What to Worry About in 2023

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Executive Director, McCain Institute for International Leadership; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, U.S. Department of Defense (2012–2015); CFR Member (speaking in Washington)

Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy Program, Brookings Institution (speaking in Washington)

President and Chief Executive Officer, International Rescue Committee; Former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, United Kingdom (2007–2010) (speaking in New York)

General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations; @PaulBStares (speaking in New York) 


Chief National Security Correspondent, Fox News; CFR Member (presiding in Washington) 

Panelists discuss potential and ongoing crises that may erupt or escalate in 2023, as well as their global political implications. This event will explore the results of the CFR 2023 Preventive Priorities Survey

GRIFFIN: Welcome, everybody. I’m Jennifer Griffin, chief national security correspondent with Fox News, and I’m so happy that you can join us here today for the first of the CFR’s 2023 hybrid meetings.

We’ll be talking today about “What to Worry About in 2023,” which I like to call, what keeps us all up at night. And we’re going to be looking very closely at this new survey that was out, Preventive Priorities Survey of 2023, which was put together by the Center for Preventive Action. It’s the fifteenth year for survey. They have surveyed 500 foreign policy experts, who’ve come up with thirty potential hotspots, conflicts that policymakers need to be looking at.

I’m so happy today to be joined by Evelyn Farkas, who I knew at the Pentagon. We overlapped when she was former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. She’s now executive director at the McCain Institute.

Suzanne Maloney is here in D.C. with me, director of Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution—spent years at the State Department, an expert on Iran.

And David Miliband is joining us from New York. He is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, of course, and former secretary of state for foreign affairs in the U.K.

And then I’d like to start with my colleague, Paul Stares, who is the director of the Center for Preventive Action, which put together this incredible survey. And Paul’s going to walk us through what some of the key findings were as we get started today. Paul.

STARES: OK. Well, thank you, Jennifer, for that kind introduction. And thank you all for being here in New York and in D.C., as well as virtually. And a special thanks to those who make the effort to fill out the survey this year. We always value your contributions. I’d also be remiss in not acknowledging the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, who make this survey possible each year. So thanks to them as well.

So when I look at the survey—and just a quick reminder, this is an annual survey we’ve been doing for fifteen years now, in which we generate thirty contingencies which we believe to be plausible in the coming year. We don’t generate them ourselves. This is part of a crowdsourcing effort, in which we solicit recommendations for inclusion, to avoid selection bias on our part. And then we send out the survey in the middle of November. And we ask respondents to rate each contingency on the basis of likelihood over the coming twelve months and the potential impact on U.S. interests.

And when I look at the results this year, I see three, I think, takeaways that really impress me. I think the first is actually what’s not in the survey this year, rather than what is in the survey. And this is the first time in fifteen years that a 9/11-type mass-casualty terrorist attack against U.S. wasn’t even in the survey. It wasn’t even proposed as something plausible—(inaudible).

MS. : We’ve lost sound. He was going to say in fifteen years. (Laughter.)

STARES: This is quite extraordinary. (Laughter.)

GRIFFIN: Paul, I’m going to have you repeat that because we lost you for a second. Can you just go back to the first time in fifteen years?

STARES: Sorry, so—yeah. So I was just saying that what’s not in the survey is actually as interesting as what is in the survey in my view. And for the first time in fifteen years, a 9/11-type contingency, a mass casualty terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland or a U.S. ally was not even proposed as a plausible contingency to be evaluated in the survey. Extraordinary.

The top homeland security concerns this year are a massive cyberattack against critical infrastructure, or possible instability in Mexico or Central America leading to sort of major spillover effects into the United States. But when you look at what has essentially driven responses over the last fifteen years to this survey, kind of 9/11-type terrorist-related, they’ve all gone down in terms of concern and priority amongst respondents. Afghanistan barely made it as a tier two contingency this year. Iraq and Syria, even Boko Haram in Nigeria, they barely made it. In fact, I think they weren’t even actually included in the survey. So takeaway number one is from the perspective of those responding, the 9/11-era is over.

So second takeaway, clearly what is of most concern to those responding to the survey is the potential for major military confrontation between the United States with Russia, with China, conceivably even both simultaneously. And as well as proliferation concerns around what North Korea and what Iran are doing. That is clearly on—I think, uppermost in most people’s minds. Interestingly, while no respondent considered any of those contingencies—and here, we’re talking about escalation in Iran—excuse me—in the Ukraine or across the Taiwan Strait—while no one suggested that this was—or, the majority suggested that this was a high probability of happening, it was still considered an even chance. Which to me, is pretty sobering. An even chance of happening over the next twelve months is something we should definitely be concerned about.

So the third takeaway is that there is no hiding the fact that the most prevalent source of conflict and instability in the world is as a result of weak governance, state fragility. Increasingly we’re seeing the impact of climate change as a stressor in terms of increasing the risk of political instability. And that’s popped up three or four contingencies this year, which, again, is a first. But each one of these concerns emanating from state fragility or poor governance, they’re ranked quite low in terms of what U.S. respondents consider to be in the U.S. interests. And so you’re having this—I think, this effect of growing concern about great-power competition sort of deflating how people consider, you know, conflict in places like Ethiopia.

In fact, I was looking at the top five conflicts or concerns—humanitarian concerns that David’s organization, the IRC, look at. Remind me, it’s Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, DRC, and Yemen? All five, except one, Afghanistan, were considered tier three contingencies under the survey this year. So to me, the biggest challenge is generating the political will in this country to deal with those kinds of concerns, because I think it’s going to get harder as people fixate on the threat from China, from Russia, from North Korea, and Iran. So I’ll leave it there, Jennifer.

GRIFFIN: Thank you, Paul. And I just want to look at the top seven tier one issues very quickly. China and Taiwan, potential flashpoint. What’s going to happen in Ukraine with regards to Russia, stability in Russia. A potential U.S. critical infrastructure attack. A cyberattack, hitting U.S. infrastructure. Civil unrest in Russia, possible regime change. North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons and stability on the peninsula. A potential preemptive strike by Israel against Iran, how could that destabilize the Middle East. It’s clear that this is a post-9/11 survey. Everyone wants to turn away from the Middle East, but the Middle East has a way of pulling the world and leaders back in. And conflicts tend to emanate from there. And then also, the issue of migration, Central America, Mexico, Haiti, a failed state. Potential mass migration issues that we’ll ask David about.

But what struck me about the survey is that you’re looking at great-power competition. You’re looking at WMD, again, nuclear proliferation issues, potential flashpoints over those, that destabilizing influence, and migration issues. Let’s go out to probably the top flashpoint that we could look at right now, which is the Taiwan Strait and look what’s happening there today. In Taiwan you have a visit by the German and Lithuanian defense ministers. And you have in the last forty-eight hours, fifty-seven Chinese war planes coming across the line of control and testing the response time of Taiwan. You have a number of sort of indicators suggesting that there’s either—response times are being tested or things are heating up, even though the survey finds that most foreign policy experts don’t think there will be a war with—between China and Taiwan this year. But there’s always the potential for miscalculation.

