US joins four rogue countries seen as likely forces for bad, poll finds

Patrick Wintour diplomatic editor
Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters

The United States has joined Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran in a rogue’s gallery of countries perceived as likely to use their influence for bad. All five countries are also seen as less likely to use their influence for good than they were 10 years ago.

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The findings showing that Canada, Germany and the UN are seen as mostly likely to use their international influence for good. The findings are being published to accompany a major speech by the former British foreign secretary David Miliband who argues that international relations are now governed by a new age of impunity in which war crimes and attacks on humanitarian workers are typically left unpunished.

Miliband, currently president of the International Rescue Committee, will argue that a long retreat of liberal democracy has ushered in a new divide in which some states abide by the rules ushered in after the second world war, and other states regard such international law as “for suckers”.

He will say “the image of President Putin and Crown Prince bin Salman exchanging a high five at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires last November epitomised the new order, with domestic opponents dead and foreign policy interests pursued outside international law”.

The poll was conducted amongst 17,000 adults around the world conducted by Ipsos Mori in 24 countries on behalf of Policy Institute at Kings College London.

It shows Iran as the country seen as most likely to use its influence for bad, 31% followed by Israel 24%, Russia 25%, Saudi Arabia 25% and the US 22%.

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Globally, Canada (37%), the UN (35%) and Germany (32%) are seen as the countries most likely to be seen as forces for good.

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The survey also shows Britain is the country most likely to see Russia as a force for bad with two in five (40%) saying Russia uses its influence mostly for bad, significantly higher than the global average of 25%.

Although US is seen by a high number as going backwards in the past 10 years, a balancing 17% say the US is more likely to use its influence for good now, higher than in Russia (13%), Israel (10%), Saudi Arabia (9%) and Iran (7%).

British respondents were among the most likely, with Sweden (50%), Hungary (46%) and South Africa (43%), to say a country’s human rights record should be an important factor in deciding relations with that country: 41% in Great Britain mention this, versus 30% globally.

Over (36%) of people around the world think their country should only trade with countries with a good human rights record, even if it hurts their economy – but 33% think their country should trade with any country if it helps their economy, regardless of that country’s record on human rights. Globally, half (53%) think their own country’s military should always put avoiding civilian casualties ahead of their national interest. Only 14% disagree.

Fifty-one percent say that countries should intervene to stop war crimes even if it infringes on sovereignty.

Miliband will say: “The poll shows that around the world, large numbers of people are looking for commitment to human rights and global engagement. However, it is striking that the US should be perceived to have descended to the level of Russia as a global spoiler.”

He will argue that the rise of nationalist politics creates a new divide: between those who believe that the laws and norms established after second world war are there to be observed and strengthened, and those who say “the law is for suckers”.

Britain, Miliband argues, is at a crossroads because of two factors: the division within the western alliance as the Trump administration attacks the multilateral system, and the consequences of Brexit.

“Britain needs a rules-based international order. It would be a tragedy if America decides it doesn’t. We cannot afford a world that is a network of national fortresses, especially at a time when Brexit is separating us from natural allies and rupturing our own political order.”