December 8, 2016 | By Craig Kafura

#TBT 1990: The Looming Threat of Japan’s Economy and Soviet Military Might

In the spirit of Throw Back Thursday, Running Numbers is digging out its archived polls to look back at America’s foreign policy feelings of old. This week, we’re looking at the first time the Council asked Americans about their perceptions of various threats to the US and its interests.

The Chicago Council Survey began asking it’s battery of critical threats in 1990, and looking back at that first four-item battery shows just how much the world has changed since then. Then, Americans were most threatened by the economic power of Japan (60% critical threat), followed by the development of China as a world power (40%), the military power of the Soviet Union (33%), and economic competition from Europe (30%). 

While the Japanese postwar economic miracle turned the nation into an economic superpower, it also inflated an asset bubble that, by 1990, was already bursting. The Nikkei was already on the decline from its all-time high of 38,957 in December 1989, and land prices were soon to follow, marking the end of the bubble economy and the onset of economic problems that Japanese policymakers grapple with to this day.

Today, China is a world power and it appears the reality is less threatening than the hype. The Council now asks about the threat of China’s military power (38%) and economic power (30%), neither of which ranks highly for Americans, landing 9th and 11th out of 13 this year, respectively.

As for the Soviet Union, it dissolved September 1991, 11 months after the Council asked Americans if its military might was a threat to the US and much to the surprise of analysts, almost none of whom predicted its demise. More than two decades later, Russia is again an item in the Council’s threat battery, but no higher than the Soviets were in 1990: only three in ten Americans (30%) name Russia’s territorial ambitions as a critical threat.

Lastly, as Japan’s economy had a recession, so too has the European Union. The 2007 economic recession that hit the US hit Europe as well, exposing fault lines within the construction of the Eurozone, and today there are threats left and right to the very fabric of the EU following the UK’s Brexit vote.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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