The latest Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) survey of international relations scholars has been released (I've blogged about a prior TRIP survey here). The part that jumped out at me:
On the policy side, we see several important changes from previous surveys. In 2008, for instance, we see fewer than half as many scholars (23 percent of respondents in 2008 compared to 48 percent in 2006) describing terrorism as one of the three most significant current foreign policy challenges facing the United States. Most surprisingly, while 50 percent of U.S. scholars in 2006 said that terrorism was one of the most important foreign policy issues the United States would face over the subsequent decade, in 2008 only 1 percent of respondents agreed. American faculty members are becoming more sanguine about the war in Iraq, as well: in 2006 76 percent said that the Iraq conflict was one of the three most important issues facing the country, but in 2008 only 35 percent of U.S. respondents concurred. Concern over several other foreign policy issues is also declining markedly: when asked about the most important problems facing the country over the next ten years 18 percent fewer respondents chose WMD proliferation, 12 percent fewer said armed conflict in the Middle East, and 13 percent fewer indicated failed states. At the same time, 17 percent more respondents in 2008 than in 2006 believed that climate change will pose a serious challenge, 6 percent more worried about global poverty, and 4 percent more said that resource scarcity is one of the most significant foreign policy challenges.
Basically, my colleagues have mellowed a bit on the standard threats everyone has fretted about for the past eight years. Now they're more worried about threats emerging from the global political economy.
Which puts them in line with the Director of National Intelligence:
The new director of national intelligence told Congress on Thursday that global economic turmoil and the instability it could ignite had outpaced terrorism as the most urgent threat facing the United States.
The assessment underscored concern inside America’s intelligence agencies not only about the fallout from the economic crisis around the globe, but also about long-term harm to America’s reputation. The crisis that began in American markets has already “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy,” the intelligence chief, Dennis C. Blair, said in prepared testimony.
Mr. Blair’s comments were particularly striking because they were delivered as part of a threat assessment to Congress that has customarily focused on issues like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Blair singled out the economic downturn as “the primary near-term security concern” for the country, and he warned that if it continued to spread and deepen, it would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.
“The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he said.
It's great to get this kind of attention, but I fear that part of it is faddish. All it will take is one conventional interstate war or one spark across the Taiewan Straits, and the focus will shift back towards more conventional security threats.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.