Global Conflict Tracker

Global Conflict Tracker

2014 Preventive Priorities Survey: Takeaways


The Center for Preventive Action (CPA) carried out the 2014 PPS in three stages:

Soliciting of PPS Contingencies 

CPA used a variety of social media platforms as well as CPA’s blog on to solicit suggestions for contingencies to include in the 2014 survey. With the help of the Council on Foreign Relations’ in-house regional experts, CPA distilled the hundreds of suggestions into thirty contingencies deemed both plausible over the next twelve months and also potentially harmful to U.S. interests. 

Polling of Experts

The survey was sent to more than 1,200 government officials, foreign policy experts, and academics. Respondents were asked to estimate the relative likelihood and potential effect of each of the contingencies on U.S. interests according to defined criteria.

Categorization of Contingencies

The survey results were uniformly scored and the contingencies subsequently sorted into one of three preventive priority tiers.


The top findings of the 2014 PPS were:

  • Ten contingencies were judged to warrant Tier 1 status this year though none were considered both highly likely and highly threatening to U.S. interests. Six of these contingencies––intensification of the civil war in Syria; a highly disruptive cyberattack against the United States; a renewed Iranian nuclear crisis; a mass casualty terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland; severe instability in Pakistan; and growing violence in Afghanistan resulting from the drawdown of coalition forces––were designated Tier I priorities in 2014.
  • Four contingencies were upgraded from Tier II to Tier I status for 2014. These are: a strengthening of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a result of continuing instability in Yemen; a severe North Korean crisis caused by another military provocation, potential internal instability or nuclear/missile-related activities; civil war in Iraq due to rising Sunni-Shia violence; and growing political instability and civil violence in Jordan due to the spillover effects of the Syrian civil war.
  • Ten contingencies were judged to warrant Tier II status for 2014. One of these––a Sino-Japanese clash over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands––had previously been classified as a Tier I priority in 2013 but, along with the possibility of an armed confrontation in the South China Sea involving China and various claimants to disputed maritime areas, is now considered to have a low likelihood of occurring. However, the importance of both contingencies to U.S. interests remains high. The possibility of escalating violence and risk of mass atrocities in the Central African Republic and continuing conflict in Somalia represented new Tier II priorities in 2014.
  • Four contingencies that were not assessed in prior years’ surveys became Tier III priorities for 2014. These are: increased sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state; protracted internal violence in Bangladesh surrounding the upcoming general elections; a Sino-Indian border clash; and a deepening political crisis in Venezuela that leads to increasing civil violence and potential regional instability. Meanwhile, the likelihood of intensified violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was judged to be lower for 2014, most likely reflecting the surrender of the M23 rebel group in November 2013.  
  • Prior years’ contingencies relating to Kenya, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, as well as the possibility of a U.S.-Pakistan military confrontation, were not included in the 2014 survey because responses to CPA’s solicitations did not stress these potential conflicts as contingencies of concern.

About the Center for Preventive Action

The Center for Preventive Action seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention. It does so by creating a forum in which representatives of governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and civil society can gather to develop operational and timely strategies for promoting peace in specific conflict situations. The center focuses on conflicts in countries or regions that affect U.S. interests, but may be otherwise overlooked; where prevention appears possible; and when the resources of the Council on Foreign Relations can make a difference. The center does this by:

  • Issuing Council Special Reports to evaluate and respond rapidly to developing conflict situations and formulate timely, concrete policy recommendations that the U.S. government, international community, and local actors can use to limit the potential for deadly violence.
  • Engaging the U.S. government and news media in conflict prevention efforts. The center’s staff members meet with administration officials and members of Congress to brief on CPA’s findings and recommendations; facilitate contacts between U.S. officials and critical local and external actors; and raise awareness among journalists of potential flashpoints around the globe.
  • Building networks with international organizations and institutions to complement and leverage the Council’s established influence in the U.S. policy arena and increase the impact of CPA’s recommendations.
  • Providing a source of expertise on conflict prevention to include research, case studies, and lessons learned from past conflicts that policymakers and private citizens can use to prevent or mitigate future deadly conflicts.

Credits & Contact Information

Center for Preventive Action staff:

  • Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action

  • Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow

  • Anna Feuer, Research Associate 

  • Helia Ighani, Research Associate

  • Amelia Wolf, Research Associate

  • Sarah Minot and Priscilla Kim, Interns

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Copyright © 2014 by the Council on Foreign Relations ® Inc.

This publication was made possible by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.