For the first time in its sixteen-year history, the Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) annual Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) found that the leading concern for foreign policy experts is not a foreign threat to U.S. interests, but the possibility of domestic terrorism and acts of political violence in the United States, particularly around the 2024 presidential election.
Conducted by CFR’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA) every November, the survey asks foreign policy experts to evaluate thirty ongoing or potential violent conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating this year, as well as their possible impact on U.S. interests.
Three scenarios were judged to be both high-likelihood and high-impact—an unprecedented number since the PPS began in 2008. In addition to election-related violence in the United States, experts are concerned about an escalation of the Israel-Hamas war into a wider regional conflict, and a surge of migration to the southwest U.S. border caused by criminal violence, corruption, and economic hardship in Central America and Mexico. The surveyed experts also warn that the risk of a U.S. military confrontation with China or Russia is growing.
“The foreign terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland has receded significantly, but other concerns have emerged,” said Paul B. Stares, CPA director and General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention. “Of those, by far the most worrisome is the growing risk of armed conflict with Russia, especially since the war in Ukraine began in 2022, as well as with China, as a result of rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. The trend toward less armed conflict around the world since the end of the Cold War is now moving in the opposite direction.”
This year, eight contingencies are rated as Tier I threats:
Likelihood: High; Impact: High
- Growing political polarization in the United States, particularly around the 2024 presidential election, leads to acts of domestic terrorism and political violence
- A protracted war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza ignites a wider regional conflict involving other Palestinian territories and further clashes between Israel and Islamist militant groups in Lebanon and Syria
- A surge in migration to the southwest border of the United States driven by criminal violence, corruption, and economic hardship in Central America and Mexico
Likelihood: Moderate; Impact: High
- An escalation of the war in Ukraine resulting from intensified military operations in Crimea, the Black Sea, and/or neighboring states, including Russia, potentially leading to direct NATO involvement
- Intensified economic and military pressure by China toward Taiwan, especially around the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election, precipitates a severe cross-strait crisis involving the United States and other countries in the region
- Direct military confrontation between Iran and Israel triggered by Iran’s support for militant groups in the region and continued nuclear weapons development
- A highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure, including electoral systems, by a state or nonstate entity
- An acute security crisis in Northeast Asia triggered by North Korea’s further development and testing of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles
The Preventive Priorities Survey was made possible by a generous grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the Center for Preventive Action.