Foreign policy often involves making difficult and debatable choices about which parts of the world matter more to a given country—and which, by extension, matter less. It’s about defining national interests and determining where those interests are most evident and endangered. This is why the United States has done far more to stop ISIS in Syria and Iraq than, say, sectarian war in the Central African Republic.
In short, it’s about priorities. And according to a new survey of U.S. foreign-policy experts and practitioners, those priorities could look a lot like the map above in 2015, at least from America’s point of view. The map sorts potential conflicts around the world into three tiers of risk: red for high-priority threats, orange for moderate-priority threats, and yellow for low-priority threats. According to Paul Stares, the report’s lead author, it’s a color-coded snapshot of “where the balance of U.S. attention and resources should be devoted” in the coming year. As such, it’s also a guide to the places and conflicts that are likely to receive relatively little attention from America’s national-security apparatus in the months ahead.
The survey, this year’s edition of a study conducted annually by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action, flagged violence in Iraq between ISIS and the Iraqi military, and between Sunnis and Shiites more broadly, as the top priority for the U.S. in the coming year. Other high-priority potential scenarios include a major attack on the United States or a U.S. ally; a cyberattack on U.S. infrastructure; a crisis involving North Korea; the prospect of Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites; a confrontation between China and its neighbors over territorial claims in the South China Sea; an escalation of the Syrian civil war; and growing instability in Afghanistan. Notably, they also include two contingencies that weren’t raised in last year’s report: an intensification of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed militias in Ukraine, and heightened violence between Israelis and Palestinians.