People across the West think we are close to a new world war

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
January 05, 2017, 1:21 PM GMT+0

New YouGov research across eight Western nations finds people anticipiating the outbreak of conflict and further major terror attacks

A century on from the world’s first major global conflict – a war that was thought at the time to have ended all wars – the world still does not look like a particularly peaceful place.

With Russia and the West trying to stare one another down in Syria and Ukraine, an increasingly assertive China in the Pacific and the impending inauguration of a bellicose new US president, new YouGov research finds that many people across the West people are a new global conflict.

Asked to rank how close the world is to a major war, with 0 being “complete peace” and 10 being “teetering on the brink of worldwide conflict”, the survey of nearly 9,000 people across eight countries finds that many more people believe that we are much closer to global war than global peace.

People from the major Western nations in the survey – Britain, France, Germany and the US – are the most likely to think the world is closest to war. Between 61% and 64% of people in these countries gave a score of 6 or more. Just 15-19% of people in these nations gave a score of 0-4.

The views of those living in the Nordic nations are distinct from those living in major Western nations. Despite their close proximity to an increasingly belligerent Russia, Nordic people have a far rosier perception of the world’s peacefulness, with between 30% and 39% of people giving a score of 0-4. Nonetheless, they are still outnumbered by those who think the planet is closer to war than peace, about 45-52% of people.

Beware the bear

One of the most obvious major threats to world peace – especially in Europe – is Russia. In every country surveyed large majorities of people believe Russia to be a major or significant military threat to the rest of Europe. Between 59% and 71% of people consider Russia to be a big threat, with people from Britain and the Nordic countries the most concerned.

By contrast, Westerners do perceive Russia to be far less threatening in the economic sphere. The country, which is still facing economic sanctions from the US, EU and other countries for its military intervention in Ukraine, is seen as an economic threat by between 25% and 42% of people, with Finns and the French the most concerned.

Major nations are braced for new terror attacks this year

Of course, armed conflict is not the only major violent threat to people’s lives in the West – the spectre of terrorism still looms large over Europe and America.

Citizens of the major western nations in the survey – Britain, France, Germany and the US – are clearly braced for a big terror attack in 2017. In France, which has suffered two major terrorist attacks in the last 14 months, as many as 81% of people think a major terror attack is likely in 2017 (including 35% who think one is very likely).

Nearly seven in ten Britons (68%) expect a terror attack in 2017, as do 59% of Americans and 60% of Germans (please note, the survey was conducted before the Berlin Christmas market attack on 19 December).

People in Nordic nations are much more evenly split on how likely a major terrorist attack is, except in Finland where Finns are highly sceptical about the chances of an attack (63% think one is unlikely vs 26% likely).

Photo: PA

See the full results here