Public Opinion Provincialism
Global Public Opinion on Territorial Aggression Not So Global After All

Pew has released the Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, its latest worldwide poll of what worries whom where. Overall, the survey found that problems seen as global cause the most fretting; climate change took gold and ISIS silver, while economic instability came in third. Further on in Pew’s report, in a section titled “Territorial Tensions Remain within Regions,” we find out why geopolitics doesn’t even make the podium, so to speak:

Concerns about tensions between Russia or China, and their respective neighbors, are largely limited by geography. Just 24% globally are worried about tensions between Russia and its neighbors, but in Ukraine (62%) and Poland (44%), both former Soviet bloc countries, Russia ranks as the top concern. This anxiety is high among Ukrainians and Poles from all walks of life. Within Europe, the British (41%) and Germans (40%) consider tensions with Russia to be one of their top two concerns, second only to fear about ISIS. Elsewhere, relatively few are concerned about tensions with Russia.

On the face of it, this all seems pretty sensible. Each of the top three concerns listed above is a serious threat that citizens and policymakers will have to stay aware of and in some cases adapt to. And it’s obviously reasonable that countries closer to Russia and China should fret more about territorial aggression than other countries. “Threatened countries feel threatened” shouldn’t be a revelation.

But the rest of the world shouldn’t yawn at the tensions in East Asia and in Russia’s environs. It’s not that respondents should care about the problems of others’ regions out of empathy but don’t. Rather, it’s that they are wrong to see these problems as merely regional (which they perhaps do because a complacent post-Cold War media has not quite realized that geopolitics has returned). A quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin wall, the instability of something so abstract and remote as the ‘world order’ may seem unimportant. But it isn’t; the end of history is over. And the tensions in Asian waters and those between Russia and its Baltic neighbors are a real threat, and a global one at that.

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