Enemy of the State
Which Country Do Americans See As Their Biggest Foe?
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Between alleged interference in U.S. elections by Russia, recent nuclear posturing by North Korea, and chemical weapon atrocities in Syria – it’s hard to keep track of which country is supposed to be the bona fide number one “enemy” of the United States.
While we can’t tell you exactly what people are thinking in this moment, we do have access to about 15 years worth of polls on the subject. The data ends up painting an interesting backdrop for America’s foreign policy decisions over the same timeframe, as well as the narratives being pushed by major media outlets.
Congrats, Dear Leader
Today’s first map visualizes the most recent data from a YouGov survey between January 28 and February 1, 2017, which was taken just before the most recent string of geopolitical turmoil.
During the survey window, more Americans viewed North Korea as an enemy than any other country, with the Hermit Kingdom being ranked as an “enemy” by 57% of respondents. Of course, new tensions have surfaced since then, as North Korea continues to defy U.S. pressure with further missile tests under Kim Jong-Un. This probably hasn’t helped their case with American citizens.
As you might imagine, aside from North Korea, most of the countries that skew towards the top of the “enemy” spectrum are located in the Middle East and North Africa. Here’s a close-up of that region, with the numbers that specific countries poll at there:
Looking just at this geographic area, Iran stands out the most with 41% of Americans considering it to be an “enemy”. That places it right behind North Korea on the enemy list, at least as far as this most recent poll is concerned.
Following Iran in the rankings were Syria (32%), Iraq (29%), and Afghanistan (23%).
Changing Enemies Over Time
One thing is for sure: America’s biggest foe isn’t a constant. The identity of America’s arch-nemesis ebbs and flows as global events unfold, and the opinions of citizens are swayed.
The following animation shows the answer to a slightly different poll question, this time by Gallup, which was asked multiple years between 2001 and 2016. Specifically, Americans were asked (unprompted) to name the country that is their “greatest enemy”.
See how the rankings fluctuate over time, including Iraq’s precipitous drop after Saddam was ousted and the country turned out to not have WMDs:
Particularly, Iran had a good run between 2006-2012, when it was the top-ranked “enemy” in each year a poll was done.
At other times, North Korea (2005, 2016), Iraq (2001, 2005), Russia (2015), and China (2014) have all topped the list as well.
Ranked: Share of Global Arms Exports in 2022
The U.S. is the biggest weapons exporter in the world, but which other countries take up a significant share of global arms exports in 2022? And how has that share changed over time?
Ranked: Share of Global Arms Exports 2018–2022
In 2022, global military budgets hit $2.2 trillion, an eighth consecutive year of increase.
Part of those budgets were used for the procurement of arms, but which countries are major weapons suppliers, and how do they influence the global arms trade?
We chart out the top 10 countries with the biggest share of global arms exports using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Which Country Exports the Most Weapons?
The U.S. is the biggest weapons exporter, accounting for 40% of the total volume of international arms transfers between 2018–2022. Nearly one-fifth of these exports headed to Saudi Arabia, and other significant amounts went to Japan (8.6%) and Australia (8.4%).
Below we rank the biggest weapons exporters by share of total volume traded in 2018–2022, as well as their growth or decline from trends recorded in 2013–2017.
|Rank||Country||% share of global arms exports|
|% change between
2013-17 & 2018-22
|9||🇰🇷 South Korea||2%||+74%|
|N/A||🌐 Rest of World||9%||N/A|
Russia (16%) and France (11%) rank close together, followed by China (5%) and Germany (4%) to round out the top five major arms exporters.
However France’s export volumes grown considerably (+44%) from the previous five-year period, thanks to big sales to India, which included 62 combat aircraft and four submarines, one-third of all French weapons trade. This has resulted in France leapfrogging the U.S. as India’s second-largest weapons supplier after Russia.
On the other hand, Russia’s exports by volume has decreased (-31%) even before sanctions kicked in after the invasion of Ukraine. Its biggest trade partners, India and China, have prioritized developing their own weapons industries.
South Korea’s Surging Weapons Exports
Another country whose arms sales are skyrocketing is South Korea, which ranks 9th in the overall share of global arms exports, but has seen a 74% increase in its export volumes. Key recipients include the Philippines, India, and Thailand.
South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol has pledged to grow his country into the world’s fourth largest arms exporter by 2027.
Interestingly, South Korea is one of three countries which is both a top-10 arms exporter and importer (along with China and the U.S.) as it has many takers for domestically produced military equipment, while simultaneously being reliant on American-produced long-range missiles and advanced combat aircraft.
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