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What to Worry About in 2013

Speakers: David F. Gordon, Head of Research and Director of Global Macro Analysis, Eurasia Group, Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group, and Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
January 9, 2013, Washington D.C.
Council on Foreign Relations

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JAMES LINDSAY: (Off mic) -- everyone. I am Jim Lindsay, director of studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations, and on behalf of Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, I want to welcome you to this Center for Preventive Action meeting on "What to Worry About in 2013."

Over the next 90 minutes we will take stock of potential threats and crises facing the United States in the coming 12 months. There is certainly no shortage of international flash points that could absorb the attention of the U.S. government and potentially even draw it into new military commitments. It is these ongoing and potential crises that we most want to talk about today.

For the record, this meeting is on the record. So everyone is responsible for their comments. It will be available shortly on cfr.org to watch by video.

A second piece of housekeeping business before I introduce our distinguished panelists is I would ask that if you have an electronic device, like this one, if you could please either turn it off or disable its radio function because many electronic devices, when they send signals, interfere with our electronic sound system and cause distortion. So if you could please turn it off or disable the radio function, that would be greatly appreciated.

It is my great pleasure to introduce our panelists today. You have their complete bios for the -- on the roster for today's meeting, but given that this is going to reside in cyberspace for time immemorial, I want to go for a little bit longer introduction of our panelists.

First it is my pleasure to introduce Dr. David Gordon, who has had a distinguished career in academia, government and the private sector. Most notably, he has served as the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, director of policy planning at the State Department. He is now head of research and director of global macro analysis at the Eurasia Group. He also has the distinction of having been my senior thesis adviser, and he is the reason why I'm in the business. So I owe him a debt of gratitude.

MR. : It's your fault! (Chuckles.)

LINDSAY: My colleagues here at the council may feel differently about that, David, but as -- obviously I've known David for quite a long time.

Now the Eurasia Group --

DAVID GORDON: Let's not go into detail about it.

LINDSAY: We will. (Laughter.) Well, I was going to move on -- move on right now.

The Eurasia Group has produced a document called "Top Risks 2013," which people here in the room have, people watching via video can find by going to the Eurasia Group's website, which is eurasiagroup.net, and go from there.

Our second speaker today is Mark Schneider, who is senior vice president at the International Crisis Group. Mark also has held numerous government positions. Among others, he was principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department, chief of the Office of Analysis and Strategic Planning at the Pan American Health Organization, which is associated with the World Health Organization. And he was director of the U.S. Peace Corps.

Mark has been at the International Crisis Group for more than 10 years. And the International Crisis Group has produced a document -- recent document called "Crisis Watch," which you can obtain at www.crisisgroup.org. The Crisis Group's Louise Arbour produced, on foreignpolicy.com, a list of 10 conflicts to worry about in 2013. You can access that, obviously, at foreignpolicy.com.

Finally, we have Dr. Paul Stares, who is the General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and the director of CFR's Center for Preventive action. Paul has held senior positions at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Stanford University and the Brookings Institution. He has written or edited 10 books on various aspects of world affairs. He directed the production of this year's Preventive Priorities Survey for CFR, which you can find on the CFR website, CFR.org. And as I think I communicated before, Paul is probably less enthused that David Gordon convinced you to become a political science (sic) than other people may be.

The order we are going to follow is David, then Mark, then Paul, that -- each of them to speak for about 10 minutes. I'm going to enforce the time limit more or less firmly because obviously, we want to get into the questions from people around the table and get into a really good discussion.

So first over to you, David.

GORDON: Thank you very much, Jim.

Great pleasure for me to be here. I think this is the second or third time we've done this. I think it's becoming a bit of an institution, and I always enjoy myself. And we've had excellent discussions. I'm very pleased to be on the panel with Mark and Paul, as well as Jim, of course. But Mark and Paul really are in key leadership -- analytic leadership roles in two of the institutions who, in the -- in the nonprofit space, are really doing the best analytic work in this field. And I'm really happy to have them as both colleagues and especially as friends.

So people -- different folks worry about different things, obviously. So what I'm going to do today is really go high-level here. You know, when you have 10 minutes to talk, you can either give, you know, 20 things 30 seconds, or you can go a little bit deeper into a couple of things. I'm going to follow the latter path here and try to step up above the -- all of the noise and say what's changing in the world, and how should we be thinking about this, and how should we be worrying about it.

So let me -- let me start -- as a firm that does most of our business, frankly, with financial and commercial entities, I think that we've always focused a lot of our attention on the politics behind political -- I'm sorry, the politics behind financial risks. And I think those continue to really grow.

But I think that the big story for the last five years has been financial risk in the rich countries, the sort of flipping of the map of risk, where mature markets became the focal point of risk, emerging markets became much more steady, stable, and expectations about growth. I think that we're seeing a flip back now, frankly, that 2013 -- there are financial problems both in Europe and the United States, lot of noise around both. But in Europe, basically, the practical alliance between ECB President Draghi and Chancellor Merkel that came together at the end of last summer really, I think, puts a floor under the European crisis.

Here in the United States, I think we're going to have a really noisy year politically. I think the Obama presidency is, frankly, at some risk. But the U.S. isn't going to be pulled into a recession, and it's not even going to be pulled into a major financial crisis.

When I look at the emerging markets, we're seeing already the least correlation among the emerging markets that we've -- in asset valuations that -- than we've seen in almost a decade. And looking at the big emerging markets, at China, at India, at Russia, Brazil, a lot of others, there are big challenges out there. They're almost all politically driven, not that there is going to be a rapid collapse in growth, but I think investing into this isn't going to be as simple as, wow, emerging markets are growing heads over tails, you just go into these, and it's an easy way to make money.

It's not going to be the case. I was talking to Pauline (sp) a bit earlier about Africa, here. You take the aggregate data on Africa, looks great. Africa's growing much faster than ever, big middle classes growing up, a bunch of countries improving. But the two biggest countries and the countries that investors think about, South Africa and Nigeria, don't look very good at all. And a lot of African countries still have a long way to go.

So that -- I think the increasing dependence of the world economy on the emerging markets actually is a source of risk. And the outlook for the rich countries -- not very good over the next coming years. So everybody's going to be wanting to move into the emerging markets; not going to be so easy to do that.

In terms of geopolitical risk, I think there are two big regional geopolitical risks out there for 2013, and they're both evolving, I think, in very dangerous ways. I think the most dangerous is the simultaneous maturation of both the Iranian nuclear program and sanctions against Iran, which is really beginning to shake the regime there, and in particular, is shaking the consensus at the top of the regime on how to manage these things. Up until four or six months ago, the Iranians pooh-poohed the notion that they were vulnerable to sanctions, that sanctions were really having any impact on them. They've done a 180 on this. Now, sanctions as part of this big Western and regional effort to encircle Iran, bring down the Islamic Republic -- I think it's a sign that things are really beginning to shake.

But even more important, I think, in terms of stability is what's happening in Syria. Now, the -- last year we saw this -- what had been an initial democracy movement I think really metastasize into a much more sectarian civil war with proxy elements, the regional Shia powers, Iran and Hezbollah coming in behind the Assad regime, the Sunni powers, Saudi, Turkey and Qatar coming behind the rebels -- this is now deepening the hope and, I believe the expectation in the West that Assad would either be overthrown by his own people, sue for peace or negotiate in some sense.

