A serious military confrontation between Russia and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member state or a severe crisis in North Korea are among top international concerns for 2017 cited by a new survey of experts. The Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) ninth annual Preventive Priorities Survey identified seven top potential flashpoints for the United States in the year ahead.
The survey, conducted by CFR’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA), asked foreign policy experts to rank conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating and their potential impact on U.S. national interests.
“With a new presidential administration assuming office, it is important to help policymakers anticipate and avert potential crises that could arise and threaten U.S. interests. Our annual survey aims to highlight the most likely sources of instability and conflict around the world so that the government can prioritize its efforts appropriately,” said Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and CPA director.
The survey identified seven "top tier" conflicts in 2017:
Impact: High; Likelihood: Moderate
- a deliberate or unintended military confrontation between Russia and NATO members, stemming from assertive Russian behavior in Eastern Europe
- a severe crisis in North Korea caused by nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) weapons testing, a military provocation, or internal political instability
- a highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure
- a mass casualty terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or a treaty ally by either a foreign or homegrown terrorist(s).
Impact: Moderate; Likelihood: High
- increased violence and instability in Afghanistan resulting from a continued strengthening of the Taliban insurgency and potential government collapse
- the intensification of violence between Turkey and various Kurdish armed groups within Turkey and in neighboring countries
- the intensification of the civil war in Syria resulting from increased external support for warring parties, including military intervention by outside powers
This year, no scenario was deemed both highly likely and highly impactful to U.S. interests, a change from last year when an intensification of Syria’s civil war was considered the most urgent threat. Respondents still considered a worsening of Syria’s civil war to be highly likely in 2017, but downgraded its impact on U.S. interests from high to moderate.
Four conflicts were downgraded to lesser priorities in 2017. These include political instability in European Union countries stemming from the refugee crisis, the fracturing of Iraq caused by sectarian violence and the Islamic State, increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and the political breakup of Libya.
CPA’s Global Conflict Tracker also plots ongoing conflicts on an interactive map paired with background information, CFR analysis, and news updates.
The Preventive Priorities Survey was made possible by a generous grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.
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.