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Syria's Civil War Is Top U.S. Conflict Prevention Priority, Finds CFR Survey

December 21, 2012


December 21, 2012—The Council on Foreign Relations' (CFR) fifth annual Preventive Priorities Survey ranks Syria's civil war the number one conflict prevention priority for U.S. policymakers in 2013. The survey also cites continued concerns about an Iranian nuclear crisis and a major military incident involving China and the United States or one of its Pacific allies.

Each year, CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) asks more than fifteen hundred government officials, academics, and experts to evaluate a list of thirty conflicts that could break out or escalate in the next twelve months. CPA categorizes the contingencies into three tiers, in order of their relative priority to U.S. policymakers.

"There are many potential sources of conflict around the world, but not all are equally likely or consequential to U.S. interests. American policymakers, therefore, have to make choices about where to focus their preventive efforts, and this survey aims to help," says Paul B. Stares, CPA director and General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention.

2013 Preventive Priorities Survey

The U.S. Government's Top Eight Conflict Prevention Priorities in 2013:

—intensification of Syria's civil war, including limited external intervention

—nonstate actors acquire biological or chemical weapons from stockpiles in Syria

—a highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure

—a major military incident with China involving U.S. or allied forces, such as a Sino-Japanese clash over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

—a mass casualty attack on the U.S. homeland or a treaty ally

—an Iranian nuclear crisis, such as a surprise advance in Iran's nuclear weapons or delivery capability, followed by an Israeli response

—severe internal instability in Pakistan, triggered by a civil-military conflict or terror attacks

—a major erosion of security in Afghanistan resulting from coalition drawdown

Compared to last year's survey, two contingencies were upgraded to high priority: a major erosion of security in Afghanistan and the intensification of Syria's civil war. Three high-priority contingencies were downgraded to mid-level: a U.S.-Pakistan military confrontation, triggered by a terror attack or U.S. counterterror operations; a significant increase in drug trafficking violence in Mexico; and continuing political instability in Libya. Political instability in Saudi Arabia was downgraded from high to low priority.

Other contingencies appeared on the list for the first time, including the failure of a multilateral intervention in Mali and the potential boiling over of popular discontent in Jordan.

To read the complete 2013 survey and the previous years', visit: an interview with Stares explaining the survey's results and read his Expert Brief outlining ways in which the United States can prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Rank the top ten priorities yourself on CFR's Facebook page.

The survey is made possible by the generous support of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries. Since 1922, CFR has also published Foreign Affairs, the leading journal on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

CFR's 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. Follow CPA on Facebook.

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