Hasn't come true. If you saw his statement just a couple of days ago, that's not where we're headed. The West is caught between its unwillingness to engage militarily and the challenges of alternative approaches.

I think in 2013, however, I'm more worried about what happens beyond the border, in particular, two countries: Iraq -- I think in a region where Sunni-Shia tensions are really heading sky-high, two things. One, the potential for a dramatic increase in political tensions and even the beginnings of a re-emergence of warfare, not at all out of the question. And secondly, the Maliki regime, which always -- has always played this balance game between Tehran and Washington, shifts much more decisively over to the Iranian side.

Second country at risk here is Jordan. As a function of both the radicalization that Syria is at the epicenter of, the refugee flows, I think that the longer this war goes on, the less and less likely it's going to be able to be managed in a way that enables Jordan to withstand very, very, very powerful political winds. So this is -- this is political risk -- geopolitical risk number one.

Geopolitical risk number two is East Asia. So if you had told people that things with North Korea and Taiwan, while not being resolved, are looking a lot less problematic, people would probably say, yeah, East Asia must be doing pretty well. Au contraire -- that basically, what's happening in East Asia now, I believe, is that China is really pushing a very, very hard nationalist line both at home and regionally, partially because of assertiveness and confidence, especially in the military, partially on the part of the civilian elite to hold the military off, but substantially as an effort to sort of draw attention away from the challenge they have in managing information, and particularly this enormous flow of information about the extraordinary wealth at the top of the Communist Party and the exact mechanisms by which political power is transferred into wealth in China.

This is -- and I think that the internal thing is going to take a long while to play out, but the nationalism is playing out in the region already. And essentially, what's happening in the Asia-Pacific is this is a zone that for 20 years or more has been a zone in which commerce and economics' positive sum has tended to trump zero-sum geopolitics, and now that's really beginning to shift. It's shifting in the South China Sea, where there's not going to be an agreement on mutual utilization of natural resources -- maritime natural resources. It's happening also in the East China Sea. And most importantly, we saw in the weeks before the transition to the new regime in China a lot of pressure and a lot of organized demonstrations against Japanese business interests in China.

Now, the Chinese went out of their way to tell several other countries, Korea, Singapore and others, don't worry; this isn't about you. I'm sure that was -- that was not very reassuring for those countries. So I think that's the biggest geopolitical risk out there.

In terms of country risk, again, I think that looking at Syria -- the countries in North Africa are still facing really unresolved questions between Islamism and democracy. I think that's going to be -- that's going to be very, very tough. I look at the situation in Venezuela -- Venezuela, we're going to have a really very messy outcome of the -- of the endgame of Chavez.

Let me talk very quickly, though, about three things I'm not worried about, that -- one, I'm really not worried about separatism in Europe. I think separatism in Europe is a longer-term problem, not going to bite in 2013. I'm not worried about the threat of radicalism and radicalization in the developed world, in rich countries. I participated in a session with senior officials in the Pentagon. They were all worried about this. I don't think so.

And I'm not worried about protectionism. Au contraire, I think we're reaching a historic opportunity and likelihood in 2013 of major new trade and investment initiatives, both trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic, the biggest example yet of grand coalitions of the willing replacing universalist organizations for major global goals, i.e., the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic partnerships replacing the role of the WTO not in the legal side but as the framework for trade liberalization with these -- with what is a matrix single organization representing nearly three-quarters of global trade and GDP.

LINDSAY: Thank you very much, David.

Mark.

MARK SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Jim.

And again, I want to thank Jim and the council and Paul for inviting me to join this panel again. David was so nice in mentioning the work of the crisis group. I'll have to avoid criticizing anything that he said up to this point. (Laughter.) The fact is that we've worked together both in government and out for a long time, and I value enormously his knowledge and really thoughtful analysis of key issues.

And Paul, of course, has done, again, a unique -- actually, it's a very unique exercise in terms of looking at these issues, particularly from how they -- how you value and judge them in relation to the impact in the United States. And I think that U.S. policymakers would do well to have a session just on the -- on the Preventive Priorities Survey.

The Crisis Group -- you have Louise's op-ed in front of you. We were sort of limited to 10 countries where we thought -- and it's -- I think it's important to emphasize -- where we thought that the likelihood of new conflicts raised the greatest concern about the magnitude of loss of life, if they occurred, and where existing conflicts -- where the likelihood of increased intensity raised those same concerns and where the capability of the government institutions to cope with those developments was the most limited or the most at risk. So I think it's important also to mention there's a certain degree of arbitrariness in assigning these 10, and there may be some others that you'll hear me talk about as well.

Of the 10 conflicts on the 2013 list, it's important, I think, to -- let's be honest with each other. We did this in 2011, 2012. What happened? How good were we and how prescient? Well, it turns out that of the 10 conflicts on our list for 2013, the only ones not included in the past were the Sahel and Mali. And -- including Nigeria and Turkey, those -- Turkey internally, how it handled the PKK and the Kurdish situation. The others in that list of 10, Syria -- and I would add, in terms of the spillover, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, the DRC, Kenya and Central Asia. And obviously timing when we come up with these lists is important. Central African -- Central African Republic is not mentioned at all.

Now, we also didn't include this year, that were in the past, Myanmar, Somalia, Tunisia, Burundi, Venezuela and Yemen or Mexico and Central America. Almost all of those still are of concern. And I would mention particularly Mexico and Central America in terms of coping with the cartels and drug trafficking and the violence that they spawn, that by no means has that been significantly reduced.

And the -- we did not specifically include the danger of war involving Iran as a response to its nuclear program this year, which I will explain in response to questions, which I'm sure will come. Yet that kind of attack would produce devastating consequences throughout the region and internationally in every possible way.

In order to talk specifically about the countries, what I've tried to do is to say, OK, what are the trends and factors that are apparent? There's long-term drivers of conflict or short-term triggers for conflict, in relation to these 10 particularly. And I want to start again with something that you all know, which is that the recurrence of conflict usually involves the failure of nations and their allies to learn the lessons of past peace processes: to exclude too many of those who should be at the negotiating table, to fail to cope with spoilers, to sidestep rather than accept -- reach acceptable compromises on the issues that drove the conflict and reject enforcement mechanisms or even neutral monitors of implementation.

And in virtually all of the conflicts that we look at today, as Paul Collier has noted and written, they were those that we thought that were resolved last year or a few years earlier. The DRC is unraveling again in part because the March 2009 agreement was never fully implemented or monitored. Rwanda, with its own resource and political interests in the Eastern Congo, suddenly saw those interests threatened last year when President Kabila sought to arrest the ICC indictee Bosco Ntaganda and disperse CNDP military units away from the mines that Rwanda was benefiting from. The result was Rwanda sent its own military forces to assist the rebels, and that presents us now with another enormous tragedy in the Eastern Congo, and in 2013, a major area of conflict.

In Iraq, as you've heard, the breakdown in the implementation of the power-sharing elements of the Erbil agreement are threatening a return to wider sectarian conflict.

