12 February 2019   Leave a comment

Even though there is little clarity about the proposed US withdrawal from Syria, there seems to be little question that it will occur. As it does, it will be very interesting to watch how Russia, Iran, and Turkey manage their relations. Up to this point, all three had an interest in dislodging ISIS from Syria as well as a common interest in countering US influence in the Middle East. ISIS has lost territorial control within Syria although it still remains a somewhat inchoate terrorist threat to the world and the US withdrawal means that the common interests of all three states have been satisfied.

That means that the three states can pursue other interests. For Turkey, the most important objective is to reduce the threat of Kurdish nationalism. For Iran, the most important objective to to remove the Sunni and US threat to the continued survival of the Islamic Republic. For Russia, the most important objective to secure Russian dominance in the region which translates into support for Syrian President Assad (to make sure that Russian military bases in Syria remain) and for Israel (as the other militarily dominant state in the region). The main cleavage in these objectives is policy toward Israel: Israel supports the Kurds which alienates Turkey; Israel fears Iran which alienates Russia from Iran; and Israel needs to curry favor with Russia as it begins to doubt the willingness of the US to maintain its role as counterweight to Russian dominance in the region.

There is no necessary reason why these three states cannot work out a sustainable accommodation, but it is clear that there are possible points of deep disagreements. Whether these disagreements lead to conflict depends to a great deal on how Israel decides to define its most important objectives with respect to all three of these states. At this stage of the conflict, Israel seems to be taking the road of countering Iranian influence even if that means that it takes military action which weakens Russia’s main objective of supporting Assad.

The Pew Research Center has conducted a poll within 26 countries to determine how citizens define their top international threat. In a majority of countries, climate change was identified as the major concern, but there were a number of other concerns articulated:

“Broadly speaking, people around the world agree that climate change poses a severe risk to their countries, according to a 26-nation survey conducted in the spring of 2018. In 13 of these countries, people name climate change as the top international threat.

“But global warming is just one of many concerns. Terrorism, specifically from the Islamic extremist group known as ISIS, and cyberattacks are also seen by many as major security threats. In eight of the countries surveyed, including Russia, France, Indonesia and Nigeria, ISIS is seen as the top threat. In four nations, including Japan and the United States, people see cyberattacks from other countries as their top international concern. One country, Poland, names Russia’s power and influence as its top threat, but few elsewhere say Russia is a major concern.”

The concern over climate change has increased considerably since Pew started conducting the poll in 2013: “For example, in 2013, well before the Paris climate agreement was signed, a median of 56% across 23 countries surveyed said global climate change was a major threat to their country. That climbed to 63% in 2017, and in 2018 it stands at 67%.”

Another finding of the poll that is quite interesting is that many people in world regard the US as a major threat to their interests. That shift in sentiment is quite dramatic.

“The largest change in sentiment among the global threats tracked are for those who see U.S. power and influence as a major threat to their countries. In 2013, only a quarter across 22 nations saw American power as a major threat to their country, but that jumped substantially to 38% in 2017, the year after Trump was elected president, and to 45% in 2018.

“In fact, in 18 of the 22 countries surveyed in both 2013, when Barack Obama was the U.S. president, and 2018, there has been a statistically significant increase in those who name the U.S. as a major threat. This includes increases of 30 percentage points in Germany, 29 points in France and 26 points in Brazil and Mexico.

“There is also a strong connection between seeing America as a threat and lack of confidence in U.S. President Donald Trump. In 17 of the countries surveyed, people who have little or no confidence in the U.S. president are more likely than those who do have confidence in Trump to name U.S. power and influence as a top threat. This difference is most acute among America’s traditional allies, such as Canada, the UK and Australia, where overall views of the U.S. and its president have plummeted in recent years.

The survey was quite extensive and I recommend the report to anyone who wishes to take a snapshot of global public opinion on a large number of global issues.

Posted February 12, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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