Evelyn, what do you see when you’re looking out to the South China Sea right now?

FARKAS: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you so much to Paul for organizing this. I think it’s really interesting. I’ve never been part of a super-hybrid conversation like this. (Laughter.) And thank you, Jennifer, for bringing your wisdom to all of us.

I would say that, first of all, when I talk to real China experts, they all will say they do not know when Xi—when President Xi might decide to take military action against Taiwan. So essentially everyone is sort of guessing. And I think it’s important to recognize that. We can’t get inside the mind of President Xi. We can’t get inside the mind of Vladimir Putin. Yes, we know what motivates them, but that still doesn’t tell you exactly how much risk they’re willing to take at a given moment in time.

But what we do know about Xi is that he’s different from Vladimir Putin, at least so far. He does not seem to be as willing to embrace risk. And so therefore, he’s going to be looking very closely at what’s happening in Russia. And it’s not just because I was responsible for a long time for the Russia-Ukraine portfolio. But the reality is that the world is watching to see whether Vladimir Putin can really get away with what he’s doing right now to Ukraine. And I predict that he will not. And we can talk about that later.

But when it comes to China-Taiwan, I see the Chinese as looking, first of all, at what’s happening in Ukraine. Second of all, they, of course, have their domestic issues—COVID and social tensions, climate issues. And then of course, they also have the economy. And that’s the most important thing. And for Xi, seeing that his economy’s under stress, he would like this war in Ukraine to be resolved. Of course, he would like it to be resolved in a way that helps Russia. (Laughs.) But he would like it to be resolved because economically he’d like to move on and make sure that the damage is minimized.

GRIFFIN: Suzanne, the conventional wisdom is that President Xi is taking lessons from Ukraine, and that those lessons are that war’s not easy, it’s messy, that it might slow down his timeline. But what if he’s taking the opposite lesson? (Laughs.) And what if the idea is that you move quickly while the West and NATO are tied down in Ukraine? He knows about the supply chain issues, the weapon shortage issues. There was a very interesting wargame study that was released by CSIS this week about suggesting how many losses that China would have—about 23,000 in the first month. But that if the—basically, the conclusion was that there will be no Ukraine option for Taiwan. The U.S. military will have to get involved quickly and decisively. And if Xi thinks that the U.S. is not willing to do that, he might act. What is your take on the Straits?

MALONEY: Well, I think you raise a really important point, which is that President Xi is examining the broader context, and that there are lessons from Ukraine which might condition a greater sense of caution about aggressive actions. But of course, Taiwan is not Ukraine. And China is not Russia. And the military dynamics of a conflict in the South China Sea will look very different than the military dynamics that we’ve seen play out in Ukraine. So I think that, you know, the Chinese are aware that there’s a window of opportunity. But that window can be extended, that window can be shorted as a result of actions that they take, as well as actions that the international community takes.

The real challenge for the Biden administration and for other partners in Asia is to try to extend that window, to try to ensure that the Chinese don’t see the incentive to move quickly, to move precipitously—especially at a time where there’s—where there’s so many other pressures on Xi at this point in time, both internally and across the region. So I’m relatively in the same place as the survey in terms of I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to see short-term action. But I also don’t think that we can rule that out. And I think that’s why there is so much attention and focus on this particular issue. Every conversation that I have had about Ukraine over the course of the past year at some point in the first five to ten minutes has moved to Taiwan. It’s almost inexorable. And I think that that’s something that, you know, the world and the surveys already acknowledge.

GRIFFIN: I think it’s also interesting to point out that Taiwan seems to be a really bipartisan issue, one of the few bipartisan agreements on the Hill, about the importance of Taiwan.

Let’s go to New York, and Paul and David. I’d like you to weigh in first on the issue of the Taiwan Straits and the potential flashpoint there. What you’re seeing that maybe we haven’t talked about that we should be focused on. And then let’s turn to Russia and what’s happening in Ukraine. David, if you could talk to us about the food insecurity that’s emanating from that conflict and how it’s spreading out to some of these other tiered flashpoints.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much, Jennifer. It’s really good to be with you all and with this tremendous panel. Just one sort of introductory point is that I think there is—would be real value in thinking in future years to have 500 foreign policy experts who aren’t Americans and to try and compare the result. Because reading some of the results, was it a 50 percent chance of a—of a confrontation in the Taiwan Straits, I immediately thought, first of all, that that was a much higher percentage figure than I would give it credit for. And, secondly, I think that if you polled 500 experts from other parts of the world, I think they’d give it a much lower percentage chance as well. And I would just be an interesting exercise because there is a danger of groupthink.

And the bipartisanship that you rightly refer—by the way, I’m obviously a Brit living in America. I hope what I say isn’t going to get me sort of excommunicated from the—(laughter)—foreign policy circles. I live here—I live here at your pleasure. (Laughter.) So I’d better be—I’d better be careful.

But I think the—

STARES: Just don’t call it—(inaudible).

MILIBAND: (Laughs.) Look, I think that the danger of the bipartisanship that you’re rightly referring to, Jennifer, is that it becomes a kind of bidding war in hawkishness. And I think that has its own dynamic, and its own danger. I am not a China specialist and so I defer very much to those who are. But among those I’ve talked to, I would—my conclusion is to be at a much less, bearish end of the spectrum. I think that the Chinese leadership have many other things on their minds. And while I understand the argument that sometimes foreign adventures—in this case, what the Chines would see as a domestic adventure—can be used to distract from domestic economic or social concerns. I see this as falling into much a tremendous risk category to be something that I’d be very surprised indeed if the consequences of this period was to be a confrontation there.

Now, in respect of Ukraine, I do think that this is a global event, not just a European event. And this is a real divide. Some of you will have seen the comments of the Indian foreign minister, who really emphasized that Ukraine was sort of a provincial European story, not a global story. I think there are two reasons to believe that this is a global story of very significant consequence. The first is that it is such a flagrant violation of international law that it’s produced the most remarkable unity on the European continent and in transatlantic relations, with, I think, longstanding consequences. Yes, there are issues to do with the Swedish accession to NATO because of the issues with Turkey, but I think that that unity that’s been generated is very, very important.

Why—and, by the way, it’s not just—and the transatlantic alliance, the West in some ways, is not just a geographical concept. The Atlantic Charter was the birth certificate of the West, in the words of Joschka Fischer, because it was a political document, not a geographically specific document. And so I think the reactions in significant parts of the world lead me to think this is a—has global political consequences. And we can come later to the fact that India, and South Africa, and Indonesia have not joined the condemnation, because I think there’s significance in that. But I think the countries that have are very significant.