And while we've talked a lot about Afghanistan in the past, when you look at how they're attempting to deal with the issue of reaching a peace negotiation of some kind with the Taliban, the fact is that the flaws are quite apparent: absence of neutral facilitators; not everybody in the -- at the table for the -- in the Afghan political spectrum; Pakistan's very questionable role; and the lack of, if you will, the -- an adequate negotiating context.

In Sudan, the unresolved issues throughout the North, not just Darfur but of Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, reflect the absence of a comprehensive political agreement. We just haven't been able to push that country in the direction of a comprehensive agreement even in the North. So even when you get beyond the North-South issues, which remain unresolved -- that is, Abyei, citizenship, borders and oil -- you still are looking at future conflict in 2013 in the North.

The second is that we see the absence of elections with integrity as perhaps one of the most significant sparks that ignites ethnic tensions in fragile and postconflict countries. The global commission that Kofi Annan just chaired basically said that the -- without the cornerstone of legitimacy that what you basically have is that you have political inequality, and you have an absence of peaceful resolution of conflict -- of social conflict.

Indeed, the last DRC election failed the test, and that's partly the reason why you see the outbreak in the eastern Congo as well. And that's the same concern that underlines right now the reason we included Kenya for 2013. In 2007, it was fraudulent elections that produced widespread ethnic conflict, and right now the gaps in preparing for the 2013 election are already of great concern. And by the way, in 2013 Afghanistan is going to be preparing for the 2014 election. And one of the major reasons why we believe 2013 can be -- will be another year of conflict in Afghanistan is that right now there's no indication of agreement between the government, the opposition, civil society of how you set in place acceptable -- all -- acceptable, not great, just acceptable building blocks for a credible election. And if that doesn't happen, then even if you were to get an adequate ANSF training over the course of the next year, you're still not going to see peace in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, again, we're awaiting a May -- probably a May election. The government ends in March. And again, there are vast unmet reforms in order to see an adequate Pakistan election. This is in a country -- I just would add that last week the chief elections officer in Pakistan suggested that one way that they could attempt to achieve the necessary credibility would be to put military forces in each polling station. Given Pakistan's history, that doesn't seem to us to be the likely first thing that you want to worry about in terms of reform of the electoral process. More than half of the country, 66 years of independence, have been ruled by the military, and they haven't done a great deal in terms of the country's development. They have ensured that Pakistan is one of the nuclear powers. But Pakistan also remains 145 of 187 countries in the world in terms of human development index -- not a lot of development. A third of the country remains in poverty. The likelihood of conflict is fairly significant.

I should mention that on Venezuela, I agree with David. We had put Venezuela on last year given the likelihood of violence at the elections. They got through that because Chavez was elected. Now there's disagreement over how do you get to the next likely need for an election in 30 days after Chavez dies. And there's no agreement who's going to be the interim president between now and then nor any guarantee about what happens after that election, whether the -- if the opposition wins, Capriles is a significant -- I'd say, has a good chance, whether the Chavista forces will accept that outcome.

Third -- I'll just go quickly -- the post-9/11 phenomenon of radical Islamic extremism may not be a concern in the developed countries, but clearly, in many areas -- Sahel Mali -- that's where we see the real dangers.

And they take advantage of weak, corrupt, arbitrary and partisan state institutions. And that also is what threatens Nigeria, where Boko Haram is involved with that.

Fourth, we see an absence of the rule of law. That's perhaps the most -- the single most consistent sign of state fragility. And if you look at the corruption, lack of accountability and partisan control of the state, it explains much of the unraveling of Syria. Right now the evidence of mass atrocity in that country -- 500,000 refugees, 2.5 million displaced, 60,000 deaths in the -- basically since this began -- in a country that's only 4 1/2 million, so I mean the entire country is at a state of collapse. And as David said, it affects the neighbors significantly.

Fifth, the shifts of power, the political dynamics are no longer just country-based, they're regional based. Last year we talked about the Arab Spring. But if you want to look at the region where every country faces the potential of internal and cross-border conflict, with the witch's brew of jihadi groups, criminal traffickers and repressive regimes, it's Central Asia. And while we have been focusing more on how do we make sure the northern distribution network in those countries functions while the -- while we remove our troops from Afghanistan, that place is ready to blow.

Finally, all of these issues, and the specific countries that we're all happy to discuss further, demand attention in 2013, as David said, from an Obama administration focused on debt, budget, immigration and preventing more mass killings at home even before it tries to think about how to prevent them abroad. Yet much of what happens abroad depends on U.S. leadership. There was the start of the Atrocity Prevention Board, the whole concept of QDDR, whole-of-government focus on pursuing peace. They require much higher priority to preventing or ending conflict than we've seen over the past four years. That means more development resources, more diplomatic resources and more political will.

Thank you.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Mark. Paul.

PAUL STARES: Well, thanks, Jim. And thank you to my fellow panelists for coming here today and for their support to our work. And I also want to single out those of you in the audience who actually responded to the Preventive Priorities Survey this year. You know who you are. But we wouldn't have been able to do it without you, so I particularly thank you or your support.

I thought before I get into the details of this year's Preventive Priorities Survey, at the risk -- some risk of losing your attention at the outset, I thought it would be useful just to say a few words on what we tried to accomplish with this survey and also how we actually did it. I think it's important to try to be as transparent as possible in this respect.

So the PPS is not just a poll of foreign policy experts on what they consider to be the most likely threats or crises in the coming year; it is also an assessment of how they view the relative importance of those threats to U.S. interests. Clearly, not all conflicts or crises are equally important to the United States. Some are, therefore, more deserving of our attention and priority in terms of resources and other issues than others. This is, I think, especially true in the time we are in at the moment, of fiscal austerity, and when priorities are crying out for our attention at home. So in short, we need to prioritize our preventive efforts around the world.

And so this is essentially what the survey is intended to help do, and it is, as Mark said, what distinguishes it most from other annual exercises of this kind. I should be clear though, and Jim will spank me if I don't say this, this is not a CFR assessment but rather reflects the opinions of those we surveyed this year.

So how was the survey conducted? We're always looking for ways to improve with each year. This is actually the fifth year, I think, we've done it, and I think that we've shown steady improvements. We did tweak the process in significant ways, I think, this year to make it more representative and rigorous in what we tried to accomplish.

First, we front-ended the process with initial what we called crowd-sourcing requests through social media and other outlets, to experts and the general public, asking for suggestions of contingencies to consider in the survey. On the basis of those inputs, we then boiled down those inputs into 30 contingencies and sent it out to 1,500 foreign policy experts -- not all responded, I hasten to add -- asking them not only for their assessment of the likelihood of the contingency occurring in 2013 but also their assessment of the potential impact on U.S. interests, according to defined criteria.

I should also add that we did not include essentially economic-related contingencies in our survey. It's not because we don't think it's irritant, but we did very much want to focus on essentially military or violence -- crises that had the potential for significance violence.

We then organized the responses into three tiers of relative priority for the United States in terms of their urgency and importance. And I'll be happy to talk more about the methodology afterwards, if you wish.

So what are the main results, and how did they compare to last year's survey?

