russia tops the list in that country at 15%.

When it comes to naming allies, a solid majority in Great Britain (57%) says their country can most rely on the United States. But in every other European country, regional partners are named more often. For example, eight-in-ten French respondents cite Germany as a dependable ally, and about half in Germany (51%) name France. In Sweden, nearly two-thirds (65%) cite another Scandinavian country or “Scandinavia” more generally as their country’s most dependable ally.

In Bulgaria, the most recent addition to the European Union, nearly seven-in-ten (68%) see that organization as a strong ally. The EU also receives more mentions than any other country or group in Poland (48%), Spain (44%), Slovakia (29%), and Italy (33%). And while 59% of Ukrainians say Russia is their country’s most dependable ally, nearly four-in-ten (37%) cite the EU, although Ukraine is not a member of that organization.

Allies and Threats in the Middle East

Overwhelming majorities in four of the seven predominantly Muslim countries surveyed in the Middle East view Israel as a major threat to their countries. More than eight-in-ten in Egypt (86%) and Jordan (81%), nearly three-quarters in Lebanon (74%) say Israel represents a serious future threat to their country. Notably, somewhat fewer Palestinians (60%) cite Israel as a major threat, though more name Israel than any other country or group. (The current survey was conducted April 6-May 29, before Hamas took over the Gaza Strip following a violent struggle with Fatah.)

Israel is not the only country causing concern to its neighbors in the Middle East, however. More than half in Kuwait (52%) name Iran among their country’s greatest future threats, as do 46% of Jordanians and 42% of Lebanese. But in Lebanon, Christians and Sunni Muslims are particularly concerned about Iran – 56% of Lebanese Christians and 59% of Sunnis in that country name Iran as Lebanon’s biggest threat, compared with just 8% of Shia Muslims.

Two-thirds of Lebanese Christians and more than half of Lebanese Sunnis (52%) also express concern about Syria becoming a threat to their country, but only a small share of Shia in Lebanon share this view (8%). The Shia organization Hezbollah is cited as a top threat by 66% of Christians and 33% of Sunnis in Lebanon, but relatively few Shia Muslims (7%) in Lebanon also view the movement as a threat.

Saudi Arabia tops the list as a dependable ally in four of the seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East. A majority in Lebanon (57%) and large proportions of Egyptians (44%), Kuwaitis (48%) and Jordanians (42%) view Saudi Arabia as their country’s most dependable ally. Yet other countries in the region also are mentioned frequently. More than four-in-ten in Jordan (41%) mention Egypt as a dependable ally. Among Shia Muslims in Lebanon, more than six-in-ten (62%) see Iran as a close ally, while 51% name Syria.

In Lebanon, a former French colony, more than half (53%) also say France is an important ally. This is especially the case among Christians in that country; 78% of Lebanese Christians view France as their country’s most dependable ally, compared with 42% of Lebanese Muslims.

Respondents in Israel overwhelmingly name the United States as their country’s most dependable ally (87%), but Great Britain also is mentioned by a considerable proportion of Israelis (46%). Regarding threats to their country, nearly two-thirds of Israelis name Iran (65%); about half (47%) name Hezbollah; and slightly more than a third name Hamas (35%).

Allies and Threats in Asia

The United States is cited most frequently as the greatest national threat in the four predominantly Muslim countries surveyed in Asia, as well as in China. Two-thirds (66%) in China cite the United States among their country’s greatest threats. In addition, the United States is cited as a serious threat by 23% of Japanese.

Publics in Asia also say their countries face threats from other countries in the region. Nearly half in Pakistan (45%) and Bangladesh (47%) say India poses a threat to their countries, while three-quarters of Indians express concerns about Pakistan. In Japan, two-thirds (66%) name North Korea, with whom Japan has had strained relations for decades, and nearly half (49%) name China as their country’s greatest threat. And in South Korea, the three most frequently mentioned threats are regional neighbors: 70% name Japan; 64% name China; and 50% cite North Korea.

But Asian publics also say their countries can rely on their neighbors as allies. Nearly six-in-ten in Pakistan (58%) and about half in South Korea (48%) and Bangladesh (45%) name China as their country’s most dependable ally. More Indonesians name Japan than any other country (41%), and the second and third most mentioned allies in that country also are in Asia (36% cite Malaysia and 24% name China).

Chinese respondents see Russia as their country’s top ally (46%); in India, comparable numbers name Russia and the United States (43% and 46%, respectively). In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia receives slightly more mentions than China; 60% name Saudi Arabia as Pakistan’s most dependable ally, while 58% cite China.

Allies and Threats in Africa

African publics are particularly likely to cite a neighboring country as a major threat to their countries. In fact, in five of the ten African countries surveyed, large proportions name a bordering country as a threat.

For example, more than eight-in-ten Ethiopians (86%) name Eritrea as their country’s greatest threat; the two countries fought a war several years ago and tensions remain high. Six-in-ten in Ivory Coast are concerned about Burkina Faso, which has been accused of arming Ivory Coast’s 2002 rebellion. More than four-in-ten (42%) in Uganda cite Sudan among their country’s biggest threats. Most Kenyans (55%) see Somalia as a major threat, while 41% of South Africans name Zimbabwe.

Al Qaeda also is viewed as a major threat by publics across the region. One-third in Ghana name bin Laden’s group – more than any other country or group as a threat – to their country. A similar share in Kenya (32%) and Mali (31%) and just slightly fewer in Ethiopia (29%) and Tanzania (27%) also cite the terrorist group as their countries’ biggest threat.

Besides the United States, which is seen as the top ally in eight of the ten African countries surveyed, China also is considered an important partner in the region. Majorities in Ivory Coast (69%) and Ethiopia (53%) and considerable proportions in Mali (49%) and Kenya (41%) see the Asian superpower as a close ally.

Notably, former colonial powers in Africa also are generally viewed as important partners in the region. More than half in Ghana (56%) and four-in-ten Nigerians say Great Britain is a close ally, while half of Senegalese name France.