Leaders from 47 nations assembled in Washington, D.C. this week for meetings devoted to preventing nuclear material from reaching terrorists. Even at a time when U.S. prestige was at a low point, a 2007 Pew Research Center Global Attitudes survey (PDF) found that in many countries the United States was cited as the entity that should be responsible for dealing with the spread of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the poll found people around the globe who are most concerned about the spread of nuclear weapons were also the most likely to say the U.S. should take responsibility for addressing nuclear proliferation.
In 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project asked respondents in 47 nations (not the same 47 nations attending the summit) which of five dangers – spread of nuclear weapons; religious and ethnic hatred; AIDS and other infections diseases; pollution and other environmental problems; growing gap between the rich and poor – poses the greatest threat to the world.
Many in Africa cited infectious diseases, while respondents in the Americas were more likely to cite environmental concerns. However, in 27 nations more than a third of respondents cited nuclear proliferation as the first or second greatest threat facing the world.
The perceived danger of nuclear weapons was especially high in Japan and Israel. In both countries roughly two-thirds said nuclear proliferation was a major threat to the world. While concern about the spread of nuclear weapons was less widespread in the U.S., 45% of Americans said nuclear proliferation was a major threat, tying it with religious and ethnic hatred as the most cited danger to the world. This was down, however, from 2002 when 58% said nuclear weapons were a major threat to the world.
Read the full commentary Nuclear Reaction on the Pew Research Center's Web site.