SOURCE: Bertelsmann Stiftung

December 12, 2007 10:00 ET

Bertelsmann Stiftung: The USA Is Increasingly Losing Its Superpower Image - No More World Power by 2020

International Opinion Poll: China Is Seen as Being on the Same Level as the USA - Clearly Growing Worldwide Awareness of the Threat to the Environment

BERLIN--(Marketwire - December 12, 2007) - The USA is losing its image as a superpower. By 2020 China will almost have caught up with the USA in the eyes of the international public. In the meantime, according to international perception, Russia too will be seen increasingly as an international power. At the same time, awareness of the threats facing the environment has grown enormously in the past years. By 2020 the destruction of the environment and climate change will be considered internationally as the biggest threat to mankind. These are the findings of a current international opinion poll carried out by the German foundation, the Bertelsmann Stiftung, about the role and the challenges facing world powers.

When asked which countries are regarded as world powers today, 81% name the USA and only 50% China. Thereafter follow Russia with 39%, Japan with 35% and the EU equal with The United Kingdom, on 34%. In comparison with a corresponding survey two years ago, China has experienced an increase of 5%. The largest leap recorded is however for Russia, which was named as a world power by 12% more people than in 2005.

In the eyes of the international public a further clear alteration will emerge in the next few years. When asked which country will be a world power in the year 2020, only 61% still name the USA but 57% name China. Russia (37%), the EU (33%) and Japan (33%) follow some distance behind. Likewise India will clearly be seen as a global player more frequently in the year 2020 with 29% compared with 15% today.

The Americans themselves sense the loss of significance that the USA will experience. While 86% of Americans today still see their nation as a world power, only 76% still believe this will be the case in the year 2020. The Americans also predict the decline of the other states in the Western world. They expect China to grow in power and influence worldwide, with 58% of US citizens predicting that China will be a global player in 2020 compared with 56% today. In addition, the US population sees India and Brazil as being amongst those who will rise in the future.

This evaluation corresponds to the self-assessment of people questioned in most countries. While Europeans, Japanese and US Americans see no growth in significance for their countries, the Chinese, Indians, Russians and Brazilians expect their nations to become world powers.

Although most of the people questioned internationally believe that the USA will lose its leading position in the world, a majority of 52% hope that the USA will continue to play an important role for peace and stability in the world in the future. An above average number of people questioned hope this in the United Kingdom, Germany, China and India. This leading role for the USA is less frequently desired in France, Russia, Japan and Brazil.

In response to the question, "Which framework will peace and stability best be realised in?", there is clear agreement. An average of only 12% of those questioned hope that the world will be led by one or two powers in the future. 36% on the contrary hope that the world will be led by various world powers and 42% want a system that is supported by the UN.

The conception of worldwide threats and challenges has also changed significantly. Compared with the year 2005, awareness of environmental questions has grown by 10 percent worldwide. The proportion of those who accept climate change and the destruction of the environment as global threats has risen in all countries where people were surveyed, but particularly strongly in the USA (+22%), in China (+17%) and in Japan (+16%). 54% of all people questioned see the destruction of the environment as the largest threat today. In the year 2005 international terrorism was perceived as the largest threat. In the USA the threat from terrorists is still ranked in first place as before, followed by climate change, poverty and overpopulation.

The assessment of dangers, and the hope that the large powers will do something about them, varies considerably from country to country. So for instance in India poverty and overpopulation are most frequently picked out as central themes, the danger of wars in Russia, the lack of raw materials in China and religious fundamentalism in France.

Josef Janning, head of the subject field International Relations at the Bertelsmann Stiftung concludes: "The expectations that citizens have of the future has a big influence on the shaping of politics. Worldwide people see the USA's position of supremacy vanishing in the future. In their assessment a new bipolar constellation is suggested, which is defined by the USA and China and which shows further regional centres of power in Russia, the EU, India and Japan. But simultaneously the vast majority of people hope for a world order in which power is balanced out and the UN takes over a decisive leadership role."

There is at present still no common agenda for the most important problems in the view of the people. Here priorities are clearly still set differently. What is problematic in this, according to Janning, is that the population in up-and-coming countries places particular emphasis on their own strength in global competition: "If this perspective and expectation takes hold in global politics, we may see a resurgence of the sort of nationalistic brinkmanship between current and future global powers that we experienced so disastrously in 20th century Europe. However, the threat of climate change appears to be encouraging greater political cooperation at the international level."

Gallup International/TNS-EMNID, an opinion research firm, recently questioned 9,000 people around the world for the Bertelsmann Stiftung study. The representative survey was conducted in the US, Russia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. As a benchmark, the findings were compared with a prior Bertelsmann Stiftung poll from 2005. The results were presented at the second meeting of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Global Policy Council in Berlin. The council brings together high-calibre experts from various fields and regions to analyze the challenges and opportunities inherent in the dynamics of globalization, the rise of new powers and the emergence of new security risks.

From the USA the former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and the current president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, US Chamber of Commerce, General ret. James L. Jones and the former Director of National Security in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad and former Under-Secretary of Defense Policy, Walter B. Slocombe participated.

About the Bertelsmann Stiftung:

The Bertelsmann Stiftung is a non-profit German foundation. As a think tank and political consulting institution, it is committed to developing innovative, humane solutions for the challenges faced by a globalized world. One of its main areas of expertise is international relations. Established in 1977 by Reinhard Mohn, a German businessman, it is still a majority shareholder of Bertelsmann AG, an international media company. In its projects, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is non-partisan and independent from the company.

To download details about the international survey, go to:

Contact Information

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