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CFR Conflict Prevention Survey Ranks Spillover from Syrian War, Instability in Afghanistan Among Top 2014 Priorities

December 19, 2013

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Spillover from Syria's civil war and violence in Afghanistan as coalition forces draw down are among next year's top conflict prevention priorities for U.S. policymakers, finds the annual Preventive Priorities Survey from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The most urgent concerns also include terror attacks or cyberattacks on the United States, military strikes against Iran, and a crisis in North Korea.

CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) asked more than 1,200 government officials, academics, and experts to evaluate a list of thirty conflicts that could break out or escalate in the next twelve months. The experts ranked the contingencies by their relative impact on U.S. interests and the likelihood they will happen in 2014. CPA then categorized the contingencies into three tiers, in order of priority to U.S. policymakers.

Tier I priorities include spillover from Syria as two million refugees have fled to neighboring countries. More than fifty-five thousand have moved to Jordan since 2011, draining that country's economy and limited natural resources. The United Nations has estimated that Jordan will need $5.3 billion by the end of 2014 for this humanitarian crisis.

Also among the top-tier priorities is Afghanistan, where political and security transitions, including the drawdown of coalition forces by the end of 2014 and the presidential elections in spring 2014, threaten to increase levels of violence and exacerbate internal instability.

North Korea ranks high on the survey because of the nuclear test it conducted in February of this year, as well as U.S. estimates that it has enough plutonium to produce five nuclear weapons. Also of great concern is North Korea's internal political instability. For example, since the survey was taken, Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of leader Kim Jong-un and formerly the second most powerful man in the country, was executed.

Tier I U.S. Conflict Prevention Priorities in 2014:

  • Intensification of the Syrian civil war, including possible limited military intervention
  • Growing violence and instability in Afghanistan resulting from the drawdown of coalition forces and/or contested national elections
  • Growing political instability and civil violence in Jordan triggered by spillover from the Syrian civil war
  • A severe North Korean crisis caused by a military provocation, internal political instability, or threatening nuclear weapons/long-range missiles
  • A mass-casualty terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or a treaty ally
  • A highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure
  • Renewed threat of military strikes against Iran as a result of a breakdown in nuclear negotiations and/or clear evidence of Iran's intent to develop a nuclear weapons capability
  • Increasing internal violence and political instability in Pakistan
  • Civil war in Iraq due to rising Sunni-Shia sectarian violence
  • Strengthening of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) resulting from continued political instability in Yemen and/or backlash from U.S. counterterrorism operations

Among the contingencies appearing on the list for the first time are increased violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar's Rakhine state; violence in Bangladesh surrounding the upcoming general elections; a Sino-Indian border clash; and a deepening political crisis in Venezuela.

To read the complete 2014 survey, visit: www.cfr.org/preventive_priorities_survey_2014.

The Preventive Priorities Survey was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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