This article was originally published on Defusing the Nuclear Threat.
For a number of years I have advocated a risk framework for reducing the danger of a Russian-American crisis escalating out of control to nuclear threats. One tool in that approach is to highlight early steps in accident chains which could lead to catastrophe and, instead of ignoring them, to treat them as early warning signs needing remedial action. Doing that is one goal of this blog, but a recent Gallup poll shows how miserably I (and others) are succeeding. Gallup’s accompanying news release starts out:
Russia now edges out North Korea as the country Americans consider the United States’ greatest enemy. Two years ago, only 2% of Americans named Russia, but that increased to 9% in 2014 as tensions between Russia and the U.S. increased, and now sits at 18%.
An article in yesterday’s Moscow Times notes a similar trend in Russia:
Meanwhile, the results of a recent Russian survey shows the feelings are mutual. Some 81 percent of Russians view the United States negatively, independent Moscow-based pollster the Levada Center revealed earlier this month. The findings represented an all-time high for the pollster, which has been conducting similar studies since 1990.
The Gallup news release concludes with a possible prescription for halting this accident chain before it progresses any closer to the nuclear abyss (emphasis added):
However, because Americans’ attitudes about Russia have changed substantially in the past and have been quite positive at times — which has not been the case for countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea — if Russian and American policy interests find more common ground, Americans’ views of Russia could recover quickly.
While the release doesn’t say what that “common ground” might be, mutual survival in the nuclear age would seem to top the list. Another common interest would be to alleviate the human suffering in Ukraine, something which can only be done by reining in both the pro-Russian separatists and the most virulently nationalistic elements within the Ukrainian militias.