The second thing is, just to slightly move it towards the more practical consequences, Ukraine and the war and the invasion has led to a very significant food and energy crisis around the world. And the ripple effects are being felt in every continent. Ninety percent of Somalia’s grain imports come from Ukraine. And it’s not an accident that Somalia is facing famine conditions in significant parts of the country today, and that more than half the population are in food insecurity. And so I think those ripple effects, those global effects, point to an important, substantive counterpart to the political consequences that we can discuss.

STARES: Jennifer, if I could just add something very briefly on why I think a lot of respondents give a much higher assessment of the likelihood of something happening. I think actually it goes back to Ukraine. Right before the invasion a lot of people discounted that. They thought, how possibly—how likely, frankly, was it that Putin would do something so clearly irrational to Russian interests. And I think, having seen that other countries view their national interests through a different prism, or even a very narrow regime prism, that people are now, I think, questioning their own judgement about the likelihood of anything. And so when they look at possibly Xi’s calculus in Taiwan they may say, well, you know, we got it kind of wrong on Ukraine. And we should be maybe a little more cautious about assuming that this would be self-evidently against China’s interest. And so I see that a little bit happening here.

GRIFFIN: It’s actually interesting, Paul, because if you look back at your survey a year ago, would it have predicted the war in Ukraine? Or where was it, and how accurate have been your last fifteen years of surveys if you look back? (Laughter.)

STARES: So the overall record—our batting average has been pretty damn good, actually, for the fifteen years. I’m not just beating my own chest. I would say that by, you know, Hall of Fame baseball standards, we’re definitely up there. Just quickly, on Ukraine—and I think your question goes to the value of this kind of analysis. Because it’s not so much a forecasting tool. It’s about being sensitive to risk.

Now, the respondents last year, which was back in November of ’21, they gave an even chance of Russia invading Ukraine. But, because they also were asked to assess the impact, they gave a very high one. So when you aggregate the two scores—and I don’t want to sound too wonky here—it means they raised Ukraine as something that we should worry about. Whereas other forecasting organizations and people who are in this business—I won’t name names—they continued to have a low probability right up the day of the invasion. And so it’s important—and this is, I think, the essence of risk analysis. It’s not just likelihood. It’s likelihood plus impact, why we should care if it happens.

GRIFFIN: Suzanne, let’s talk about Iran. That’s your expertise. And you have a new government in Israel. You have Iran facing protests since September 12th that are the strongest, largest since the revolution in 1979. But we also know that the regime has—still has the ability to crack down on those protests. We’ve seen it before with the green movement. Are we seeing a revolution in Iran right now? And what is the likelihood of Israel conducting a preemptive strike? What impact would that have on the situation in Iran?

MALONEY: It’s a great question. My own assessment is that I think that Iran is in a pre-revolutionary state. What we’re seeing, as you said, is probably the most serious challenge to the authority of the regime and the stability of the country since the green movement. And between the two of them, those are really the only serious challenges since the 1979 revolution. And so this is remarkable. And it was completely unanticipated. If you think back to, you know, August, the Biden administration was signaling that it was the precipice of in fact finalizing a resuscitation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. There was a flurry of visits, in fact, at that time from Israeli senior national security officials warning against that.

And yet, you know, just a couple of weeks later something that, frankly, and very tragically, is very commonplace in Iran, abuse of ordinary citizens at the hands of the security forces, the country just erupted. It has been convulsed at—you know, I want to be clear, it’s small-scale protest. This isn’t the million person marches in the capital of the country that we saw in 2009. But it is small scale, labor strikes, protests, sabotage of critical infrastructure, cyberattacks against—or, attempted cyberattacks against both financial institutions, news organizations, and other arms of the state. And it’s continued, persisted now, for four-plus months.

And what’s remarkable as well is that the regime, which is, you know, no stranger to using brutal tactics, hasn’t been able to persuade people to get off the streets. Hasn’t been able to cow even its own soccer team, you know, standing on the sidelines in Doha or some of other important cultural and political figures from voicing their own support for this. So I think, you know, all of those factors—the persistence, the fact that it’s drawn from—different from prior instances of unrest in Iran—it’s drawn from different social classes, different ethnic groups. And that we’ve seen it continue over the course, throughout the country, at a small-scale level. I think this is going to be a—you know, Iran is on a trajectory to change, but what that trajectory looks like no one really can predict. In part, because we didn’t predict its eruption just a few months ago.

I think that changes the game for how you deal with, you know, an Iran that is now outside of the—outside of compliance with the restrictions that the nuclear deal imposed, and which at every point a deal becomes close has thrown up roadblocks to actually signing off. I don’t think the leadership has either the confidence or the political capital to move forward with a deal. So the Biden administration is left sort of holding the bag, hoping that perhaps the unrest dies down and that the leadership takes from that the recognition that economic benefits might, in fact, help with stability. I’m not convinced that, you know, Tehran is in that kind of a mood. I think that they have thrown their lot in with the autocrats, with the Chinese and the Russians, and fueling the Russian war effort.

And so I think we have a very unstable equilibrium. We have now an Israeli government which is much more hardline. Netanyahu has been itching to go after Iran for many years. So I think, you know, the chances of a crisis with respect to Iran are very high for this year.

GRIFFIN: Hmm. Evelyn, are you seeing any places that you think regimes are faltering? We have a lot of authoritarian leaders out there, if you look from—you’re looking at a regime in Iran that is looking a little unstable, Putin. Are you seeing any signs of cracks in terms of stability there? Could that be a surprise—you know, a 2023 surprise, North Korea? Any places that you’re looking at in terms of a potential regime change that could destabilize a region or the world?

FARKAS: Well, obviously a good one would be Russia, but I don’t think they’re on the precipice there. I think things have to get worse economically and there have to be many more body bags and, frankly, military losses before there’s a change in the government in Moscow. I do think that North Korea warrants watching. First of all, because of obviously the nuclear issue. I mean, we are just—the international community is failing on so many levels. And David mentioned, you know, the humanitarian crisis.

I mean, we’ve done nothing to address Geneva Convention assaults, you know, going back even to what happened in Myanmar, but going forward now to what’s happening in Ukraine. I mean, this is—the Russians have taken the playbook from Syria, and before that Chechnya, and now they’re applying it so blatantly in front of the world in front of cameras live with iPhones, et cetera. And the international community has been helpless. And similarly with the food crisis and then also with nonproliferation, we just have not done enough to fight back for the rules that we established.

