Q18 Will we see increased attacks on US embassies in 2020? Would you consider non-state actors or state actors as the biggest transnational threat?

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New Year’s Eve 2019 Forecast (What’s this?)

I predict no loss-of-life related to an attack on a US Embassy or Consulate in 2020 and a second forecast of no “significant attacks” (e.g. Benghazi style.) There may be protest actions aplenty, but targeting US Embassies and Consulates, especially post Benghazi is just bad idea theatre.

Counter prediction, if there is an Embassy that is significantly attacked it will be in Africa, Somalia or Mali.

As for which poses the biggest risk, state-actor or non-state actor that’s a tough one. Because non-state actors are constant low-to-medium impact while state-actor action is a low probability but extremely high impact.  Whether it’s Russia’s hypersonic missiles, China hacking efforts or a North Korea boogaloo that’s just variations on a scale of really bad. Plus, the line between non-state actors use asymmetric and state actors use conventional is beginning to blur, especially in Grey Zones where all these things come together.

I predict ISIS will continue to grow, becoming more recognized as an African and South Asian threat than the Middle East, even though I predict it will continue to regain strength in Iraq and Syria (see my response to Jon Custis above.) There will continue to be one-sided minor skirmishes between Israeli and Iran within Syrian’s airspace, through which Iran will retaliate using non-state actors like Hezbollah and Hamas. But there won’t be any major state-on-state conflicts, and if there is one, it will be between the US and North Korea over resumed ballistic missile tests. We are really at the point where we can tolerate at most 3-4 cross-ocean intermediate range ballistic tests before we have to go really hard on North Korea as the risk becomes simply too high to tolerate. But I don’t anticipate Russia invading the Baltics or anything like that. Nor do I see the US and Iran going to war other than the tit-for-tat exchanges they are in right now. Iran’s got its hands full with domestic unrest and President Trump isn’t bold enough to pick a fight with an enemy he can’t be sure he’ll beat.

I guess Grey Zones (where both state and non-state actors will play) and non-state actor activity outside of grey zones will drive the predominant transnational risk in 2020. 


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