Survey: WWIII Fears Grow Amid Russian-Ukrainian War | Top countries
Russia’s unprovoked war with Ukraine recently entered its eighth month, and there are few signs that it will end soon.
On the contrary, the fighting seems more likely to intensify. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week that he push 300,000 reservists in service, and its accompanying speech carried alarming threats. Referring – without proof – to the West engaging in “nuclear blackmail” against Russia, the leader noted that his country “has various means of destruction” and, when threatened, “will certainly use all the means” at its disposal, according to a translation. It comes after Russia allegedly engaged in provocations near a Ukrainian nuclear power plant in August, which a US Department of Defense official describe the “peak of irresponsibility”.
A stark new finding from an international investigation suggests the world is taking these threats – and their wider global implications – seriously.
In a survey of more than 17,000 people around the world, three-quarters of respondents agreed with the following statement: “I fear we are getting closer to World War III”. The results are taken from the US News & World Report Top countries survey, which was conducted this year from April 30 to July 13 and is used for an annual ranking of countries based on perception.
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The share of respondents who agreed that we are heading towards a world war exceeded 80% in five countries: Indonesia, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and the United States. Respondents in the 25-35 age bracket were the most fearful, with 76% worrying about nations drawing closer to another global conflict.
But Rudra Sil, a political science professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says while the results make sense, he cautions people who are too scared.
“The key word here is ‘closer’, which is a relative term and I think, compared to a year ago, I guess everyone could say we’re a bit closer,” Sil says. “But would I interpret that as reason to think Armageddon is coming and we should all start storing things in our basements?” No, I don’t see it that way at all.
Other experts agree that there is no need to panic.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a presidential doctoral student also at the University of Pennsylvania, says she doesn’t think the situation is “that bad.” On the contrary, she says, Putin’s recent threats are more a reflection of Russia’s lack of success in Ukraine and sinking world position.
“This is not World War III – this is Russia waving its swords and operating from a position of weakness,” adds St. Julian-Varnon.
This kind of antagonistic posturing by Putin has Cold War roots, Sil adds. In a “semi-optimistic interpretation” of the Russian leader’s rhetoric, he sees Putin as simply reminding his enemies of the concept of “mutually assured destruction”, a form of mutual deterrence.
“I think they’re just warning you: an attack on Russian soil is equivalent to an attack on old Soviet soil,” he said. “Basically it’s a reminder – ‘Remember, we’re a nuclear power, you act like we’re not.'”
Sil adds that he hopes these threats will spur action and “serious agreements” on arms control negotiations with Russia. The START Treaty between Russia and the United States, which sets limits on nuclear weapons within intercontinental range, will expire in 2026.
“The whole point of having a nuclear arsenal is to prevent and deter attacks on your soil,” Sil says. “Beyond that, they basically become a threat to the whole world.”