And so we see not only the failure of the negotiations with Iran, but more disturbingly, I think, with North Korea, because I’m not sure what the brakes are. Yes, China’s a brake, but, of course, Xi is distracted. Russia can be a brake on North Korea as well, but Russia is distracted, and not dependent on North Korea for small arms. (Laughs.) And the North Korean regime is very brittle. You know, the negotiations, the meeting with President Trump led to nothing. We essentially said we’re going to just ignore North Korea. We sent kind of back to ignoring North Korea.

The South Korean government is now taking a harder, more kind of deterrence-oriented line, which generally speaking we have welcomed, I mean, I think across administrations. And I used to work on this issue set up on the Hill and have actually been to North Korea. Not just on the line, but to Pyongyang and Yongbyon. Many administrations have essentially tried to get the North Koreans to join us in deterring—sorry—the South Koreans to join us in deterring the North, and working more with Japan. The South Koreans are now doing this, but it has caused a little bit of increase—well, as Paul—

GRIFFIN: We just had a North Korean drone fly towards Seoul. This is a pretty hawkish South Korean government.

FARKAS: Yeah. So there’s a little more of a game of chicken. The risk has increased. And so it does make me nervous in terms of the future of how that regime falls apart, because that, of course, will be far worse than when we saw the East German government collapse back in the ’80s. So I’ll just leave it at that. I mean, there are many other scenarios where if, for example, the Russian government changes, you could see change in Armenia. You can see lots of ripple effects potentially if the autocrats, broadly speaking, see a reverse in their fortunes.

GRIFFIN: Suzanne, can we finally say that the JCPOA is dead?

MALONEY: I would say, and obviously the president has said at least off the record, that the JCPOA is dead. I think both the kind of internal situation but also what’s happening at the great power level. The JCPOA really was the product of this unique moment in history where—you know, starting with the Bush administration, but really capitalized by—upon by the Obama administration—the United States was actually able to bring together partners and allies, but also countries that were great powers, with which it had tensions and frictions, and sustain that process. In 2014, the Russians compartmentalized. They continued with the negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran, despite the fact that they were at deep odds with the United States over Ukraine.

I don’t think that’s possible anymore. The Russians have no interest in seeing Iran come back to oil markets. They do have an interest in ensuring that the United States has other things to worry about besides just Ukraine. So I think, you know, both the fact that we cannot manage a process that involves the great powers in a cooperative, collaborative way, given these frictions, and the fact that Iran is just in a very different place than it was even a year ago, make it impossible to go back to a deal.

GRIFFIN: And now Iran is enriching to 60 percent, very close to 90 percent, weapons grade, and right on the precipice. So that also leads to great instability.

David, you have written so much about accountability, the lack of accountability, the institutions, the international institutions that are failing that then are leading to the crises that your organization is having to deal with, the humanitarian crises. Talk to us about what you’re seeing and what we should be looking at in terms of the failed efforts of the IAEA, the failed efforts of the U.N. and others to prevent these conflicts from becoming all-out crises.

MILIBAND: Thanks, Jennifer. And this picks up something that Evelyn kindly referred to. I think that, for all sorts of reasons, I understand why President Biden has emphasized democracy versus autocracy as the debate of the decade. What I see, though, in international relations is a different struggle. And it’s a struggle between the rule of law, accountability therein, and impunity. Impunity is decision making without accountability. It’s decision making for the use of power without checks and balances. It’s crimes without punishment.

And what we see in places where we work—in Syria, in Ukraine that Evelyn mentioned, in Somalia, in Ethiopia—what we see if human rights, individual rights, that could not be more clear legally—the rights to civilians not to be targeted by military forces, the right to civilians to international aid—those rights are being abrogated systematically. And they’re being abrogated by bombing campaigns. They’re being abrogated by the collective punishment of cities and of regions. And this impunity, this tide of impunity, is not meeting a forceful international response.

In fact, this is quite an interesting example, where geopolitical fragmentation—one of the items that’s picked out in the U.S. National Security Strategy as a feature of the modern global landscape—that geopolitical fragmentation is precisely undermining the kind of accountability that’s necessary. I mean, just to put it stark terms, there’s more accountability exercised by Bellingcat, the independent NGO that uses opensource media to hold people to account, than by U.N. Security Council or other tribunals and investigations. So we’ve seen—we’ve got a real crisis in the gridlock of the international system.

And for me, as someone who came from a foreign policy background now working in the humanitarian field, those war crimes against civilians, where their rights are so clear but where the abrogation is so blatant, that should alert us to a wider set—a wider struggle to—not to invent new laws, but to uphold the laws that exist. And I think that’s what’s on the table over this decade. Too often it’s the autocrats who are setting the table rather than those who are defending international law. And that’s very much the perspective that we see.

In the watch list that we’ve published for 2023, it’s interesting, it’s based on sixty-seven different data sources. So it’s not an opinion poll. It’s based on existing data sources. And what we see is conflict driving 70 to 80 percent of international—of humanitarian aid needs around the world. Three hundred and forty million people around the world are dependent on humanitarian aid to survive. Conflict is responsible for 70 to 80 percent of it. The climate crisis goes on top of that and reinforces. It’s a conflict multiplier. And then the kicker is the economic consequences of the Ukraine crisis. So this struggle between accountability and impunity seems, to me, to be very fundamental.

And if you’ll give me just fifteen more seconds to say, next month at the Munich security conference the Eurasia Group and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations are going to be publishing the world’s first Atlas of Impunity. It’s going to measure impunity for every country in the world across five different dimensions—conflict, human rights, governance, economic exploitation, and environmental degradation. Because we think this impunity/accountability lens is very important. I’ve been chairing an advisory board for that. But I hope that this can be a year in which those issues of impunity and the ways in which they need to be challenged—not just by governments but by a much wider range of public and private institutions—comes much more to the fore.

STARES: Could I just add a few things?

GRIFFIN: Paul, let’s—yeah. I was going to—I was going to suggest, Paul, if we go back to the survey and some of the two—tier two and tier three areas that we haven’t looked at. But, please, follow on what David just said.

STARES: Yeah. I just wanted to actually pick up on Evelyn, and Suzanne, and then David, just very quickly. On Iran, it’s not just the JCPOA that’s reaching, I think, a critical point. But I think, correct me if I’m wrong, Suzanne, this coming October the agreement on ballistic missile controls also runs out. And that will be, I think, a major issue. And we’ve seen already the roll that Iran has been playing in supplying drones to Russia in Ukraine. And I see that issue only growing worse.

And on North Korea, you know, there’s a qualitative and quantitative dimension here. The quantitative one is the sheer volume of missile tests that North Korea is doing at the moment is extraordinary. And I always, frankly, worry that one of these will either go off course and hit something, and we’re in a whole different world. The qualitative aspect is that North Korea clearly now has the capability to develop and deploy long-range, intercontinental-range, ballistic missiles capable of hitting parts of the United States. And that has profound consequences for our security guarantees for South Korea and Japan. We’re into a whole new world here when North Korea can now hold U.S. cities hostage. So I want to emphasize that.

