from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Predictions for 2016

December 18, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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At the end of every year the Council on Foreign Relations presents the result of a survey of foreign policy specialists on what to watch out for in the coming year. It’s called the Preventive Priorities Survey, and the new one is out and can be found here.

What’s the purpose? Paul Stares, who is General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention at CFR and who directs the project, said "Our annual survey aims to highlight potential areas of instability and help U.S. policymakers anticipate contingencies that could be harmful to national interests. By prioritizing conflicts based on their overall risk to the United States, the survey helps to focus their attention and resources for specific conflict prevention efforts in the year ahead.

The survey results are worth noting on several counts. Eight of the top eleven items revolve around troubles in the Middle East, including the top item: Syria. Problems in Egypt, Libya, and Turkey rose from moderate to high priorities. But I am struck by the second and third items, which concern the United States: fears of a terrorist or cyber attack on the homeland.

Here are the top items of concern:

• the intensification of the civil war in Syria;

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

• a highly disruptive cyberattack on critical U.S. infrastructure;

• a severe crisis with or in North Korea;

• political instability in EU countries stemming from the influx of refugees and migrants;

• continued political fracturing of Libya;

• heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians;

• intensified political violence in Turkey;

• increased political instability in Egypt;

• increased violence and instability in Afghanistan; and

• continued fracturing of Iraq due to territorial gains by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and ongoing Sunni-Shia sectarian violence.

Take a look at the entire text. Not exactly Christmas cheer, but as always the survey concentrates the mind on what we are likely to face very soon.

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