Well, in Tier I category, there's essentially no real surprises here in what respondents were most concerned about. And some we've already mentioned by the other two panelists. Intensification of the civil war in Syria topped the list. Naturally it's the only one considered both high-impact and high-likelihood contingency of all the contingencies surveyed. I should add it was also separated, but there's the related concern of possible use or diversion of chemical/biological weapons in Syria. And I'd like to think that when we chose the cover of the survey that we actually saw that the fighter in the picture is carrying a gas mask, but we didn't. But I think that underscores the concern that many people feel about how the situation could unfold in Syria.

There were no real surprises about most of the other contingencies, judged to be both high-impact and plausible in 2013, that fit into the Tier I category. I'll just quickly go through them: intensification of the Iranian nuclear crisis, a possible Israeli preventive attack, a major military incident involving Chinese and allied forces in East Asia, severe internal instability in Pakistan, a mass casualty terrorist attack on the U.S., a major cyberattack on the U.S. -- interestingly, given today's front page of The New York Times -- and finally, a major erosion of security in Afghanistan as the U.S. draws down its forces was considered likely, but only having a medium impact.

Interesting to note this year is that several contingencies fell from their Tier I ranking from last year, including North Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia. They all were downgraded and perhaps we can speculate why that was so later. It may just -- had to be because of the timing of the survey.

In the Tier II category, many of last year's concerns were similarly ranked. Instability in Egypt, Yemen and Iraq were all ranked as both plausible in terms of their likelihood and having a moderate impact on U.S. interests. So was armed confrontation in the South China Sea and another Indo-Pak crisis.

The new concerns that surfaced this year included Lebanon, primarily because of the threat of spillover from Syria, as well as Jordan and Bahrain, as a result of the continuing effects of the Arab awakening.

Another, I think, interesting finding from the Tier II category, at least, is that three African contingencies -- there were none in Tier I and II last year -- in this case, Nigeria, DRC and Libya all received a Tier II ranking this year.

Turning to Tier III category, again, some familiar concerns from last year. Political instability in Sudan, as well as or distinct from conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, were mentioned. Electoral violence in Kenya, as the others have said, is a concern here, and potential unrest in Zimbabwe were all considered plausible contingencies. But interestingly -- and I'm sure that some will contest this -- they were judged to have a low impact on U.S. interests.

Considered of greater importance but assessed to be unlikely was unrest in Kurdish areas of the Middle East. Again, that's -- I think some people might contest that -- as well as Saudi Arabia.

Finally -- I know time is short -- it's worth mentioning some contingencies that respondents didn't see on the list but felt that they should have been, and we deliberately allowed respondents to put in those that they felt warranted attention. I'll just quickly go through them. A third Palestinian intifada, growing popular unrest in China, a U.S.-Iranian naval clash in the Persian Gulf, a Sino-Indian border clash, electoral violence and instability in Ethiopia and a succession crisis in Cuba and Venezuela were the ones that were mentioned. So that was basically it, and I'll be happy to talk about the findings in the Q-and-A.

LINDSAY: Thank you very much, Paul. Well, now we are going to bring all of you into the conversation. If you wish to be recognized, it's standard Council on Foreign Relations protocol: turn your placard on end. And Fred, you were the first one to do so, so you get the first question.

QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. I think I was last year, too, and I'm going to make the same point -- (laughter) -- although I'm going to make it even more provocatively than I did last year, because I think we're doing a terrible disservice to the policymaking community, that is, those of us in the foreign policy cognoscenti, among those, in that this view of what they should consider "urgent problems" to worry about is so national, geographic-focused; it's so black-box crises view of things. So I think it drives the wrong agenda for policymakers to think about.

And let me just -- there are three broad developments that to me cry out urgently to be addressed by the United States and its allies. And it needs work to address them, but they're not -- they're not focused on any particular geography, in part because the uncertainties don't tell us where those things will geographically develop.

One is the profile of natural disasters, the interaction of the vulnerabilities of population demographic changes and climate change and other national or physical processes. I think that's going to hit us like -- in the side of the head like 9/11 before very long, a series of crises that create popular insecurities on a level of 9/11 where the American people worry about their vulnerabilities and change their whole set of priorities.

The second is cyber-aggression. I think we're headed for -- and not just between the U.S. and China or some other national set of players, but kinds of vulnerabilities on cyber. We don't know where it's going to come from, and we're not sure where it's going to hit, but those insecurities are far more important than the conflict in Mali, with all due respect.

And the third is robotic warfare, is airborne robotic warfare. We're headed towards a kind of competition in both kinetic and surveillance robotic warfare. That, to me, just cries out for rules of the game.

So the fundamental point is it's taking the agenda -- it's taking the focus off of what should be broad, multilateral initiatives and putting it on managing these conflicts in a relatively narrow geographic frame that to me is -- does a disservice to our basic insecurity.

LINDSAY: Thank you, Fred. I'll turn it over to our panelists. Are you looking at the wrong things? (Laughter.)

GORDON: So let me -- let me make a comment. Fred, really good question. You know, I think on -- I think on the natural disaster side, there is a ton of planning going on on this stuff in the U.S. government, that if there's a single thing that the U.S. government has begun to do far more systematically, it's looking at natural disaster vulnerability, natural disaster resilience or lack thereof among the countries, partnerships about what would happen if -- so actually, of the three that you mention, this is, to my mind, a good-news story. You don't read about it very much because it's not very sexy: prevention. Part of the problem with prevention is that it's not very sexy. But --

QUESTIONER: That's the point, David. It's not sexy, so it's not getting the attention --

GORDON: No, no, but it is. But it is. It really is. On cyber aggression, I think you're right. I -- on robotics, it's tough. I think in general, as people who follow our work know, that we've highlighted in recent reports the theme of a G-0 world, a world where coming to multilateral agreements much, much, much harder, not easy to do. And I think cyber is the prime example of that. We are not going to get a multilateral agreement on cyber. It is impossible. Cyber-risk -- and you're right that we should be talking about it -- lot of people are talking about cyber-risk. Lot going on on the cyber front.

And again, I think that the notion that -- cyber's very, very hard to talk about here, partially because we don't have a language, and certainly the three people up here really don't have a language to do it -- (scattered laughter) -- but it's absolutely real, you know. But I think that what -- part of what we're talking -- as long as people appreciate what we're talking about here are things that are likely or probable or potential, things that hit in 2013, that that shouldn't dominate everything about foreign policy, but it should serve to enable policymakers to look a little bit out beyond their inboxes on very real things that are happening in the rest of the world that people can get their arms around and to begin to engage around. But I'm sympathetic with your points, though.

LINDSAY: Mark, and then Paul.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. I would share the -- I'd give one quick example on natural disaster side. You know, when you -- it's not just what we're doing. If you look at the distinction, the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile were about the same magnitude. In Haiti, 200,000 people died. In Chile, I forget the numbers but it's under 10,000. And my point is simply that it's partly because governance was so different in those countries, and the fact is, is that the vulnerabilities in Haiti remain the vulnerabilities of essentially a failed state. And my point is simply, it's not a natural disaster, it's a question of development and looking at the issue of fragile states and what has been and can be and should be done with respect to U.S. leadership in working multilaterally to deal with that.

And I won't talk at all about cyber aggression because David's right, I know nothing about it. But the -- but in terms of the airborne -- the question of robotic warfare, I think you're right. We've looked a little bit at this in terms of how do you define the rules of the game and what's -- what is legal and how do you expect the rest of the world to respond if you haven't told them what it is the basis upon which you're using to decide that you can carry out your own attacks in different places. And I think that that's going to be continuing an issue of major concern.

