The world outlook for 2016
For the past 8 years, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventative Action has conducted a Preventive Priorities Survey. The annual documents provide U.S. policymakers a list of likely situations that will occur in the upcoming year, and ranks them by potential impact on U.S. interests. It is set up using a three-tier system where Tier I events are deemed high risk, Tier II are medium risk, and Tier III are low risk. The survey also gives the general public a great idea of what to pay attention to in the year ahead. I find it particularly useful in keeping tabs on the plethora of issues the world faces today.
It is apparent that the Middle East will once again hold the most prominent risks for America. According to the survey, the Syrian civil war should be the top priority for the U.S. Of the 11 scenarios under Tier I, four of them can be directly tied to the conflict in Syria. There is the Syrian civil war itself, the intensification of political violence between the Kurdish groups both within Turkey and those in Syria/Iraq against the Turkish government, the refugee spillover into Europe and the surrounding Middle East, and a continued fracture of Iraq.
The Middle East faces more problems than just the civil war in Syria though. Libya is still entirely unstable, and in all reality not far away from another Somalia situation. Israel and Palestine are no closer to resolving their long-standing tensions, and terrorism is on the rise in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. Moving a little bit further eastward and the instability in Afghanistan by a resurgent Taliban is presenting new problems to an old conflict.
Lastly, a massive attack on either U.S. land or an ally is a major concern. So is a large scale cyber-attack on critical U.S. infrastructure. Of course, no list would be complete without including the continuous threats that originate out of North Korea.
Tier II is similar to Tier I in that the Middle East remains prominent for mid-level concerns as well. Again the spillover of the Syrian conflict is a significant threat to neighbors such as Lebanon and Jordan. Then there is also the ongoing civil war in Yemen, in which the recently brokered cease-fire has already faltered. This is all going on while the international community is largely unsure of just how to treat Iran. It is not that crazy of an idea to think that a confrontation could arise between Iran and the U.S or one of their proxies.
While the crisis in Ukraine has largely gone under the radar as of late, the situation is still very dangerous. It is entirely possible that the conflict becomes intensified between Ukraine and Russian backed militias. Even though Ukraine is not a NATO member, tensions between Russia and NATO are likely to increase potentially leading to an unintended military confrontation such as the Turkey downing of a Russia jet in November.
Other situations to keep an eye on
- In East Asia, confrontations in the disputed areas of the East China Sea and South China Sea could very well force the U.S. into an undesired situation.
- Pakistan’s ability to smooth over relations with both India and Afghanistan. This would entail a much harsher stance on terrorist networks and an increase in dialogue with leaders in India.
- Myanmar recently held democratic elections for the first time and the opposition to the military regime has won handily. However it remains to be seen how much, if at all, the status quo in Myanmar will change, especially regarding the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.
- Multiple instances of armed conflict in Africa including South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi.
On a final note in looking to 2016, I think it could be a big year for major transitions in Latin America. We have already seen political rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. There have also been major victories for opposition parties in both Argentina and Venezuela. That’s not to mention the huge strides in the peace process between the FARC and Colombian government. Although Latin America often gets the backseat to China, Russia, and the Middle East, there should be no doubt that particular emphasis should be placed on our neighbors to the south this upcoming year.
Follow Jake Pfeifer on Twitter at @jake8922.