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.
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.