But the -- my final point is, I don't think that changes the fact that the issues that we raise of Syria, of Iran, of Mali, et cetera, those are the issues that, in fact, the Security Council is going to have to deal with.

STARES: Let me just, I think, push back to what I think is your characterization of our respective assessments. I think, while in our case, you know, we have an unashamably U.S. interest-based approach, I think all of us look at this in a global perspective. I don't think any of them -- any of us are focused on any particular region or any particular issue. And I think all of us understand how what starts in one country really stays on that country. In fact, virtually all these issues are so interconnected that they spill over and have larger consequences. So I think, you know, we do have a larger appreciation than you might credit us.

As for the issues you mention, I think there is no question they're all extremely important. For us to assess the likelihood of natural disasters is really out of our -- out of our lane. I'm not sure anybody can really do that. I think one could develop a kind of assessment of where particular vulnerabilities of certain regions, based on whether they're on a fault line or, you know, have poor building standards, et cetera, et cetera, but that's beyond our competence.

On cyber, we actually did include that. That's in the tier one. So I think we haven't -- we can't be accused of ignoring that.

Robotic warfare, you know, again, it's a general concern rather than a specific political-military crisis that is really what drives these assessments. I should say we have a major report that came out -- was it today, Jim? or --

LINDSAY: I believe yesterday.

STARES: -- yesterday -- on drones attacks, U.S. drone strike policies. And I commend you to see that. It's on the CFR website.

LINDSAY: It's by Micah Zenko --

STARES: Yes.

LINDSAY: -- at cfr.org.

STARES: I think, you know, one could possibly suggest that in the future, we might have a separate category for so-called "global shocks" that don't fit into any kind of defined geographical area or functional area and maybe consider that as an area to assess, to poll people on.

LINDSAY: Fair enough.

I think I would just add, on the three topics that Fred offered up, certainly on cyber-aggression there's a lot of work being done, including by our colleague here at CFR, Adam Segal, who's written a lot about cyber-aggression. So I don't think cyber is an issue that's not getting attention in the foreign policy community.

Dr. Steve Flanagan.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. Mark alluded to the witch's brew of developments in Central Asia, but it seemed to me that you all also touched on the even -- boiling cauldron in the Middle East with regard to Syria. And I wanted to draw you out on the linkage between the Syrian crisis and further loss of Assad's -- and Iranian influence there and the potential Iranian response on the nuclear issue, whether you might see further escalation of support to the Kurdish insurgency both in Turkey and perhaps in other countries, further hardening of the Sunni-Shia tensions in Iraq and even in the Gulf, and even a more robust response if there were some kind of Israeli military action as a result of some perceived or declared development in the Iranian nuclear crisis.

It does seem to me that these two developments are becoming increasingly linked, and the nature of the Iranian response will be very much affected by, I think, the sense of loss of their foothold and the whole rejectionist front in Syria.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. (Laughter.) Well, let me start this way. I think that the -- in part it explains why we didn't put Iran on our list of 10, even though it's clear that the nuclear program there is by no means under control, nor has there been any indication of a willingness on their part to reach the kind of agreement that would end that as a major threat.

The difference is that we sort of saw the political process in both -- in Israel, in Iran and in the United States as likely not leading to war this year. Basically that's -- you have -- an Iranian election's coming up in June. There's going to be a lot more of kicking the ball down the road in terms of avoiding a major confrontation on the next set of negotiations. The fact is that we're extremely concerned about it, but we came to the conclusion that that was unlikely to explode this year.

Now, the point you made about the linkage between Iran and Syria, no question about it. One of the factors that's resulting, we think, in Iraq as well being more -- less inclined to cooperate with us is because of the internal threats and their decision they simply don't want to see a Sunni-dominated government in Syria. And they're really worried about the levels of refugee flow across into their borders to make even more difficult their own internal dynamics. And that's one of the reasons why if you see our conclusions about Iraq, that we view the likelihood of increased sectarian conflict with Iranian involvement pretty high.

I think you need to step back on Syria though and -- really we all have to ask a series of questions. But we have simply failed -- and I mean everyone -- we've failed over the course of the last two years to find an answer that stops the mass atrocities that have occurred there. And I gave some of the figures, but we're talking about half of the population either refugees or displaced at this point, 60,000 dead in the last year and a half.

I mean the inability -- if you go back to the responsibility to protect, the stalemate in the Security Council has basically made that not functional. The lack of, up until very recently, a coalition of the rebel opposition that would at least answer some of the questions that have been of concern made it impossible for the Western countries to provide the kind of support that they may be providing now and to begin to try and press, as David said, for the kind of context that would lead to pressure on those around Bashar to push.

We're not at all confident that any of this is going to happen. Friday, as you may know, the U.S. and Russian deputy foreign ministers are meeting in Geneva with Brahimi, and you would only assume that the concerns about the chemical weapons being moved around have sort of maybe changed the dynamics in such a way that maybe you could see Russia moving in a different direction. But there's no clear indication of that. And we've also been somewhat critical of the opposition for not making it clear that their view of a post-Bashar government includes some protection for the Alawite community, and that is yet to be seen as a very visible part of their stance. And we think the -- those Friends of Syria need to make it clear publicly that there are going to be steps -- measures put in place to provide for the inclusion of the Alawite community in the next follow-on government if -- hopefully, if there's a transition.

LINDSAY: David.

GORDON: Yeah, just a brief comment, Steve, at your initial point: the relationship between what's going on in Syria and Iranian nukes. And I think it's a very strong and powerful one and a very negative one in terms of regional dynamics.

If you look at Iran, I think there are two -- there are two elements of strategic depth in their perception, where one, their pursuit of nuclear program and their expectation that they were going to get there, and two was their wedge into the Arab world that their alliance with Assad represents.

I think the fact -- and I think that Iranian thinking for a very long time has assessed Syria very differently than Western thinking. I think Iranian thinking for a very long time assessed Syria as the regime could hold. I think that's beginning to change. And I think that will make the Iranians less flexible on the nuclear issue despite the fact that they are being put under extraordinary pressure. I agree with Mark. I think one of the -- of the big, unchallenged, conventional wisdoms in Washington now is Iran, Israel, U.S. -- push comes to shove in third quarter '13. I don't believe it for all the reasons that Mark gave.

LINDSAY: Professor Zartman (sp).

QUESTIONER: I'd take the same lead sentence as Fred but go off in a different direction. I -- I'm struck that there's not a concern about the breakdown of international regimes as regimes, and rather the citation of the individual geographic cases. And it seems to me that we're in an era, in a time in this coming year where important regimes are really showing their total weakness, and I'm thinking particularly of the nonproliferation regime, the trade regime -- there was a mention that a global attempt at a trade regime will break down into an Atlantic and a Pacific attempt. But still, that's not being fully addressed. The climate regime nobody talks about at all anymore. We just undergo it. And even, to an extent, the security regime, as supposedly handled by the Security Council and now breaking down into efforts -- hand-wringing efforts by coalitions of the unwilling to deal with security issues. I think it's important to address these as baskets of problems into which the individual geographic cases fall.

