Gabriela PerdomoPeople in 13 countries believe the United States is the greatest threat to global stability, and residents of eight countries consider American foreign policy as the most menacing issue to the world, the Angus Reid World Poll conducted for Maclean’s found. Overall, most people in the 20 countries surveyed chose the U.S. as the greatest threat from a list that included Iran, China, Iraq, North Korea, Israel and Russia.

Within the context of the ongoing war on terror it is no surprise that America is considered as “dangerous” to global stability. After all, the image of the U.S abroad has significantly declined—especially in the Middle East—after the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003. Still, the countries that gave the highest ranking to the U.S. as a threat were not Middle Eastern. They were China, Turkey, South Korea and Mexico. The study found that the Middle East takes issue with countries directly related to the U.S., but not necessarily the U.S itself. Israel and Lebanon, for instance, chose Iran as the biggest threat. Egypt and Saudi Arabia gave a strong first place to Israel. All of them, however, did choose the U.S. as the second most threatening country, as did American respondents themselves.

The study also found that in Canada, Spain, Germany, China, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, most people believe American foreign policy is a threat to the world’s stability. In these countries this issue was considered more intimidating than international terrorism, Islamic extremism, poverty and unemployment, global warming, fundamentalist governments, and HIV/AIDS, among others. Only Spain considered Islamic extremism to be equally threatening—the country suffered its most devastating terrorist attack in 2004, at the hands of Islamic militants.

International terrorism is the second issue considered as “most threatening” by all respondents, with especially high numbers in Mexico, Russia, China, India and Japan. It is followed by Islamic extremism, about which the Americans, Italians, French and Israelis seem particularly concerned. It is worth noting that when this survey was conducted North Korea had not announced its nuclear arms test on Oct. 9. That would have probably modified perceptions on how threatening Kim Jong Il’s country is, especially in South Korea and Japan. Poverty and unemployment is a distant fourth issue, pulled to the top of the list mainly by Mexico and Lebanon, two of the developing countries that took part in the study.

China appears, along with Israel, as the third most threatening country—Italy and Japan look particularly scared of it. In fact, Italians put China as the most menacing nation right next to Iran. Although there is no reason to think that China represents an immediate military threat to the world at the moment—even if it does have a massive army—China’s place on the list ratifies its importance in the current global political scene.

The survey also sheds a light on how people’s views are affected by their political allegiance. The poll found that most respondents considered as left-wing chose the U.S. as the most threatening country and American foreign policy as the most threatening issue. Most right-wing respondents, on the other hand, picked Iran as the top threat and Islamic extremism as the most threatening issue. As for centrist voters, they also chose the U.S. as the most threatening country, but selected international terrorism as their top threatening issue.

The study leaves no doubt that American foreign policy remains the pivotal point of world affairs. Every issue on the list directly tied to it is a top concern to people around the globe. It is also evident that people are responding to threats that are specifically political and hint to possible armed conflicts. The stand-off between Iran and the international community, namely the U.S., over Iran’s nuclear program, for instance, is a defining factor for people who choose Iran on the list. Even for Lebanon, which withstood the violent confrontation between militant group Hezbollah and Israel earlier this year, Iran represents more of a threat than Israel itself, perhaps because of Iran’s support to Islamic militant organizations within Lebanon.

Methodology (PDF)