Preventive Priorities Survey 2017

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action released its annual Preventive Priorities Survey which evaluates ongoing and potential conflicts that may occur in the coming year.

According to the survey, the risk of growing political instability in the Philippines stems from opposition to the government’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. “The risk of growing authoritarianism and political instability in the Philippines and Turkey represent completely new contingencies,” the report noted. The risk of political instability in the country was dubbed to be of moderate priority, or in Tier II of concerns, for the United States.

This possible conflict in the Philippines will also have moderate impact on the US, the report said. The Philippines may also be caught in an armed conflict in the region due to the South China Sea dispute. “An armed confrontation over disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea between China and one or more Southeast Asian claimants — Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, or Vietnam — which draws in the United States,” the report read.

The likelihood of such armed confrontation is low but the impact will be high, the think tank said.

2017 Findings

……………In light of Russia’s continuing assertive behavior in eastern Europe, the possibility of a serious military confrontation with a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member state–– whether the result of deliberate or unintended actions has become a top concern. So too is a potential intensification of the conflict between Turkey and Kurdish armed groups operating inside Turkey or in neighboring countries.

These two contingencies join five others as Tier I priorities: – the threat of a major terrorist strike or cyberattack against the United States, – a crisis on the Korean peninsula, increased violence and instability in Afghanistan, and – further escalation of the Syrian civil war.

Other Noted Concerns

Although the survey was limited to thirty contingencies, government officials and foreign policy experts had the opportunity to suggest additional potential crises that they believe warrant attention.

The following were the most commonly cited:

■ increased gang-related violence in Northern Triangle countries in Central America

■ escalation of organized crime–related violence in Mexico and potential economic and political instability resulting from U.S. trade and immigration policies

■ destabilization of Mali by militant groups

■ an intensification of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar

■ violence and attacks in Bangladesh against foreigners and secularists

■ increased political instability in Egypt, including terrorist attacks, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula

■ potential confrontation with Iran over the collapse of the nuclear agreement

■ renewed confrontation between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia or Abkhazia

■ increased tensions between China and Taiwan

■political or economic instability in Saudi Arabia

■ succession crisis in Algeria

Nine new contingencies appeared in this year’s survey. The risk of growing authoritarianism and political instability in the Philippines and Turkey represent completely new contingencies both judged to be Tier II concerns.

Seven other contingencies were also selected from the initial crowdsourcing:

  • intensification of the current political crisis in Burundi,
  • growing civil unrest and ethnic violence in Ethiopia, continued al-Shabab attacks in Somalia and neighboring countries,
  • political instability in Thailand related to the royal succession,
  • widespread unrest and violence in Zimbabwe,
  • political instability in Colombia stemming from a breakdown of the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and a
  • new outbreak of military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.                                                                                                                                               Three contingencies surveyed last year received a higher priority ranking for 2017.   Besides a potential military confrontation between Russia and NATO members moving up from a Tier II to Tier I concern, the likelihood of a major military crisis involving India and Pakistan is now judged to be a Tier II priority, and an intensification of the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela has also moved up to Tier II from Tier III.                                                                                                 The priority rankings of four contingencies were downgraded for 2017.                     Four contingencies that were top priorities in 2016 moved down to Tier II:
  • political instability in European Union (EU) countries stemming from the refugee crisis,
  • the fracturing of Iraq caused by sectarian violence and the self-proclaimed Islamic State,
  • increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and
  • the political breakup of Libya.                                                                                                     Two contingencies have evolved significantly since last year’s survey. Longstanding concerns about the stability of Yemen and in particular the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have shifted to fears regarding the consequences of the Saudi-led military intervention.                                                                                         Growing political violence in Nigeria has also been regularly mentioned in previous surveys but with the focus very much on the threat posed by the militant group Boko Haram.                                                                                                                                                 This year, rising unrest in the Delta region of Nigeria has been singled out as a source of concern. Nine contingencies assessed last year were not included for 2017.      These include:
  • increased political instability in Egypt,
  • escalation of organized crime–related violence in Mexico,
  • increased sectarian violence in Lebanon,
  • growing political instability in Jordan,
  • a potential confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or allies over Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts,
  • political instability in Saudi Arabia,
  • an escalation of Islamist militancy in Russia,
  • an escalation of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic, and
  • an intensification of sectarian violence in Myanmar.                                                           This is surprising as the underlying dynamics that led to their inclusion have not disappeared.                                                                                                                                     None, however, were identified as significant concerns in the initial pool of crowdsourced contingencies, and thus were not included in the 2017 survey.

Read Full Report preventive-priorities-2017

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