20.02.23 Review

Global Risk Society: the Russian-Ukrainian war has increased global risk perceptions, but differences between countries continue

After a year of Russia’s war of aggression, global risk perceptions have increased in almost all countries, according to the Munich Security Index. The index is based on surveys of respondents living in the G7 countries, BICS countries (BRICS without Russia) and Ukraine. Citizens from the G7 countries consider Russia the number one source of risk, with an average value of 73 points, while in the ‘Global South’ this value sits at 41 points. The BICS countries hold significantly different views from the G7 countries in not only how they assess the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also in what they consider to be an appropriate response to this aggression. However, they do not present a unified bloc as their geopolitical agendas on other issues vary considerably. To add to this, India views China as one of the main risks, and Indian respondents are twice as likely to put it at the top of their risk rating as opposed to Russia. Ukrainian respondents are highly united in the face of Russian aggression and are ready to continue their resistance, even in the event that Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons against them. 80% of surveyed Ukrainians would not consider an end to the war unless Crimea is returned to Ukraine.

The Munich Security Conference, which recently concluded in Munich, presented a strong, unified consensus among transatlantic partners in support of Ukraine, a matter which somewhat overshadowed discussions around the main topic of the most recent Munich Security Report. As Re:Russia has previously discussed, this report focuses on the relationship between this Western coalition and the ‘Global South’. This partnership remains the most important factor in the liberal coalition’s ability to confront the opposing party of autocratic states helmed by China and Russia.

The Global Security Index paints a clear picture of the profound differences in the perceptions of major risks in different parts of the world. Developed by experts from the Munich Security Conference in collaboration with the consulting firm KEKST CNC, it was compiled twice this year: the 2022 index was based on surveys, conducted at the end of 2021, of 1,000 people from 12 countries, including the G7 countries and five BRICS countries. The surveys for the compilation of the 2023 index took place at the end of 2022. In the 2023 index, BRICS became BICS, with Ukraine taking Russia’s place in the study.

The main, and perhaps most predictable, conclusion of the new report is that residents of all the countries surveyed have begun to feel less secure. The 2023 index recorded an increase in 20 out of 32 risk indicators compared to last year’s results, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its consequences being the main driving force behind this increase. The war has increased global tensions surrounding military-political issues, and has also heightened citizens’ fears regarding the future of the economy. Compared to last year, Russia is now considered the main source of risk for international security (despite not making it into even the top five a year ago, it now occupies first place). It is also the main source of risk for the potential use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as the increased risk of food shortages, and an economic and financial crisis fueled by rising inflation. However, while the average index value of the index for ‘Russia as a source of global risk’ was 74 points in the G7 countries and Ukraine, in the BICS countries this was only 41. These figures clearly demonstrate the gap in the perception of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine between the Atlantic coalition and the ‘Global South’, an issue which was discussed in detail in the report published by the Munich Conference.

With the exception of India, the perception of Russia as a source of threat has grown somewhat in the BICS countries. However, Indian respondents not only fail to perceive Russia as an increasing threat, but are more likely than other respondents to approve of the international world order promoted by Russia(22% of Indians support ‘Putin’s order’ compared with just 2–7% of citizens in other countries, including BICS). At the same time, a majority of respondents still consider a US-led world order to be preferable for India (34%). Brazilians demonstrate an even more staunchly pro-American worldview (51% believe that the ‘American order’ of things is preferable in Brazil). In Europe (including the UK), a ‘European order’ is preferred (on average by 73% of respondents), while in Japan and Canada, the ‘American’ order also takes the lead. China’s vision for the world order has not been able to garner much support even in the ‘Global South’ (where it has only gained 3–8% of supporters).

Perceptions of Russia as a threat to international security, % of respondents 

Apart from the ‘Russian threat’, respondents from different countries have very different perceptions of other risk sources, and their answers generally tend to reflect national and regional agendas. In Germany, for example, along with the ‘Russian threat’ (where it had the second highest threat rating, after only Ukraine), the other issue identified by citizens was migrants, while Britain was concerned with energy supplies, the USA with cyber attacks and political polarisation, while Chinese citizens were worried about the coronavirus, the possibility of future pandemics and the use of nuclear weapons, and in Japan and India China itself was viewed as a threat.

All the countries surveyed, including BICS, have demonstrated a shift towards ‘containment’ as the main strategy to respond to the issue of Russia’s growing economic and military power, when faced with the options of either ‘containment’ or ‘cooperation’. However, those who support economic and military cooperation with Russia are still the majority in India and China, although their confidence levels in this strategy have fallen when compared to figures from a year ago. A similar shift was witnessed in responses to a similar question about cooperation with China, but this change appears to have been most significant in the case of India. In 2021 a slim majority of Indians were in favour of containing China's growing military power, while at the same time continuing economic cooperation, however this has shifted so that, at present, the majority of Indian citizens surveyed would support China’s economic containment as well.

Thus, it can be concluded that, although the BICS countries differ significantly from the G7 countries in their assessments of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the necessary response to Russian aggression , they do not form any kind of unified bloc, as their geopolitical agendas differ seriously on other key issues.

Ukrainian respondents demonstrated a high level of unity and cohesion not only on the topic of Russian aggression, but also in their choice of a preferred geopolitical model. The vast majority of Ukrainians want to live in a world governed by European rules and values(63%), while only 22% want to live in a world dominated by America. 90% of Ukrainians assert that they would not surrender even if Russia were to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine. 80% would not consider an end to the war unless Russia were to withdraw all its troops from the entire territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. At the same time, opinions regarding security guarantees for Ukraine are becoming more realistic: 65% assert that such a guarantee would involve NATO membership, while a larger percentage (72% and 75% respectively) believe that Ukraine needs to receive direct security guarantees from Western countries alongside supplies of Western-made weapons.