China, Iran, Pakistan and Cybersabotage Atop 2012 Threats List

By Stew Magnuson
The Council on Foreign Relations says the U.S. government does a pretty lousy job of predicting conflicts, so it has taken it upon itself to list thetop 30 threats that the United States may face in 2012.
Armed provocation on the Korean peninsula, an Iranian nuclear crisis that sets off an Israeli pre-emptive strike and a “highly disruptive cyber-attack on U.S. critical infrastructure” are among the top 10 items that directly threaten the homeland, or may provoke a military response, according to the CFR Center for Preventative Action’s fourth annual Preventative Priorities Survey.
CFR surveyed a group of experts to come up with the list. “The United States has a dismal record of forecasting instability and conflicts. Presently there is no systematic U.S. government process linking forecasting to contingency planning,” said CFR fellow for conflict prevention Micah Zenko, who conducted the survey. The advent of the Arab Spring and its trajectory is a perfect example of this lack of foresight, Zenko said in an article accompanying the survey.
CFR’s own record on the Middle East is spotty, though. Last year’s report looking down the road at 2011 did predict “acute political instability in Egypt” and “state failure/collapse in Yemen” under its secondary, tier two, threats. However, the experts failed to predict the upheavals in Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. None of those countries were mentioned in last year’s analysis.
Syria made it on the tier two list for 2012, though. CFR is now predicting “an outbreak of widespread civil violence” there, and in Yemen, in its tier two threats. Bahrain is now in the same category with “growing instability ... that spurs further Saudi and/or Iranian military action.”
“An intensification of political instability and violence in Libya” has now made itinto the tier three threat list.
The list is broken down into three tiers. The top one includes potential incidents that directly threaten the United States. They may be physical harm done in the homeland, such as the aforementioned cyber-attack, or a mass casualty attack, which also made the list. They may also provoke a major military response. A major conflict on the Korean Peninsula was one example of this, as was a military incident with China.
Incidents that disrupted supplies of critical resources also were put in this category. Political instability in Saudi Arabia that endangers global oil supplies was one such threat. The experts also saw the European sovereign debt crisis as potentially serious enough to directly impact the United States.
Pakistan has the dubious distinction of appearing twice in the top 10: one for a direct U.S.-Pakistan confrontation “triggered by a terror attack, or in response to U.S. counter-terror operations” and a second time for internal instability triggered by a terror attack or a civil-military showdown.
The top 10 threats were listed in no particular order. Nor was any weight given to the likelihood of the events taking place.
Tier two threats were reserved for countries of strategic importance, but are non-treaty allies. Tier three are “contingencies in countries of limited strategic importance, or in those where humanitarian consequences are likely to be severe or widespread.” Instability in nations such as Kyrgyzstan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela were in the bottom tier.

Topics: Cybersecurity, Defense Department, War Planning

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