David’s point about impunity I think is terrific. I think the only one—I hate to call it a silver lining—is that our ability to record mal-deeds—you know, human rights violations, war crimes—is increasing and improving. And I think anybody who hasn’t seen the New York Times coverage of the—of the atrocities in Bucha, if that’s the correct pronunciation, just remarkable recapitulation, whatever, of what happened, which I think can just literally be sent to the Hauge. And they’d say, here you go, we don’t even need a trial. This is pretty dispositive in terms of what happened.

The problem is, that’s getting the attention of the world. What I worry about is the, you know, in parts of Ethiopia, Tigray. And let’s not forget that more people have died in Ethiopia over the last eighteen months, two years, close to a half a million people, than whole of Ukraine. And I’m not, you know, trying to show their equal, but that’s a horrific human toll. The situation there is extremely fragile. Same in Yemen, which has been a huge humanitarian tragedy. You know, no one is tracking human rights abuses there in any really great detail, certainly compared to Ukraine. Who knows what’s going on in the eastern DRC, Congo. Again, out of sight, out of mind. And that is where the impunity challenge, I think, is really, really hard. And so I endorse what David is saying in that respect. Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on quite so long, but—

GRIFFIN: No, that’s very helpful. And, Evelyn, I’d like to pick up on that and ask you: Which of these genocides that are really taking place without—with impunity in these tier two and tier three categories—and I would encourage everybody read the entire survey if you haven’t done so already. It’s on the CFR website. Which of those have the potential to impact U.S. national security directly? And what should we be looking at in terms of places that are experiencing these humanitarian disasters that, you know, right now the National Security Council can only do so much. And we’ve never seen this number of crises and great-power competition. And what should we be looking at?

FARKAS: I mean, obviously I think it is shocking how dire the situation is in Yemen, in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, all of these countries that were already at huge risk before the latest phase of the war against Ukraine. So it is pretty horrific. And it’s still not getting that much attention by our governments. And probably because we don’t perceive it as necessarily impacting our interests directly. However, in our hemisphere—and it’s not really a genocide or a food issue, per se, although certainly in Venezuela there is a lot of hunger—we still have crises that are unresolved politically. And in the case of Haiti, getting worse. And so, I think the idea that somehow we can just focus on these big, big power crises is naïve. And frankly speaking, we know from our own history that we can’t dismiss—you even said it in the green room—we can’t dismiss 9/11s. I mean, it may be a different group that conducts a 9/11, and it could also be a large state hiring a small group—

GRIFFIN: Or a cyberattack.

FARKAS: Or a cyberattack. But I think we don’t really know—sometimes we really can’t predict which crisis is going to be the one that’s going to drag us back in, if you will. Unfortunately, we see an erosion in security in the Balkans as well, you know, an area where we were quite involved and we still have troops there, in a small number, of course, and mainly in Kosovo. But—

GRIFFIN: Is that something being stirred up by the Kremlin to divert from Ukraine?

FARKAS: Yes, indeed. And although, of course, they’re tapping—just as they do when they’re manipulating our political system—and they are today manipulating—

GRIFFIN: And this is sort of Serbia versus Kosovo?

FARKAS: It’s Serbia versus Kosovo, but also internal to Bosnia, because we essentially helped them set up—it created peace, but not a political resolution—a federation based on ethnic lines. And that’s also Lebanon’s problems. And we haven’t talked about Lebanon, so. (Laughter.) And Syria. So I think it is very hard to predict what genocide, what famine will ultimately be the one that causes us to, you know, have to get up in the middle of the night.

GRIFFIN: Well, also, the number of potentially failed states right now is probably higher than ever before. Before we go to questions, Suzanne, I just want to ask you: There’s the unintended consequence of the Ukraine conflict that energy is now an issue, with Russian supplies of oil and gas, and how that’s distorting policymakers’ approach to some of these thirty hotspots that have been identified. What can you say about that, at this moment in time?

MALONEY: I think that’s a—it’s a really important point that you raise, that, you know, essentially the exigencies of the war and the changes in energy markets have forced a number of countries around the world to look wherever they can for energy supplies. And also, to walk back some of their commitments to address climate, the climate transition, in an effective way. And that too has the prospect of longer-term implications for conflict and crisis. So I think that, you know, as a community,

I think the idea of energy security as a major concern had kind of faded away. We were able to push Iran off oil markets without any significant consequence. We had this incredibly, you know, sort of unconventional technology enabling incredible increases in American production. We became effectively energy secure here in this country, and so we didn’t have to worry about production from elsewhere. The past year has been, I think, a real learning curve that, in fact, energy security matters. That, you know, we are all part of one market. And what happens in one place impacts supply and opportunity elsewhere.

I just want to make one other comment on, you know, the sort of, you know, extent to which the current survey really emphasizes this kind of great-power competition and really, I think, enshrines what has been the sea change in our own perspectives, if not the reality. You look back, you know, preparing for this conversation I look back at some of the previous surveys over the course of the past decade, and you just see those red dots, which are the high-priority, high-impact crises. You know, ten years ago, even five years ago, primarily concentrated around Southwest Asia, the greater Middle East, South Asia. And it kind of drifted. It moved to Asia, and they’ve moved also to the Western Hemisphere. And it’s really fascinating to see, you know, what that will mean for the way that we think about, you know, failed states, about development concerns, about food security, and especially about the sort of challenges of the less-developed world.

GRIFFIN: One last point, on energy, before we go to questions. It seems to me that it’s led to strange bedfellows. And it’s prevented policymakers from taking a stand in places where there may be genocide taking place or failed governments. And it’s going to—it’s forcing the Biden administration and other countries to have to deal with countries, whether it’s Venezuela. And they can’t then prescribe things that would then lift up democracy and the values that we’d like to uphold.

Let’s go to questions. Yes. We’ll start here in the room, but you can also ask our colleagues in New York anything you would like, yes. Please identify yourself and your organization.

Q: Hi. I’m Maryum Saifee with the State Department.

My question is for Suzanne about Iran. If we’re in a post-JCPOA moment and, you know, pre-revolutionary state, what can the U.S. do to support pro-democracy movements in Iran in a credible way, given all the baggage?