GORDON: So two years ago, our report highlighted as our top risk the G-0 world, which was all about what you're talking about. And we -- if you read our report, that's the context around which we discuss all of these. So I completely agree with this, and it's something that I think, frankly, we were ahead of our time in highlighting. And I agree with you.

There's -- the challenge is there's no easy answer to it. I think -- again, as I stated, I think the most interesting -- the most interesting answer at the -- at the multilateral level is occurring in the trade front with very, very, very big coalitions of the willing. I do not believe that coalitions of the willing is a strategy overall that you can use, because a lot of times you have to engage the unwilling. And so I think that that dilemma will continue to be out there.

But right now, I think that you raise a really good point. All of this is occurring in a framework where multilateral action is harder and harder to achieve.

LINDSAY: Paul.

STARES: At the risk of making a shameless plug for my colleague Stewart Patrick, who does a regular survey of the state of global governance and international institutions and regimes -- and you can talk more about this than I in terms of scorecarding specific regimes -- I think Stewart might agree with me that, you know, these things go in phases; they're often -- the regimes are sort of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it's two step back, one step forward. I think we're obviously in a period of broad recession on the state of global governance, but I don't think we're at a fatal stage by any means in terms of where things stand. But Stewart -- I commend you to Stewart's work and his website to give you a better sense of where we, I think, stand on the state of regimes.

LINDSAY: Unlike Paul, I have no problem with shameless plugs. And I simply want to say that Stewart, who has done an excellent job leading our international institutions and global governance program, is bringing forth probably next month a series of report cards on the state of international governance and a really in-depth look at the various regimes that Professor Zartman mentioned. And I -- we will make sure you're all invited to our rollout event. But in case you miss it -- the report, I can assure you it will be available on our website, CFR.org. (Laughter.)

Professor Walker (sp).

QUESTIONER: So the question I want to ask is you all talked about the sort of very U.S.-centric -- and obviously, we're at the CFR, so focusing on the U.S. government is a right thing. Where's the private sector's role here, and where are the role for allies? One of the challenges you -- everyone has said at some point is the U.S. population is less willing to deal with international crisis when you have crisis at home. So what of these conflicts are you most optimistic that the private sector will have an incentive to coalitions of the willings we're talking about?'

GORDON: So let me -- I think that, you know, in terms of the -- of the private sector and particularly the U.S. private sector, I think we're in -- that that's a big asset, and it's a strengthening asset for the United States. I think it's strengthening, A, because of the financial recovery of our corporate sector here in the United States, that, B, I think if you -- if you look out at some of the most significant technological trends in the world, in manufacturing, in energy, in agriculture, the single biggest beneficiary of those trends are going to be the United States, and partnering with U.S. firms are going to be seen as enormous opportunities for firms all over the world.

So I think a lot of this is that in terms of the breakdown -- of the breakdown of regimes, you are -- you are seeing a context in which the private sector has an increasing role to play.

Let me say, however, that on almost all of these deep underlying conflicts that we're talking about here, they essentially depend upon the actions of states to be prevented and managed. So I think that -- on the one hand, I think we have a huge opportunity now for the private sector, I think, in this revival of U.S. soft power that we're going to see over the next 10 or 20 years. It's going to be substantially private sector-led. But in terms of dealing with the things that we are talking about here, there's not going to be a private sector to answer to a lot of -- to most of that.

SCHNEIDER: I would agree with that -- I would agree with that last comment that David made except for one point, which is that it does seem to me that the private sector has had, in the past, rarely, but at times in the past, a significant role in emphasizing, if you will, its understanding that stability and peace internationally is in their interest generally --

GORDON: No, fair point.

SCHNEIDER: -- and that, therefore, they should be supporting the kind of U.S. commitment of leadership and resources to development around the world. The point that Gates made, I think, in -- you know, that if you're -- something along the lines that if you don't do development, you wind up sending Marines. And I think that the private sector -- many understand that the kinds of breakdowns in institutions in these countries is not in their interest and that they should be, in a sense, trying to take more of a lead in helping the U.S. move in the right direction in terms of definition of priorities.

And then I agree on the regime -- trade regime particularly. The private sector, it seems to me, has a positive role.

One area where it's not so positive is on the way that the private sector goes after natural resources in various parts of the world, not always taking account of the impact on institutions, societies and potential conflict.

LINDSAY: Much better the U.S. private sector than the Chinese private sector.

SCHNEIDER: Agree, agree, agree.

STARES: I don't think -- I think you make a very important point, but I don't think there's a preventive priority that any of us could identify that we would believe that the U.S. can take on alone. These are just too complex, too interdependent. They require broad legitimacy, in many cases, to actually engage the relevant actors. And so there's -- frankly, there's no alternative but to work with others.

And you mentioned some of them, but there are clearly others. You know, you said allies, the private sector -- clearly important, NGOs, civil society and, of course, regional institutions. We should do much more to build their capacity, to make them effective partners, because we simply can't do it alone. We don't have the resources; we don't have the political will to do it, and in many cases, other players are better positioned and have stronger interests. That doesn't mean we lead from behind (as said ?) in all the cases, but I think in many of the cases, certainly in the lesser contingencies or contingencies of lower priority, you know, we shouldn't necessarily be in the lead.

LINDSAY: Lisa Search (ph).

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I think each of these reports makes an assumption about what is at risk, whether it's economic liberalism is at risk or human security at risk or, in the Council on Foreign Relations, that national interests are at risk. I was wondering if you could talk about the confluence of those in terms of mobilizing political will, because really, national interest is a confluence of economic, national security, human security interests. And I think intervention most often happens when there is this overlapping -- groups mobilize together to intervene. Could you talk about the overlapping concerns and the underlying values under these reports and where political will might be mobilized?

SCHNEIDER: I mean, I'll start, but I think it's my last point, which is that if you -- Gates' (comment ?) -- if you don't do development, you wind up sending Marines. The point is that our national security ultimately gets involved when there's the breakdown in not necessarily regions that were -- Fred (sp), that would -- you talk about Mali. We are, in fact, sending military advisers to help deal with the problems in Mali and the Sahel, and we see this is extending into Nigeria, and we see that as a fundamental breakdown in international order that we have to respond to. And it's the failure to deal with the, if you will, human security that I would put in the context of failures of governance, failures of development and failures of economic development that wind up resulting in the breakdown of societies that produces the kind of national security concerns that winds up involving the United States and others. And so I think -- and clearly, those three do -- unfortunately are linked together, and if we don't deal with all of them, we wind up having to deal with all of them in a negative way.

STARES: Well, national interest -- and I think you may have heard me say this before, Lisa (sp) -- national interest is a -- is a funny old term, and I write about it in the introduction to the report this year that in terms of actually agreed-upon, generally accepted criteria for assessing what's in the national interest, there -- it's extraordinary. You know, if you Google "criteria for national interest," you get a big fat zero. It's extraordinary, given the number of times that we invoke this term, it's in the U.S. interest to do, fill in the blank, there is no way to do this.

But I think most people -- and I think my fellow panelists would agree that these interests are rarely exclusive. They're broadly shared in many instances because we have things at stake.

