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Poll: Top Threats Facing the World in 2019, US Moving Up The List

Cybercrime, ISIS, climate change, tense relations between international countries all top the list of a Pew poll on the greatest threats facing us in 2019.

According to a survey released on February 11 by the Pew Center, 13 out of 26 countries surveyed said climate change is their biggest concern. Eight countries saw ISIS as the greatest threat to their national security, and people in four nations said cyberattacks topped their list of greatest threats to their country.

Global concern about climate change has increased sharply since 2013 when the Pew Center found a median of 56 percent across 23 countries surveyed said global climate change was a major threat to their country. That number climbed to 67 percent by 2018. However, the 2018 data revealed that of all the threats surveyed, concern for U.S. power and influence grew the most between 2013 and 2018.


Increasing Distrust and Fear of US

Fear of U.S. influence has risen from 20 percent of respondents citing U.S. power and influence as a major threat in 2013 to 38 percent in 2017 and 45 percent in 2018, representing an increase of 20 percentage points in five years.

Surprisingly, Germany showed the greatest increase in the number of people perceiving the U.S. as a threat to their country. In 2013, only 19 percent of Germans said the U.S. was a threat but by 2018 that number had risen to 49 percent. France saw the second greatest increase; from 20 percent in 2013 to 49 percent in 2018 viewing the U.S. as a threat to their country.

In Mexico, concern regarding U.S. power has skyrocketed to 64 percent from 38 percent in 2013. What is causing the increase is hard to tell, but Trump’s policies regarding Mexico are likely increasing the perception of the U.S. as a threat. Trump has consistently pushed a plan to build a border wall and painted illegal border crossings as a national crisis, a drive that triggered a federal government shutdown.

A separate study showed that Germans trusted China more than they trust the U.S. Just over 42 percent of Germans surveyed saw China as more trustworthy than the U.S, while only 23.1 percent trusted Washington over Beijing. The poll was conducted by the research agency Civey and the non-profit Atlantik-Brucke (Atlantic Bridge) which promotes better relations between the U.S. and Germany.

Washington’s withdrawals from several international agreements and organizations, such as the 2015 Iran deal, the Paris climate accord, and the 1955 Amity with Iran, to name a few, have likely helped to erode global trust in the U.S.


What Threatens the US?

The U.S. has focused more on the threat of global warming and terrorism since the Cold War ended, but in recent years, Russia and China (as well as Iran and North Korea) have become a greater focus on U.S. national threat assessments.

China is the world’s second-largest economy and despite a 2018 trade war with the U.S. that lead to the country’s lowest rates of economic growth since 1990, its mere size and potential for growth with the world’s largest population is a consistent economic threat to the U.S.

China’s growing technology also raises security concerns for the U.S. The Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is now developing 5G technology (a new generation of wireless technology) which has triggered fears that the 5G technology can be used to spy on Americans. The U.S. intelligence community has more than once urged Americans and the U.S. government to avoid using Huawei products for fear of potential Chinese spying.

The arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada at Washington’s request last December is attributed by many to America’s fear of Chinese spying despite the official charge of sanctions violations.

Multiple polls showed that Americans viewed China as a threat either economically or militarily. A Pew poll on threats to U.S. national security showed that while only 29 percent of American respondents worried about China’s military, 58 percent feared China’s economy. Another 58 percent had concerns about Chinese cyberattacks, 51 percent focused on jobs and trade and 62 percent cited China’s holdings of U.S. debt, as The National Interest wrote. A recent Gallup poll also reported that 90 percent of American’s listed China’s economic power as a threat.

Russia is on the list of perceived threats to the U.S. due to its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election that helped Trump to take office. The international community is also now worried about a new version of the Cold War after both the U.S. and Russia quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The INF was a Cold War-era treaty that prohibited the deployment of nuclear arsenals with ranges of 500 and 5,500 kilometers and effectively kept Europe from being covered with Russian and U.S. missiles.

The INF Treaty fell apart as the U.S. accused Russia of violating the treaty but Russia accused the U.S. of having no evidence and fabricating Russia’s non-compliance in order to exit the treaty and develop long-range missiles. Russia is now developing a new missile system in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty and in response to U.S. development of new missiles.

On February 11, the Pentagon also released a report raising concerns about China and Russia’s efforts to develop laser technologies that could put U.S. satellites at risk and threaten U.S. space dominance.

Additionally, in early February, senior U.S. defense officials raised alarm about a Chinese-run space station in Argentina, saying that a new deep space station in the Patagonia region could potentially shoot U.S. and allied

Climate Change

During the climate talks in Poland last December, the head of U.N. Climate Convention, Patricia Espinosa, said that the impact of global warming had “never been worse.”

“This reality is telling us that we need to do much more,” the Mexican female diplomat stated.

In early 2019, when some U.S. states froze due to the phenomenon called the polar vortex (a huge spiraling air surrounding the Earth’s pole) with temperatures reaching minus 60 degrees, Australia saw its highest temperature in January 2019. According to Australia’s Meteorological Agency, the average temperature in January exceeded 30 degrees Celcius. In Australia’s southern region, there was no rain throughout January this year, a first in 62 years.

