Countries go à la carte with international allegiances, major survey reveals

15 November 2023

Multi-country global survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in cooperation with Oxford’s ‘Europe in a Changing World’ project reveals stark disparities in attitudes about future world order.

  • Countries no longer want to ‘pick a side’, but choose alliances on the issues
  • Western values are admired, but doubts around the survival of the ‘liberal’ West
  • Surprising numbers are concerned the European Union will fall apart within 20 years
  • Many outside Europe expect Russia to win the war in Ukraine - in the West, the opposite opinion prevails

Western values are admired around the world, according to a landmark poll of 21 countries, but many nations no longer feel they have to be aligned to just one major power or bloc according to the poll, a collaboration between ECFR and Oxford University’s Europe in a Changing World research project.

It reveals countries no longer want to be exclusively tied to a US - or Chinese-led group, pointing to a fragmentation of established power blocs. However, significant numbers in many of the nations who were polled say they would rather be closer on security cooperation to the US than to China. And far more of those polled would rather live in the US or the EU, which are seen as more attractive and having more admirable values, than in China or Russia.

According to the report co-authored by Oxford Professor Timothy Garton Ash, political scientist Ivan Krastev and ECFR director Mark Leonard, ‘When asked which country they would choose if they were to move and start living outside their own country, clear majorities in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey indicated the EU or the US.’ In contrast, on average only 5% of citizens from non-Western countries would choose to live in China.’

But the findings also reveal, ‘While many outside of the West value American and European ways of life, they also have doubts about whether the liberal society will survive.’ This is evidenced in the fact that a remarkably large number of people outside of Europe believe the EU will fall apart within the next 20 years This was a majority view in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Even in Europe, one out of three respondents regard a collapse of the EU as a likely scenario.

A majority of respondents in China and Saudi Arabia also thought the US would cease to be a democracy in the same time frame, with nearly half of Russians and people from Turkey expressing the same belief.

The major poll was conducted this autumn across 21 countries, including the US, China, India, Turkey and Russia, as well as a set of European countries, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and South Korea.

It paints a picture of, ‘[A] complex geopolitical landscape where competing great and middle powers, buffeted by the trends of fragmentation and polarisation refuse to accept only one set menu…For them to be sovereign means to have choices.’

Ivan Krastev maintains, ‘The world is changing – and not in Europe’s favour. Any approach to strategy must begin by analysing this world as it is, and not how we wish it to be. Looking at the confident way that middle powers like Turkey, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia are now conducting themselves on the world stage, the EU should take note and seek to broaden the scope of its alliances.’

Many people in non-Western countries polled also think Russia will win the war in Ukraine within five years. Such a victory would, the report says, ‘be experienced as an existential threat by most central and east European countries’. Meanwhile, the report concludes, ‘The conflict in the Middle East can dangerously threaten the internal stability of western European countries with sizable minority populations from different communities.’

Professor Garton Ash says, ‘The lesson is clear: Europe soft power must be complemented by more investment in the military and security dimensions of ‘hard power’. Further enlargement of the European bloc, eastwards, after helping Ukraine to victory, would make the EU a more powerful and credible global player in a world of increasingly fierce geopolitical and geo-economic competition.’

In response to the findings, the report calls for Europe to ‘invest more in the military and security dimensions of hard power, building on what has already been done to support Ukraine. And it concludes ‘Rather than clinging to an old set menu of alignments, European policymakers need to seek new partners on crucial issues in this à la carte future.’ .

Key Findings
The study asked more than 20 geo-political questions of respondents, covering widely different matters from what makes a good leader to where would you like to live to what you would like the relationship to be between your country and the US or China.

Optimistic about your country’s future?
This indicated widely different attitudes, with many Western countries, including in Europe and the US expressing pessimism but people in China, India, Russia and Indonesia expressing notable optimism.

Where would you live?
Clear majorities preferred to live in the US or Europe, with very few respondents expressing a wish to live in China or Russia.

Human rights: closer to the US or China?
Aside from in Russia, majorities in both European and the US as well as non-Western countries preferred to be closer to the US.

The internet: closer to the US or China?
Aside from in Russia, more respondents preferred to be closer to the US.

Security cooperation: closer to the US or China?
Aside from in Russia, more respondents preferred to be closer to the US.

Trade: closer to the US or China?
Globally, Chinese strength is most pronounced on economic matters. Majorities in some major non-aligned countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa preferred China as a trading partner.

Which bloc: the US or China?
According to the survey, many people think they can ‘get away’ without having to choose, They think they can combine Europe’s appeal…with America’s security guarantees and China as an economic partner. That said, if forced to choose, majorities in countries from India to South Africa to Brazil (in addition to European and known US allies) preferred being part of a US-led bloc.

Will the EU fall apart in the next 20 years?
Majorities in Russia, China and Saudi Arabia think the EU is likely to fall apart, along with large numbers in Turkey, India and South Africa. Around one in three in the EU and the US think the same.

A good leader is…?
Respondents generally perceive seeking international cooperation to be key to a good leader. But significant numbers also want a leader who stands up for a country’s independence.

Notes for Editors

If you would like a copy of the report or an interview with Professor Timothy Garton Ash, please contact or

On 15 November 2023, ECFR will host a media event entitled ‘What do middle powers think’. Experts at this event will analyse the above mentioned survey results, in order to answer questions such as “How to cooperate and compete on climate, the digital economy, and defence? With whom? How will the strategic choices of an increasingly diverse set of powers shape the world order? What kind of foreign policy do European citizens want to see with the 2024 European elections on the horizon?”. You can find more details about this event and RSVP to join the live-stream here.

About ECFR
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is a pan-European think-tank that aims to conduct cutting-edge independent research in pursuit of a coherent, effective, and values-based European foreign policy. With a network of offices in seven European capitals, over 80 staff from more than 25 different countries and a team of associated researchers in the EU 27 member states, ECFR is uniquely placed to provide pan-European perspectives on the biggest strategic challenges and choices confronting Europeans today. ECFR is an independent charity and funded from a variety of sources. For more details, please visit:

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