As for political will, I think much depends on whether we view the options for acting -- and this gets to Mark's point about Syria -- are seen as difficult and costly. And I think our job is to make sure that we don't foreclose potential options for doing something because of a lack of, frankly, imagination. And too often options narrow, as -- you know, between doing nothing or sending in the Marines, and we always have to be pushing the envelope in terms of what is -- what is possible here. And arguably we haven't done that in Syria; we failed.

LINDSAY: Did you want to -- oh.

I now face the presider's dilemma, which is that the amount of time we have left is rapidly shrinking and the number of placards on end is growing. So what I'm going to suggest is I'll take questions in groups. I'll take three questions and then we'll let the panelists respond.

John Glenn, Dan (Serwer ?) and then Paul (Pillar ?).

QUESTIONER: Thank you all very much. If I may, just at the beginning, Secretary Gates made that comment, if it's not shameless, at our conference. He not only said if you don't do development, you send soldiers, but that development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.

The question I'd like to pick up, Mark, is one that you raised about elections, and the reason I'd like to pick up is that's one of the things that the United States government does, is just try to support, train, promote free elections. It's one of those tools we have out there to try to help reduce conflict. And you highlighted, I think accurately, the failure of sort of legitimate elections leading to greater conflict, but at the same time I sort of find myself thinking back -- maybe just the counterexample of the way that elections are often a tool to resolve conflict. You set down your arms because you have an agreement for elections. You loosen a regime because you have an agreement for an -- elections that can legitimize the next steps.

And you know, I know that this is complicated and, you know, for every Central America or even Burma, maybe, you know, you can look at the challenges of Morsi in Egypt or you can certainly think about Putin. And we all know that elections are not a panacea.

But I guess the question I want to put is, give you a chance to say -- I mean, do we have the right tools to help promote elections that reduce conflicts? Are we using them correctly in the sort of -- the circumstances we're in?

MR. : I'm --

LINDSAY: Dan -- we're going to take questions. Dan --

MR. : Yeah.

LINDSAY: Dan, and then we'll go to Paul.

QUESTIONER: I'm in the embarrassing position of having heard Mark twice say that half the people in Syria are displaced, and that's not accurate. There are 23 million people in Syria.

SCHNEIDER: Two and a half million. You're right.

QUESTIONER: It's 10 percent. It's one of the reasons why it hasn't had the salience that perhaps it should have had.

I'm struck by the absence on the CFR list in particular of any reference to Hormuz, not that some of the contingencies wouldn't affect Hormuz, but you know, we spend between $80 billion and $100 billion per year to prevent Hormuz from being closed, and I suppose you can argue that the reason it's not on the list is because we're so successful. I think that's absolutely wrong. The Iranians are already contemplating the construction of a pipeline around Hormuz that would enable them to get oil out and product in without going through Hormuz, which would put us in a very difficult situation.

What this raised in my mind was the following question, which I wanted to offer to Paul for possible consideration for next year. What if we had a look at a few of these and said, to what degree are our responses adequate and not?

Well, I stop at this stage of saying these things are important. Why not have a look at whatever it is, whether it's elections or developments or military responses? Why not have a look at what would make -- what would constitute an adequate response and what the U.S. government response or maybe the global response is so far?

LINDSAY: Paul.

QUESTIONER: This question's probably mostly for Paul, since it's the -- with the -- with the results of the CFR survey in mind. What do you see as the one or two or three biggest incongruities or disconnects between where your surveyed experts say the priority ought to be and where policy priority really is? And you can define the latter as being, you know, what the current administration's doing or just more generally what policy cognoscenti in this town are looking at. And by incongruities, I mean either ones that should have high priority that aren't getting it or, conversely, ones where your experts say it really doesn't deserve the priority that it is getting.

LINDSAY: Very good. So we have the right tools, Hormuz and incongruities. (Laughter.) Who wishes to go -- well, I will let Paul go first, since the last question was directed specifically toward him.

STARES: Excellent questions. Dan, you mentioned the Strait of Hormuz. We did -- you know, some -- I mentioned somebody did talk about a possible U.S.-Iranian naval clash in Hormuz. And I think we're also -- correct me if I'm wrong -- building a pipeline to circumvent --

MR. : Right.

STARES: -- Strait of Hormuz too, so -- as for the next step, that is -- that is pretty much a softball for me. Some of you may know we do a regular series of contingency planning memos that specifically focus on many of the contingencies that we identify at the beginning of the year. And we have one coming out tomorrow. Joel Barkan -- where are you, Joel?

MR. : Joel's over there.

STARES: Joel has one on electoral violence in Kenya, assessing our -- the adequacy of our response there. We've done ones on Venezuela, actually partly as a result of the discussions we had last year. And just next week, we are doing one on the potential for instability in Jordan. So I think they are our, if you will, follow-up efforts on particular crises.

As for your question, Paul, I think that's an excellent question, though I'm going to have to give it some thought, in terms of two potential disconnects that I could identify just very quickly in response to you: one, that North Korea somehow has dropped down in level of priority when I think it certainly warrants a much higher ranking than it got in the survey. I think Nigeria is probably other one too. I don't think we pay enough attention to how things could unravel badly in Nigeria and the stakes there in terms of U.S. interests. But I would have to give some more thought.

LINDSAY: I should point out that Paul's reports are available at the CFR.org website -- (laughter) -- but also that our colleague John Campbell has put together an interactive database called the Nigeria Security Tracker for those of you who are interested in Nigeria which tracks over time the rise of violence, of politically motivated violence across Nigeria. It's a very interesting device, because he breaks it down by state within Nigeria and also by who the violence is attributed to, so I highly recommend it. But I know that David wanted to jump in here.

GORDON: Yeah, just a couple of comments. Our Iran risk is really about the fact that we believe that the -- that the main source of tension that can go into the -- into the military arena is unlikely to be on the nuclear program (per se?), much more likely to be on what we call this secret war. And it's the cyberwar, it's the -- it's the war -- the intelligence war.

And you have had -- I mean, we -- I remember when I was in government, we were -- we were continually surprised by how far the Iranians were willing to go in very particular ways in Iraq on moves that we didn't expect. And you had this whole plot against the Saudi ambassador here in the United States. So I think that people overestimate that Bibi Netanyahu's going to press the button or get Obama to press the button and we're going to take out Natanz. I don't think that's where we're going. If we're going to get into trouble, it's going to be in this secret war, and I think Hormuz could very well be the geographic focal point.

LINDSAY: Mark.

SCHNEIDER: Let me start with -- Dan, thank you. I was thinking on Lebanon, and I kept on repeating the population of Lebanon. But I'd just say 2 1/2 million --

MR. : That's a lot of people.

SCHNEIDER: -- displaced in Syria and 500,000 refugees, 60,000 killed, population 23 million. It's still a huge, huge impact. And that also goes to the question, what more could have been done? When you talked about looking at what the response was over these months and say, what more could have been done, we're now at the point where there's -- the U.S. now considers, as one of the Friends of Syria, this to be the legitimate government. It's taken a long time to get there.

The question about how you push that process forward -- the level of response to the refugees themselves in the various countries is something where I think much more needs to be done. Only half of what the U.N. has asked for is available at this point from the international community globally, even if the U.S. is the largest donor.

So again -- but that also gets me to the question about elections. There's no question: Elections obviously are the way we would like to see the peaceful competition for transfer of power in post-conflict, pre-conflict, but we increasingly recognize that where those elections are not credible, that they become then a source for conflict.

