The Top 30 Global Geopolitical Hot Spots for 2012

The Council on Foreign Relations has released their politically-correctly-named 'Preventive Priorities Survey' or put another way - where-in-the-world-is-stuff-going-to-hit-the-fan-next report. The report is designed to help the US policy community comprehend where the next conflict will occur in the world and the relative catastrophe factor. The 3 tiers of chaos offer a menu of drivers-for-war, likely terrorist targets, and political tensions. Notably they include such systemic factors as the European debt crisis, budgetary limits, and Saudi political instability's impact on oil supplies at Tier 1 (most critical) contingencies.


Tier I

Tier I are contingencies that directly threaten the U.S. homeland, are likely to trigger U.S. military involvement because of treaty commitments, or threaten the supplies of critical U.S. strategic resources. They include:


  •     a mass casualty attack on the U.S. homeland or on a treaty ally
  •     a severe North Korean crisis (e.g., armed provocations, internal political instability, advances in nuclear weapons/ICBM capability)
  •     a major military incident with China involving U.S. or allied forces
  •     an Iranian nuclear crisis (e.g., surprise advances in nuclear weapons/delivery capability, Israeli response)
  •     a highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure (e.g., telecommunications, electrical power, gas and oil, water supply, banking and finance, transportation, and emergency services)
  •     a significant increase in drug trafficking violence in Mexico that spills over into the United States
  •     severe internal instability in Pakistan, triggered by a civil-military crisis or terror attacks
  •     political instability in Saudi Arabia that endangers global oil supplies
  •     a U.S.-Pakistan military confrontation, triggered by a terror attack or U.S. counterterror operations
  •     intensification of the European sovereign debt crisis that leads to the collapse of the euro, triggering a double-dip U.S. recession and further limiting budgetary resources

Tier II

Tier II are contingencies that affect countries of strategic importance to the United States but that do not involve a mutual-defense treaty commitment. They include:

  •     political instability in Egypt with wider regional implications
  •     a severe Indo-Pak crisis that carries risk of military escalation, triggered by major terror attack
  •     rising tension/naval incident in the eastern Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Israel
  •     a major erosion of security and governance gains in Afghanistan with intensification of insurgency or terror attacks
  •     an outbreak of widespread civil violence in Syria, with potential outside intervention
  •     an outbreak of widespread civil violence in Yemen
  •     rising sectarian tensions and renewed violence in Iraq
  •     a South China Sea armed confrontation over competing territorial claims
  •     a mass casualty attack on Israel
  •     growing instability in Bahrain that spurs further Saudi and/or Iranian military action

Tier III

Tier III are contingencies that could have severe/widespread humanitarian consequences but in countries of limited strategic importance to the United States. They include:


  •     military conflict between Sudan and South Sudan
  •     heightened political instability and sectarian violence in Nigeria
  •     increased conflict in Somalia, with continued outside intervention
  •     political instability in Venezuela surrounding the October 2012 elections or post-Chavez succession
  •     political instability in Kenya surrounding the August 2012 elections
  •     renewed military conflict between Russia and Georgia
  •     an intensification of political instability and violence in Libya
  •     violent election-related instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  •     political instability/resurgent ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan
  •     an outbreak of military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, possibly over Nagorno Karabakh