U.S. think tank lists Taiwan issue as top-tier risk for 1st time

01/15/2021 02:53 PM
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Pixabay image for illustrative purposes only
Pixabay image for illustrative purposes only

New York, Jan. 14 (CNA) The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has listed a possible conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan as a top-tier concern for the first time in its annual Preventive Priorities Survey.

The report, released Thursday, assessed the likelihood and impact of 30 potential conflicts that could break out over the next year based on responses from some 550 U.S. government officials, foreign policy experts and academics.

Those conflicts are classified into one of three tiers, and the possibility of "intensifying political and economic pressure from China against Taiwan, leading to a severe crisis with the United States," was classified as a Tier 1 risk for the first time.

A U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan was listed as a Tier 2 risk in 2019 and 2020, but was classified as a Tier 1 risk this year based on its high potential impact on U.S. interests and moderate likelihood of happening in 2021, the report said.

According to the council's definitions, a "high" impact on U.S. interests refers to a contingency that directly threatens the U.S. homeland, a defense treaty ally, or a vital strategic interest, and is thus likely to trigger a major U.S. military response.

A "moderate" likelihood is one that has an even chance of happening.

By contrast, the possibility of "an armed confrontation in the South China Sea involving China and the United States over freedom of navigation and disputed territorial claims" was downgraded from a Tier 1 to a Tier 2 risk, as it was judged to have a low likelihood of occurring in the coming year.

In addition to a crisis over Taiwan, the council also ranked as Tier 1 contingencies the heightening of military tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program and an armed confrontation between Iran and the United States or one of its allies over Iran's involvement in regional conflicts and support of militant proxy groups.

Other Tier 1 risks included political instability in Afghanistan, Syria, and Venezuela, Russian interference or intimidation against a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, and the possibility of a major cyberattack or terrorist attack on the United States.

In the report, Paul B. Stares, director of the Council's Center for Preventive Action, said the survey is intended to calculate the likelihood of specific contingencies based on the presence of known risk factors.

This ensures that "precautionary measures can be directed toward those (risks) that appear most threatening to lessen the chance that they materialize and reduce the harmful impact if they do," he said.

The Preventive Priorities Survey only included contingencies in which the U.S. military could plausibly be employed, and therefore excluded other global risks such as climate change, economic or health-related events and natural disasters.

It also excluded the risk of domestic unrest or conflict within the United States.

(By Ozzy Yin and Matthew Mazzetta)

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