Foreign Policy Experts: Climate a Top Concern

February 20, 2016


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The recent turbulence in the Middle East edged out climate change as top foreign policy concern among scholars.

Foreign Policy:

We asked scholars to identify the three most important foreign-policy issues facing the United States today. Out of a long list of options that included everything from terrorism to poverty — conflict in the Middle East and global climate change effectively tied for the most commonly selected issues. In fact, over 81 percent of scholars chose one or both of these issues. Following those issues — at 27 percent, 25 percent, and 24 percent, respectively — was renewed Russian assertiveness, transnational terrorism, and China’s rising military power.

When we asked scholars a similar question some 18 months ago, global climate change was also in the top spot (at 40 percent). Conflict in the Middle East was not nearly as high on scholars’ list of concerns — at the time only 26 percent of scholars put it in their top three list. Additionally, only 17 percent of scholars named increased Russian assertiveness.

There are likely several reasons why scholars’ concern over the state of Middle East security has risen in recent months, including the rise of the Islamic State. It’s worth noting, however, that most IR scholars do not consider the recent deal to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program a potential source of concern in the Middle East. Though some Republican members of Congress remain skeptical, the vast majority of IR scholars — 81 percent — believe the agreement includes sufficient provisions to effectively monitor Iranian compliance. (It appears that concerns about WMD proliferation have gone down among these experts, despite the recent North Korean missile tests. Only 10 percent of scholars listed WMD proliferation in their top three issues compared to 14 percent in our previous survey.


5 Responses to “Foreign Policy Experts: Climate a Top Concern”

  1. j4zonian Says:

    “The recent turbulence in the Middle East edged out climate change as top foreign policy concern among scholars.”

    Since climate change is partly responsible for the turbulence in the middle east–and many, many other problems–it’s hard to see the thinking behind thinking the turbulence outweighs the climate change.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    This data comes from a SNAP poll done by TRIP at the College of William & Mary, a school I am familiar with since my daughter and son-in-law are graduates and #1 grandson is also now a student there. Check out TRIP here:

    In response to pendantry and Jeffy4Z (BTW, Jeffy, Thomas Jefferson attended W&M way back when), foreign policy is NOT a science, and is more closely related to economics and other “social sciences” than to any field of study that can be properly measured and quantified. So there is much navel-gazing and chin rubbing while pensively gazing into the distance and going “hmmmm”, and foreign policy scholars see the future about as well as economists predict recessions (nine out of the last five). There will always be much switching of chickens and eggs by the foreign policy scholars, and that shouldn’t be called “cognitive dissonance and bias” (although they are human and some must suffer from those maladies). IMO, although some of the conflict in the Middle East does have roots in climate change, from the foreign policy perspective there’s a whole lot more going on in the world that we need to worry about, and the FP scholars rightly sense that. That will, of course, change quickly once the AGW SHTF big-time, at which point Israel, Pakistan, India, and China may begin throwing nukes around and draw everyone’s “foreign policy” attention.

    PS TRIP appears to be doing some good work in studying the process of creating foreign policy and foreign policy “scholars”. Any attempt to organize and systematize the field is a plus.

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