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Keywords:

  • threats;
  • hostility;
  • foreign policy;
  • public opinion

This paper evaluates three hypotheses about the structure of threat perceptions in the post-Cold War era: the replacement of a military conception of threat by an economic one; fluidity in threat perceptions because of an absence of a polestar nation; and Huntington's clash of civilizations theory. Using psychophysical magnitude measures of threat perception, these findings provide no support for the notion that threats are perceived economically. There is limited support for the theory that threat perceptions are unstable; most countries are clustered around a core of weakly hostile or friendly perceptions, which is suggestive of instability. At the same time, however, there does appear to be stability in perceptions of strong friends and enemies. The hypothesis best supported by these data is Huntington's theory that culture determines threat perceptions. In this study, not a single Western country is perceived as hostile, and all nations that do receive hostile scores are non-Western.