by Andy Langenkamp on February 29, 2016
In its 2016 Preventive Priorities Survey, one of the world’s most respected and influential think tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations, meticulously lists 11 conflicts whose possible repercussions are so far-reaching that their prevention (or mitigation) should take top priority. This political risks list does not bode well for Europe, as it implies that migrants are likely to continue flocking to the Continent in large numbers:
— Intensification of the Syrian civil war
— Attacks on the United States or its allies, with numerous fatalities
— A large-scale cyber-attack on the United States’ core infrastructure
— A major crisis in or with North Korea
— Political instability in the EU on the back of the refugee crisis
— Worsening chaos in Libya
— Further escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
— Additional political violence in Turkey
— Growing instability in Egypt
— More atrocities and unrest in Afghanistan
— Further fragmentation in Iraq, caused by the Islamic State group and sectarian violence
Instability Ground Zero
It is almost a dead certainty that the Syrian civil war will continue to rage for quite some time. There are too many factions, militias, and parties that are fighting each other, while several of the major external players have conflicting interests. A durable truce is unlikely in the near-to-medium term.
The Syrian war affects virtually all of the other potential crises and conflicts on the CFR list. It would be more accurate to speak of the Syrian-Iraqi war. ISIS’s menacing presence in Iraq, growing animosity between Sunnis and Shia, and chaos and corruption are undermining the country and its government. We cannot, at this point, rule out a full-blown civil war in Iraq as well.
The countries near Syria and Iraq that are put most at risk by the war now raging are Libya, Turkey, and Egypt, according to the experts. The situation in Egypt, however, is unlikely to get out of hand in the near future. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi is an authoritarian leader who appears to be in firm control of the country. He does not have any urgent reason to fear his neighbors, who seem relieved that the country shows a semblance of stability.
Libya and Turkey are a different matter entirely. The former is hopelessly divided — it even has two parliaments. There have been some attempts to create a national unity government, but in view of Libya’s history and the existing imbalance of power, I am pessimistic, particularly now that ISIS is targeting Libya as a new base of operations. The country is certainly well qualified to hold the office. It is already a lawless haven for extremists, teeming with weapons, and its location offers excellent opportunities to anyone planning terrorist attacks in Europe.
Turkish Theocracy & Taliban Tensions
Turkey, too, is contaminated by the civil wars on its borders. It is embroiled in a drawn-out conflict with the Kurds, who aim to form a state that consists of parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The successes gained by the Syrian Kurds have made Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan very jittery. At the same time, Erdogan sees Syrian President Bashar Assad as a real threat, and this perception has caused him to turn a blind eye to Islamic State in the past. That is no longer the case, however, following attacks on Turkish soil, and thanks as well to Western pressure.
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