Some experts tried to link the polar vortex in the U.S. with climate change. Jennifer Francis, a senior researcher at the Woords Hole Research Centre, cited the warmer Arctic is related to the polar vortex phenomenon.

“There’s a fair bit of evidence [for this] that’s been building up since our first paper came out in 2012,”  Francis said.

But William Seviour from the University of Bristol snubbed the statement by saying the melting sea ice has nothing to do with the polar vortex.

“Just because we see the polar vortex getting weaker and sea ice declining doesn’t mean that one’s causing the other. The trend in the vortex is not consistent,” Seviour referred to his 2017 study published in Geophysical Research Letters.


The Islamic militant group ISIS was a breakaway of Al-Qaeda, aimed at creating an Islamic state called a caliphate across Syria, Iraq and beyond.

According to CNN, ISIS dominated more than 34,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria, and at the end of 2016, ISIS-controlled territory diminished to 23,320 square miles.

Some speculations said that the U.S. helped to create oISIS as well as Al-Qaeda, as globalresearch.ca wrote. It is said that the ISIS was designed as a terror instrument to control the oil-rich Middle East and tackle Iran’s influence.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped create Al-Qaeda to conquer the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The CIA trained the organization’s extremists, and Saudi financed it, former British Foreign Secretary the late Robin Cook stated.

The second U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave birth to ISIS. Washington ended Saddam Hussein’s secular rule, and a predominantly Shiite administration took place. Under the Shiite government, Sunni’s population lost their jobs and political influence.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that Washington helped establish and fund ISIS. Her statement about ISIS circulated in several Arab countries.

Cyber Attacks: No Countries Are Safe, Even the US

Cyber attacks can be defined as an illegal attempt to destroy a computer or data system. Concerns about cyber attacks increased after the alleged Russian intervention in the U.S. presidential election and a personal data breach that affected 50 million users of Facebook worldwide, causing the social media giant’s value to slip.

The data fraud triggered the European Union (E.U.) to enact a new law on data protection. Under the new regulation, Facebook is obliged to pay billions of pounds in fines if it is found to have been irresponsible with its users’ personal information.

Data breaches do not only target Facebook. Oath reported that 3 billion of Yahoo accounts were affected by 2013 data theft, the biggest breach of all time.

Cybercrime is now a global problem, even in developed countries such as the U.S. and Canada. According to a survey by Comparitech in July 2018 published on ITgovernance, the U.S. had the highest percentage of web application attacks (66 percent) that caused the highest cost of cyber crime ($17.36 million).

An average cost of cybercrime has increased dramatically in the past few years. The data from Accenture showed that from 2016 to 2017, the cost of cybercrime jumped 22.7 percent and the annual cyberattack-related damage may cost $6 trillion by 2021.

Is Russia to Blame for Cybercrime?

Indonesia’s Cyber Body and National Encryption Agency (BSSN) cooperated with the Honeynet Project, revealing that there were 12.9 million cyberattacks in Indonesia throughout 201, with 513,900 coming from malware attacks.

Twenty-one sensor devices detected those attacks. Interestingly, 2.6 million attacks came from Russia.

But the BSSN Director of Detection and Threat Sulistyo said that those sensors only detected the numbers of Internet Protocols (IPs), meaning that it is possible for hackers to use Russian IP addresses in hacking.

Besides Russia, attacks from China accounted for 1.9 million, as well as 1.4 million from America.

In July 2018, the Director of  National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned that the increase in cyberattacks was rising at an alarming level. He added that Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran were targeting the federal government, the U.S military, as well as U.S companies and educational institutions.

“What’s serious about the Russians is their intent. They have capabilities, but it’s their intent to undermine our basic values, undermine democracy, create wedges between us and our allies,” Coats explained.

Coats’ warning came on the same day that the U.S Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian military intelligence agents for hacking computer networks and emails of Democrats during the 2016 ballot.

EU Considers a Response to China-Related Cyberattacks

Countries in the European Union (E.U.) discussed a possible joint response to tackle cyberattacks allegedly from China after U.K. experts presented evidence of both hardware and software attacks from a group called Advanced Persistent Threat 10, or APT 10.

The U.K. Foreign Office and the U.S. Department of Justice issued a joint statement in December 2018 saying that APT 10 acted on behalf of the Chinese government “to carry out a malicious cyber campaign targeting intellectual property and sensitive commercial data in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.”

The Comparitech survey in 2018 showed that China was responsible for the highest rate of denial-of-service (DoS) attacks (29.56 percent), and its rate for malware infections reached 49 percent.

 However, cyberattacks and cybersecurity remain a pervasive threat.

Michael Daugherty, Founder and CEO of LabMD, commented on the situation businesses face: “Your organization is going to get attacked. It’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ The only question is, how will your organization handle it? Your organization, not your CISO or security department. I say that because the world has changed and cybersecurity is not one person’s job. Cybersecurity must be the corporate culture.”

The United States government has also issued concerns about the upcoming 2020 election and its vulnerability to hackers.

“Although many recommendations have been addressed, about 1,000 have not yet been implemented. Until these shortcomings are addressed, federal agencies’ information and systems will be increasingly susceptible to the multitude of cyber-related threats that exist,” said the US Government Accountability Office in a statement.



Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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