MALONEY: Well, I would say that, you know, we can’t sort of pretend that the deal is a zombie. We can’t sort of hope that somehow the Iranians will abide by at least some restraint if we avoid putting any further pressure on them. That is the real concern right now. They’ve gone from 20 to now 60 percent. What happens if they go to 90 percent? And I think that we are in some respects deterred by the fear of an Iranian reaction. We have to make very clear to the Iranians what is unacceptable, what level of risk is unacceptable, and what we’re prepared to do to enforce that. I think we also have to ensure that we keep the protests and social movement front and center. Biden administration was a little slow to that, but I think they’ve done a really good job of ensuring that, you know, the talk now is not about the JCPOA. It is squarely on how to help Iranian protesters.

When push comes to shove, you know, we have some limitations. We can’t directly provide support. We can’t directly finance, because, you know, these are independent groups. This is very small scale. But what we can do is shine the light. What we can do is try to ensure that information technology enables Iranians to communicate with one another and communicate with the wider world. And we can, I think, do more to ensure that that is the kind of primary way in which we interact with the Iran issue.

GRIFFIN: Great. Let’s take a question from New York.

STARES: Yes. I’m serving as stand-in moderator here. And I think this gentleman was first. If you can just say who you are and where you’re from.

Q: I’m Jason Forrester, a Council member.

Picking up on the preventive action element of the—of the center, and this also piggybacks on what Suzanne just said regarding actions that could be taken to prevent the scenarios that she was outlining, what are some of the key preventive actions that could be taken to address these pressing scenarios?

STARES: I guess that’s addressed to me. (Laughs.) The—so each contingency or challenge is different, but there is a kind of generic menu of sort of preventive measures that could be taken. And, you know, you should think of it as a kind of checklist from diplomatic action, to economic initiatives, to military, to, you know, information kind of operations. Now, each one you kind of mix and match according to the context. You know, what is our leverage there? What can we do with allies in a particular situation? Do we work through certain institutions? But without a specific case, you know, I couldn’t give you the precise mix of preventive measures. But if you want me to expand on this, I’d be happy to do this.

Q: You know, maybe take one of the top-tier ones that you have. Maybe the Taiwan Straits. (Off mic.)

STARES: OK. Well, yeah, there’s a combination of things. There’s obviously high-level diplomacy. We’ve seen the recent discussions between President Xi and President Biden to try to sort of lessen the temperature, to set kind of guardrails, if that’s the right term, to define what are kind of norms of behavior, things that we shouldn’t do, possibly defining red lines. People are kind of nervous about that. So that’s at one level. Clearly, we need to take measures that would deter possible Chinese assertiveness or aggressiveness.

And the challenge there is always calibrating what you do militarily in a way that doesn’t create this self-fulfilling outcome. So you’re trying to do things that enhance Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, and therefore deter China by denial, if you will, by undermining their confidence that they can carry out an operation. Rather than possibly deterrence by punishment, which is to retaliate for what they do. Now, some people think, well, that’s justified, but that creates a kind of action-reaction phenomenon, which China could possibly see certain measures that we take as threatening to them, and which might then provoke them to do certain things. And so we have to calibrate things very carefully.

On the economic side, clearly ensuring that critical supply chains from Taiwan—and I don’t have to tell this audience how important Taiwan is as a source of high-end semiconductors—ensuring that there’s redundancy, security, that in the event of a contingency that we—that supply chains are not affected. And there is then the—you know, the information space. And trying to educate America why it’s important to defend Taiwan. It’s a very distant place. People might question why would we go to war over Taiwan? What’s at stake? International law, two important sources of critical materials for us, the effect on allies in the region. So that’s another aspect to this, as well as on Taiwan’s own population.

So you put together the package, and each individually may not seem like, well, what really difference is that going to be? But collectively, you start to be doing something that I think is important. And we’re doing most of those things. But it’s conveying really the credibility of our intent to defend Taiwan. And, so, you know, this has to be done at multiple levels simultaneously. You know, it’s a choreography. It’s an art. So I hope that answers your question.

GRIFFIN: Thank you. Thank you, Paul.

We will go to one of the Zoom virtual questions, and then come back to Washington for questions.

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Rust Deming. Ambassador Deming, please accept the unmute now prompt. It looks like we’re having some difficulty with that line. We’ll take the next question from Dee Smith.

Q: Thank you very much. Dee Smith, Strategic Insight Group and LLILAS/Benson, University of Texas at Austin.

I’m interested in the idea that there seems to be the feeling that the 9/11 era is over. And I think someone mentioned, I think it was Evelyn—it’s hard to keep up when there are so many interesting speakers—but that, you know, it isn’t really. We don’t know that. And there could be some kind of mass terrorist activity. And I wonder what you think the danger of re-estimating things—not to in any way downplay the problems of great-power issues—but to moving the terrorist kind of element so far off the table that it’s not even in the survey? And I also wonder if anyone thinks there’s any possibility of coordination among various actors to do several—various kinds of things at one time to try to overwhelm the U.S. and the West? Or is that too fantastical as an idea? And thank you.

GRIFFIN: Great question. Evelyn.

FARKAS: Well, I guess once upon a time there was something called the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism. And I worked for that commission. It was congressionally mandated by the 9/11 Commission folks to look at the threats. And they actually identified a biothreat as the number one, ahead of nuclear. And we didn’t end up having a bio attack yet, but we did end up having a pandemic. And that was part of the report.

So I think that the premise of the question is correct, and we don’t really know. The actors could potentially work together. Just because we haven’t seen it before in the recent past doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Certainly there were terrorists who were trying to get nuclear material from states. And there were state-sponsors who were willing to turn a blind eye to other states that were trying to get nuclear capabilities. So Pakistan, of course, was proliferating, trying to help Syria and other countries build their own capability. So I think I don’t really have much more to add, except that it is possible.

GRIFFIN: Well, and some of the wargames have suggested, in terms of the Taiwan issue, that if China wanted to move on Taiwan, as they’re moving on Taiwan they might also encourage North Korea to move on South Korea. And then you have really quite a situation. So the issue, Dee, of multiple fronts, is a real one.

FARKAS: One thing that we do see a lot of sabotage. And we do see a lot of actors playing—so, for example, Syrians coming to help the Ukrainians, and Russians and Chechens working inside Russia to conduct sabotage, or inside Belarus. So there is more kind of international cooperation on the flipside, if you will.

GRIFFIN: Mmm hmm. Here in Washington? Chris.

Q: Thank you. My name’s Chris Isham.

One of the consistent themes today seems to be the utter failure of the international community and international organizations, such as the U.N., in the face of egregious violations of human rights and other civil rights. Is it time to start thinking about fundamental reform of the United Nations? Is it time to even start thinking about alternative organizations to address these issues, that could be more effective?


MILIBAND: (Laughter.) Well, I think the first thing to say is that the U.N. is only as strong as its member states. And it’s easy to blame the system and not look at the member states. And I was going to jump in at the previous question, when you asked about, well, what would you do? The three elements necessary if you’re going to do anything is, one, get your own house in order. Two, make sure that your allies are lined up. And three, make sure that you’ve got a proper deterrent capacity—some of which failed in the pre-February 24th situation last year.

