Crisis Group's President Robert Malley on this month's conflict developments
The President's Take

The President’s Take | The U.S. in CrisisWatch?

Our President Robert Malley’s monthly column to accompany the CrisisWatch conflict tracker for March/April 2018 asks if it is time to include the United States on our list. He also flags escalating crises in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Israel-Palestine, while welcoming positive developments in Kenya and North Korea. 


Every month for the past fifteen years, CrisisWatch has served as an early-warning tool, offering readers a quick summary of country developments that risk prompting or exacerbating conflicts or, conversely, that offer opportunities to prevent, resolve or mitigate them. That’s made for quite a few entries, and quite a few countries. Yet this month presented an unusual and unwelcome quandary: in light of President Donald Trump’s decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, was it time after all these years to include the United States on our list?

The Trump/Bolton/Pompeo line-up hit a global nerve and sparked worldwide anxiety. It’s not just the three men’s unabashed opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and the risks a withdrawal from that deal would pose. Not just Bolton’s serial preference for kinetic solutions and regime change. Or his disdain for multilateralism. Or his contempt for intelligence and analysis at odds with his pre-established views. It’s that this threesome has been put in charge at a time of extreme international tension and peril. Even any optimism prompted by the potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un now must be tempered by the fact that its outcome will depend at least in part on a man who’s made clear both that the bar for success should be unrealistic North Korean steps toward immediate denuclearisation and that the price of failure ought to be preventive military action.

In considering what to do, we looked at what happened elsewhere this past month. Several developments stood out. In Nigeria, attacks between herding and farming communities continue to spiral, far from the world’s glare, causing at least 190 deaths in March and spreading to areas heretofore spared. Sri Lanka has experienced its worst anti-Muslim violence since 2014. Another Huthi missile fired from Yemen on Riyadh heightened risks of a broader conflagration. Israel reacted violently to a protest that saw tens of thousands of Gazans march toward the border fence, killing fifteen and threatening a four-year uneasy truce between Hamas and Israel. Then there’s at least one relatively bright spot in Kenya, where President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands and pledged to work together, dousing (at least for now) intense political tensions that have run high since last year’s disputed presidential polls.

So, put the U.S. on our list? In the end, we chose not to. Pompeo and Bolton make for a war-prone cabinet to be sure, but not quite a war cabinet to be fair. To those who wonder why the U.S. has not previously been featured given its chequered history with regard to conflict, fear not. At this rate, we’ll almost certainly – and unhappily – be given another chance.

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