Here Are The Top 10 International Threats According To Americans

By Victoria Simpson on June 19 2020 in World Facts

Image credit: Ra2 studio/
Image credit: Ra2 studio/
  • Americans fear the spread of infectious disease the most, followed by terrorism and the threat of nuclear weapons, as reported in a survey conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In addition to international terrorism, domestic terror is also considered a threat to Americans.
  • Experts are warning that more pandemics may come our way if we are not careful.

Today’s world is full of good people, and it is also home to many conflicts and problems. Some international threats that affect many people include terrorism such as that presented by groups like ISIS, and the threat coming from nature of global warming. In order to gain some insight into what Americans are fearing when they lie in bed awake at night, Pew Research Center conducted a survey in the spring of 2020 by asking 1,000 US adults a series of questions over the phone. This survey took place from March 3-29, 2020, and as such, occurred during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. This time saw tens of millions of American workers lose their jobs due to temporary or permanent layoffs in the face of the virus.  Stock prices plummeted, and the value of oil hit rock bottom as countries across the globe came to a stand still.

In light of this, it comes as little surprise that the top international threat people in the US listed at this time was the spread of infectious disease. Following this, people said they feared the threat of terrorism, and the spread of nuclear weapons. The remaining factors in the list of top ten international threats according to Americans in descending percentage order included cyberattacks from other countries, global climate change, the condition of the global economy, large numbers of people migrating, and long-standing conflicts between countries or ethnic groups.

What do these threats consist of, and what is the world doing about them?

Infectious Disease

Image credit: Nikolai  Moiseenko/

The novel coronavirus has made a deep impression in the minds of Americans. In the survey, 79% said it presented a major international threat, 19% saw it as a minor threat, and just 2% said it was not a threat at all. In essence, about 98% of the adults surveyed in the country found that infectious disease is at least a minor international threat to humans.

The novel coronavirus is just one in a slew of infectious diseases that have targeted humanity in the last century. The avian (bird) flu has caused several outbreaks around the world in the last century. H5N1, one type of bird flu, appeared in a goose in China in 1996, and spread to people a year later. SARS, also known as “severed acute respiratory syndrome” was first reported in Asia in the winter of 2003, and subsequently spread to about two dozen countries, infecting thousands and killing hundreds.

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) began infecting people in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread globally. This disease has a very high death rate, reportedly killing between 30 and 40% of those it infects. Ebola is another deadly infectious disease that has gripped humanity in recent times. This illness struck people living in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, but it has actually been with us for longer than that, dating back to 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the most current outbreak in Africa, 28,600 people are thought to have caught the virus and 11,325 died.

Experts are now warning that these outbreaks could be marking the beginning of a time when deadly viral outbreaks will become more common worldwide. Some experts believe the outbreaks are happening more often because humans are encroaching more and more on wild animal habitats.


Image credit: Prazis Images/

Terrorism comes in second as a perceived international threat among people living in the US. The survey done by Pew Research Center found that 73% of those surveyed felt terrorism is a major internation threat, and 25% felt it is a minor threat. Just 2% felt that terrorism was not a threat internationally.

Terrorism throughout the world has been in the media headlines frequently.  Globally, it has its roots in recent historic times in the 1980s, according to the FBI. According to the Bureau’s website, prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City, the 1983 truck bombings of U.S. and French military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 295 people constituted the most deadly terrorist attacks.

Some say the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center towers marked the beginning of international terrorists targeting people indiscriminately. Over 3,000 people who died in this attack were civilians.

Domestic terror is also a concern in the US. The FBI states that between 1980 and 2000, 335 incidents or suspected incidents of domestic terrorism happened in the US, and many more have taken place in the last 20 years.

The Spread of Nuclear Weapons

Image credit: Mwreck/
The third largest worry when it comes to international threats among Americans is the spread of nuclear weapons. As with international terrorism, 73%  of those surveyed said they felt it was a major threat.

Nuclear weapons were first tested in 1945, for use during the Second World War. On August 6, 1945, the US famously dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, in a violent attack that killed and gravely wounded about 130,000 people. The US also bombed Nagasaki following this, and killed about 74,000 people. This devastation led to the end of WWII but also to the beginning of a new era of violent threat.

Nuclear threats exist today. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has now abandoned a deal to end testing nuclear weapons and missiles within its borders and has started doing this again. The country of Iran has also dropped its commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal, and has started running its nuclear program anew. India and Pakistan both have their hands on nuclear weapons as well, and the two countries do not always get along, causing international worries that one could someday strike the other.

The explosion of a nuclear weapon releases deadly radiation that can have a devastating effect on humans. It can set fire to buildings for miles, and cause something called nuclear fallout, which spreads radiation for days after a bomb has exploded. This makes nuclear weapons something to be feared.

How These Threats are Being Addressed

Each of the international threats listed above presents a valid global concern. When it comes to disease, experts are currently working towards developing a vaccine to treat the novel coronavirus, and there is a group of scientists who are working to predict which infectious diseases might come to us next, from the animal kingdom. It is their hope to discover these illnesses and to develop treatments for them before another pandemic hits.

When it comes to terrorism, international organizations such as NATO and governments worldwide are attempting to combat the violence. Counter-terrorism policies are focused on reducing global terrorism, and armies are often sent abroad to fight terrorism in countries in which it has a strong hold such as in Iraq, Syria, Nigera, and Pakistan. It is an ongoing fight.

As for nuclear weapons, organizations such as the United Nations are working towards disarmament through the development of bilateral and plurilateral treaties and arrangements with governments. These projects seek to eliminate or reduce certain nuclear weapons in the world, to ensure peace for all. Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons in the world and can wipe out entire cities with just one explosion.

By working together and increasing trust among nations, it is possible that the world could reduce the major concerns of many people, in order to make the Earth a safer place to live.

Here Are The Top 10 International Threats According To Americans

Rank Threat % who say it is a major threat
1 Spread of infectious disease 79
2 Terrorism 73
3 The spread of nuclear weapons 73
4 Cyberattacks from other countries 72
5 China’s power and influence 62
6 Global climate change 60
7 Russia’s power and influence 56
8 The condition of the global economy 55
9 Global poverty 49
10 Large numbers of people moving from one country to another 42

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