So I think it’s very important to recognize that the commitment of the countries like the U.S., which over the last decade has been very variable to international institutions, to put it diplomatically, that has consequences. So, first, the nation-states have got to look at themselves. Secondly, does there need to be reform? Yes, there does, but the prospect of it happening in a fundamental way is obviously gridlocked by the divisions in the Security Council. And that’s why you’re—the point of your question, Chris.

Alternative formations are emerging—the G-7, the G-20. Rival organizations, Shanghai Cooperation, obviously. And I think that if you look at some of those global risks that exist, it shouldn’t necessarily be a source of concern that there are alternative complements to the U.N. existing. We’re not in a world where there’s going to be a singular response to a singular risk. There’s going to have to be manifold response to singular risk if it’s going to be properly mitigated. And if you think in the health space, or the climate space, or even the nuclear security space, it’s going to take a range of institutional formations to tackle some of these problems.

I come from a medium-sized country on the edge of Europe. For those countries, the United Nations is where it’s at. We haven’t got the power to act unilaterally. And it’s going to be those multilateral bodies. But the truth is, for the U.S. and for China, they’ve got options outside the multilateral system—Russia too. And that’s what’s weakening it in a fundamental way. And it’s that sense of crisscrossed incentives that I think is very, very problematic at the moment.


STARES: OK. I’m apologizing if I’m not getting everybody in the right order, but there’s a lady on the left there that I think was first, if you can identify yourself.

Q: Yes. Thank you. I’m Barbara Demick. I’m an author and journalist.

And just talking about what I worry about in ’23, I was recently in Ukraine, where the Ukrainians are understandably angry. And they’re also, you know, kind of triumphant. And everybody was talking about when we take back Crimea—when, when, when. Not an if, but when. I guess there’s a couple of questions there for Evelyn Farkas. Can they do that? For David Miliband, would that risk shattering this remarkable unity in Europe? And, you know, for Paul, how do we prevent this from becoming a wider, longer-lasting conflict? I mean, how would Putin react if they go after Ukraine? And I’ll say, I’ve spent a bit of time in other places. And I was in Grozny, I was in Sarajevo. And it could get a lot worse. I mean, that was my impression of Kyiv. Thanks.

STARES: Evelyn, do you want to go first?

FARKAS: Yeah. Really quickly, because I feel like I’ve been talking too much. (Laughs.) Yes, they can do it. They have the will. They have the manpower. If we continue to provide them with the intelligence and the equipment they need to take the offensive, then they can do it. But should they do it? Absolutely. Everything depends on it. If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he will turn to Moldova, Ukraine. He will provoke NATO to try to destroy NATO. China will be encouraged. A lot of other countries will be encouraged. It will be the end of the international order.


MILIBAND: Evelyn, I think the question was not about—it was about the Crimea in particular. So I’m not—was your answer about Crimea, or were you—the questioner here was asking—

FARKAS: No, but my answer still stands. (Laughter.) So my answer was to the entire territory that they have a sovereign right to. So it includes Crimea.

MILIBAND: Yeah. So I think it’s very important to understand that, from my visit to Ukraine and from what I can see and read, this war has been going on since 2014. We often date it from February the 24th, but the illegal occupation of Crimea was the start of that. And it is an illegal occupation. So you can see why there’s no unfinished—it’ll be unfinished business until Ukraine is whole and free. But in direct answer to your question, making no value judgement, does that threaten the unity—would it threaten the unity of Europe? The answer is yes, because the Crimea end of this is seen as far more problematic and far more challenging. And I think that, making no value judgement at all, the center of opinion in Europe would be that that’s—that Ukraine is much more foreseeable—Crimea is far more foreseeable as a frozen conflict, even if the rest of Ukraine is liberated.

STARES: So on your third question, Barbara, so preventing escalation, widening horizontal, et cetera. So, again, there’s a combination of things we’re doing. Some of them we are. You know, the challenge is always calibrating the need to support Ukraine, to inflict a certain level of a cost on Russia so that they pull back and end this war, with doing too much, if you will, to possibly escalate this, provoke Russia to do certain things. And it’s very frustrating to those who say we’ve got to do everything possible to help Ukraine, because by doing so the war will end sooner rather than later. And there’s a certain logic to that.

The problem is, it’s easy to dial up wars. It’s really hard to dial them back down once you start doing things. And so I want to applaud the administration in trying to get this balance right, supporting Ukraine with high-end weaponry, intelligence, as Evelyn says, and other support, to inflict that cost, to impose that cost on them economically as well, without provoking a wider war. Now, you can do other things, ensuring that our allies are sufficiently defended, that we continue to underscore our security commitment to allies in the region so that Putin cannot in any way see daylight there or believe that he can exploit some, you know, declining support on the part of the U.S. to do it.

At the end of the day, we have to think of what the endgame is here. And there’s been a lot of people kind of discussing what would be the terms of a sustainable, acceptable peace agreement in Ukraine. And I’m sure that, you know, there’s differences in this room of what that constitutes. What I’ve seen very little discussion is the larger end game, is what kind of European security order do we want to see come out of this that would essentially provide long-term stability and security for everybody in Europe, including Russia. And it’s difficult to think of this while Putin is in charge, but this has to be done. And this has to be done now, because to me the end game in Ukraine is linked to this large question of what is the future European security order that we can live with.

Otherwise, we’re looking at thirty, forty—how many years did the Cold War last? Forty-plus years of incredibly expensive investments, highly tense situations along this new cold war line in Central Europe. Do we really want that? Can we—can we think of an alternative outcome here that produces a more stable, sustainable peace? And to me, we have to think about that in addition to what is an appropriate, just end to the war in Ukraine. So long answer, but that’s my thought.

GRIFFIN: Thank you, Paul. Let’s go to a virtual question, please.

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Samuel Visner.

Q: Thank you. Excellent panel. My name is Sam Visner. I’m with the MITRE Corporation and Georgetown University.

One thing I’ve not heard is the potential for a crisis that would occur between China and India, on the one hand, Indian and Pakistan on the other. All three are nuclear-armed countries. All three seem to have regimes that are tending in a more nationalistic sense, which in my view seems to create the possibility of situations that can result in a miscalculation. And I’m curious, do we feel that the borders between either of any of those two—any two of those countries, or perhaps all three of them, represent a dangerous flashpoint in the near future? Thank you.

GRIFFIN: Suzanne.

