from Center for Preventive Action

Preventive Priorities Survey: 2015

December 15, 2014


View the accompanying online interactive: CPA's Global Conflict Tracker

Paul B. Stares
Paul B. Stares

General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action

The intensification of the crisis in Iraq due to advances by the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the top conflict prevention priority for U.S. policymakers in 2015, according to leading experts who took part in the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) seventh annual Preventive Priorities Survey.

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This fall, CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) solicited suggestions from the general public on potential conflicts that could erupt or escalate next year. CPA narrowed down the nearly one thousand suggestions to the top thirty, and invited more than 2,200 government officials, academics, and foreign policy experts to rank them by their potential effects on U.S. interests and likelihood of occurring in 2015. CPA then categorized the scenarios into three tiers, in order of priority for U.S. leaders.

"The Preventive Priorities Survey is unique in providing a forward-looking assessment of the specific crises and conflicts that really worry U.S. foreign policy experts. This is invaluable to focusing U.S. policymakers' attention and resources on the most important conflict prevention challenges," said Paul Stares, General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and CPA Director.

Of ten high-priority contingencies, respondents rated only one—the Iraq crisis—as both highly probable and highly consequential. Participants considered this scenario more important to U.S. interests than they did last year, when it was ranked as a having a moderate impact on U.S. interests.

One high-priority contingency—an armed confrontation in the South China Sea—was upgraded in likelihood from low to moderate this year.

Two new scenarios on this year's survey were also ranked high-priority: the intensification of the Ukraine-Russia crisis and escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Both were deemed highly likely to occur, but with moderate effects for the United States.

More on:

Conflict Prevention

Human Rights

Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Wars and Conflict

Two conflicts were downgraded from high- to mid-level priority this year—violence and instability in Pakistan and in Jordan. Respondents considered each less likely, though still moderately important for U.S. interests.

The Top Ten U.S. Conflict Prevention Priorities in 2015:

  • the intensification of the conflict in Iraq
  • a large-scale attack on the U.S. homeland or ally
  • a cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure
  • a severe North Korean crisis
  • the renewed threat of Israeli military strikes against Iran
  • an armed confrontation in the South China Sea
  • the escalation of the Syrian civil war
  • rising violence and instability in Afghanistan
  • increased fighting in eastern Ukraine
  • heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions

View the full results here [PDF]. Prior surveys and associated events can be found at

CPA's Global Conflict Tracker also plots the results of the survey, as well as other ongoing conflicts, on an interactive map paired with background information, CFR analysis, and news updates.

The Preventive Priorities Survey was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) 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.

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 Twitter at @CFR_CPA.

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