In the DRC one example was, at the point at which we were supporting the process, we saw -- the United States and others saw that this was not a credible process being put forward, and yet we continued to fund it and we continued to essentially be quiet as that occurred. It seems to me that the question is, when you do see it going the wrong way, what do you do politically? We've got the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the DRC, and the political use of that force to try and deal with the problem of this fraudulent election was simply inadequate.

So I think you do -- the answer is, yes, we do have lots of tools about training, about observers, about rules, about codes of conduct, about how you manage the electoral process, but fundamentally, if it's not going to be independently run, if there's not going to be a credible process, you can have the technical side really well done, but the outcome is not going to be conducive to stability, cohesion or peace.

LINDSAY: Michael Brown, Ms. Wang (sp), Pauline Baker.

QUESTIONER: Thanks, Jim. I'd like to ask the panelists to look five years into the future when we all get together. You've given us these rich lists of things we need to worry about in 2013. Are there one or two things on your list that stand out as enduring priorities that are likely to really stand out in terms of the magnitude of their effects five years from now?

QUESTIONER: I want to ask about the China-Japan crisis. I understand the U.S. government's long-standing policy is not to take sides. However, the situation is getting worse. Do you see -- is there any risk that the U.S. has to protect Japan under the Japan-U.S. mutual defense treaty? And how could the U.S. prevent this happening? Thank you.

LINDSAY: Pauline.

QUESTIONER: Yes. The opposite of the risks are rewards, and we focused mostly on the negative here. I'd like the panel to identify maybe two or three top achievements or positive trends as we go into 2013 that would enable us to deal with some of these crises. Obviously, one of them is killing Osama bin-Laden and degrading al-Qaida, but beyond that, what would be the other two or three top positive things that you see in the future?

LINDSAY: I tell you what I'm going to do. I want to get our last three questioners on the table, and that way we can use our time more efficiently. Let's go Michael, Shannon (sp), then Jim Schear (sp).

QUESTIONER: I know -- I can understand and accept your point that the euro and the EU are not going to go over the cliff, but short of that, to what extent is the ability of the United States and this administration to work around the world when our major alliance, pivot aside, is caught in this combination of stagnation and self-absorption?

LINDSAY: Shannon (sp)?

QUESTIONER: My question is about Mali, which has come up almost as often as in the debates. Mark, your report talks about Mali but links under sort of Sahel, with Nigeria, which I understand for the purposes of confining things to a top 10 makes sense, but I think there's a real risk in presenting those as essentially the same conflict. It sort of reinforces the crescent-of-instability thinking, and I think there are some problems there.

Paul, where it comes up in your survey is a little confusing to me. Under Tier III, it says -- (inaudible) -- unlikely the failure of the multilateral intervention to push out Islamist groups from Mali's north. I'm trying to understand, does that mean that your people think that a successful intervention is probable? I'm just trying to understand.

MR. : (Inaudible.)

LINDSAY: Jim Schear (sp).

QUESTIONER: I get to be the caboose on the train here. Just a very quick question, the role of diasporas, either as aggravators or mitigators of conflict in places as diverse as Somalia, Colombia, Haiti, South Asia. Thank you.

LINDSAY: I told you that we were blessed to have a distinguished set of panelists. I believe that firmly to be the case, and you're going to see why, because they now have approximately five minutes to speak definitively on enduring problems that we face, the future of the China-Japan conflict, whether there's any good news out there, what do we do when our allies are stagnating or self-absorbed, what about Mali, and the very interesting question brought up by Jim Schear (sp), our caboose, about the role of diasporas in either magnifying or dampening conflicts.

So we're going to go left to right, and you can each respond to the questions you feel most comfortable responding to.

GORDON: OK, let me make a few points here. On the enduring issue here in five years, absolutely, the Asia geopolitical issue and the -- and the challenge for the United States of being in both a regional alliance with countries that are very worried about China's rise but needing a positive relationship with China in a macro sense for all sorts of reasons -- gets to the question about the islands. I think that the United States has made it very, very clear to China that while we do not have a fixed position on the status of the islands, under the U.S.-Japan cooperative agreement -- mutual security agreement that we do consider those islands as if they're sovereign territory. A series of very senior delegations have ensured (sic) the Chinese that the U.S. will hold to its commitment. That's why I think that the Chinese are looking to push this into other arenas, including the commercial arena.

In terms of good news, I think that in addition to -- I think that, extremely good news, we have a potential on the trade front. I think -- I think the Mexican election is a real opportunity for the United States. I think that on -- I think that the killing of Osama bin Laden was good news at the time, but it reinforced a strategic shift on the part of al-Qaida, al-Qaida going local, still against us but going local, that we are having a hard time getting our arms around and fully responding to -- so good news, but also part of the challenge.

SCHNEIDER: I'll go quickly. I actually would argue that the -- five years from now it's the Middle East, the broad -- Iran, Iraq and Israel-Palestine -- we didn't even talked about that. And that -- the fact is that that continues to be fundamental national interest of the United States and concern and a fundamental area of conflict. And that's -- five years from now, it still will be.

But if you want to know the area five years from now where there'll be more actual violent armed conflict, it's Central Asia -- where it's not now.

On the question of Mali, I agree, Shannon (sp). I -- what we've basically said in our report is you've got to deal with the politics internally in Bamako before you think you're going to deal with the military problem in the north, but you're going to have to deal with both.

And finally, the good news -- I agree, I had put down Mexico, the election and where I think that process is going. I would add Colombia. I think that there's a decent chance for getting an agreement and an end to a 50-year conflict.

LINDSAY: Dr. Stares.

STARES: OK, quickly, starting from Jim -- I think it's both. I think just a simple way of saying there can be both spoilers and there can be positive actors, and the key is finding out how to leverage one and deny the others. That's -- (inaudible) -- I actually edited a book on this topic, which I can share with you. Mali --

LINDSAY: Can we get the name of the book, and is it on CFR.org? (Laughter.)

STARES: On Mali, yes, we -- our -- the way we phrased it was very ambiguous and not very helpful. We are primarily referring to the possibility of the intervention failing. I think our concern is that we've made -- (inaudible) -- the windup for this pitch to international intervention, and are we really going to follow through and follow through effectively? And I'm a little skeptical that we can do it.

In terms of where we'll be five years from now, I think David's already mentioned them, obviously the rising China, rising India, the whole set of issues around that; the -- I think the underlying Sunni-Shia tensions that play out in virtually every country in the Middle East is an issue; rising Africa, I think, is both positive and there's some negative or issues to be worried about, and I think that we will be talking about that still in five years' time.

Japan-China -- I think David said it. I think we've been very clear that any part of any territory under the, quote-unquote, administrative control of Japan is considered covered by the U.S.-Japan alliance. I think there are a whole bunch of other things we can do to reassure China, to reassure Japan, to make it clear what is unacceptable behavior in dealing with this issue. Positive -- I think Latin America is, on the whole, a positive story. And as I said, much of Africa is also a positive story.

Thank you.

LINDSAY: Fair enough. Thank you, Paul. I would ask all of you to join me in thanking David, Mark and Paul -- (off mic). (Applause.)

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