MALONEY: I’ll start just briefly, and then hopefully others will come in as well. But, you know, look, I think we’ve dodged a lot of bullets in this part of the world. And I think, particularly kind of drawing on the conversation that we’ve just been having about Ukraine, what’s absolutely vital is that we foresee these crises coming and that we’re actually trying to mobilize around preventing them, or at least mitigating them. And that’s what the United States did, what the Biden administration did, over the course of the runup to the war in Ukraine very, very effectively. Developing options, pulling together our allies and partners for contingency, and ensuring that the Ukrainians themselves were in a position to respond effectively. I think we have to be looking at some of these other flashpoints, and particularly those that involve nuclear weapons, with the same degree of hard-nosed realism, but also significant, serious preparations and engagement with the relevant governments.


MILIBAND: I think Paul’s got it on his list, so we should probably give him his two minutes, but—(laughter)—

STARES: Yeah, I’m glad someone raised this. And it actually is on the list this year, although, shockingly, it’s down—it’s sort of graded as a tier three concern. And frankly, I feel that it warrants a lot more attention. You know, the situation in the Himalayas, where there are—have been border clashes, one quite recently in fact, I think is very worrisome. And while I think that there’s this assumption that there is a self-contained quality to these crises in the Himalayas, they are in remote parts of the world, it’s hard for them to foresee them escalating. But I can see that these could actually become quite dangerous.

And moreover, the linkages between tensions between India and Pakistan, whether it’s Kashmir or other parts of the border, people forget that China has a security relationship with Pakistan. You know, they are technically one of the oldest allies of China, after North Korea. And so one can see there is a plausible pathway of escalation in which developments in Pakistan between—in Kashmir or on the border, they’re not separated. There’s a linkage there. And those linkages, I think, are becoming more acute because of the magnification of larger great-power tensions.

So I’m glad someone asked this question because I think this is a much more serious concern than perhaps respondents indicated in their—in their replies.

GRIFFIN: I agree, Paul. I covered the nuclear test in Pakistan back in the ’90s. And I’ve been up to the Siachen Glacier. And I can tell you that those are real potential flashpoints. And we often forget that Pakistan and India are nuclear powers. And then you throw in China, and you have several border situations that could escalate, particularly with all eyes on Ukraine and people not paying attention.

Let’s go to another question here. Doug.

Q: Thank you. Doug Ollivant with New America.

Paul, I’ll just note in passing I’m pleased to see that there’s no dot on Iraq for the first time in my memory. So that’s—you know, happy to see that. (Laughter.) But very quickly, to Suzanne, you talked very eloquently about both Iran and energy security. I don’t think you talked about them in combination. How concerned are you about a contingency in Iran, whether internal or external, disrupting energy supplies out of that region? The Saudis, but also the Emiratis, the Iraqis, and the little that the Iranians produce themselves?

MALONEY: Well, we already live in a world where there’s a modest disruption, right? Most of Iran’s production is not exported to legal markets. They’re putting about a million barrels a day into China and other illicit markets. But, you know, we already pulled some Iranian production off the markets. But what you’re really talking about is a crisis in the Persian Gulf. And I think we’ve seen from experience from 2019 that that’s exactly where the Iranians will go if they’re looking to stir up trouble, if they feel as though, you know, they have something to gain from both penalizing some of their adversaries within the region, but also having a major impact on the international economy.

I will say that, you know, we’ve seen this kind of modest process dialogue between the Saudis and the Iranians. I wouldn’t get my hopes up that there are going to be major breakthroughs but, you know, for most of the past forty years, despite the fact there’s been an enormous amount of animosity on either side of the Gulf toward their partner, you know, they found a kind of modus vivendi. And I think we’re reverting back to that. You know, the sort of ambitions of Mohammad bin Salman to, you know, really see Iran driven out of the region have been brought to ground. And the Saudis and the Iranians are at least capable and prepared to engage with one another.

That’s not to say, though, that if we find ourselves in a situation where the United States and other—and Europe in particular—are trying to apply pressure to Iran, or that the Iranian regime sees that, you know, the sort of Abraham Accords are moving in a direction that really disadvantages their own interests, that the Iranians won’t look to stir up trouble, just as they did in the past.

GRIFFIN: We have about four minutes left. And I’d like to sort of go around the horn with the panel and have last thoughts on a potential flashpoint that we have not talked about that we should be looking at, something that keeps you up at night. Evelyn, let’s start with you.

FARKAS: I mean, I really think, Jennifer, climate change and refugee flows that will result from that.

GRIFFIN: Interesting.

MALONEY: I’d stay in the exact same place. I think that, you know, changes in the climate are having already real-time impacts on the livability of various parts of the world. That drives competition for resources, and conflicts. And I think this is the major security crisis we’re going to face.


MILIBAND: Well, I agree with that very strongly. Just to be—to add to the gaiety of this good one-and-a-half hours—(laughter)—let me just mention a country that hasn’t been mentioned yet, which is Nigeria. Which is—has more extreme poor in Nigeria than in India today. And it’s a country that’s undergoing enormous stresses and strains, not least in the northeast, what is a real humanitarian disaster. But the politics is extremely fraught in Nigeria. It’s the largest country in Africa. It’s a very significant country. And so I wouldn’t want us to conclude this session without recognizing the stakes there.

GRIFFIN: Paul, I’ll let you close us out.

STARES: I would—OK. I would add two, if I may. One would be Nagorno-Karabakh, the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I think the situation is quite tense there, and that has real tinderbox quality to it. And so I worry that we could—we could see a major flare-up there which, given the context of Ukraine, could become much more dangerous than it has been to date.

The other place, and people may frankly question my sanity here, is Greece and Turkey. There’s been a lot of really quite incendiary rhetoric out of Ankara toward Athens. And, you know, ships are maneuvering in close proximity, planes are flying over sensitive areas. I’m not saying they’re going to go to war anytime soon, but I could see that actually, given the lead-up to the Turkish elections later this year, that could become a flashpoint we haven’t talked about. And so I urge people to be mindful of that too.

GRIFFIN: And those are two NATO allies, of course.


GRIFFIN: I want to thank my panel, Evelyn, Suzanne, David, Paul. It’s been incredible. And I’ll remind the audience that the video and transcript will be online, as well as the survey. Please go to And thank you so much for being with us today. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR

Middle East and North Africa

CFR experts Steven A. Cook and David J. Scheffer join Amnesty International’s Agnes Callamard and Refugee International’s Jeremy Konyndyk to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


The highlights from Kishida Fumio's busy week in Washington.

Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Thirty years ago, Rwanda’s government began a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest minority group. In just one hundred days in 1994, roving militias killed around eight hundred thousand people. Would-be killers were incited to violence by the radio, which encouraged extremists to take to the streets with machetes. The United Nations stood by amid the bloodshed, and many foreign governments, including the United States, declined to intervene before it was too late. What got in the way of humanitarian intervention? And as violent conflict now rages at a clip unseen since then, can the international community learn from the mistakes of its past?