Though Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based Islamic insurgency, has generated fewer recent headlines in the Western press than have militants in nearby Mali or the country's own Niger Delta rebels, they are thought to have killed more than 1,500 people in bomb attacks and drive-by shootings over the past three years. Worryingly, the threat the group poses to Nigeria, home to an economy on track to become Africa's largest next year, may be increasing.
The northeastern state of Borno, the site of a recent Boko Haram assault that claimed more than 180 lives, represents the epicenter of Nigeria's radical Islamist threat. Parts of the majority Muslim region have effectively become a warzone. Though ideology helps fuel these movements, Boko Haram and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot Ansaru are also part of Nigeria's zero-sum regional competition for power and resources, which will continue to pit regional factions within the ruling People's Democratic Party against one another and the government against the country's newly merged opposition coalition. Hotly contested primaries next year and national elections in early 2015 will further polarize the political landscape along regional lines, creating even more fertile ground for Boko Haram and its sponsors.
Boko Haram -- which means "Western education is sacrilege" in Hausa, northern Nigeria's most widely spoken language -- has assassinated key allies of President Goodluck Jonathan's government, including both political proxies and senior clerics, most recently just days after a rare presidential visit to the region. This in turn provoked a wildly aggressive response from Nigeria's military, with enormous collateral damage to civilians. Jonathan reluctantly ordered a policy review last week that could grant amnesty to Boko Haram "moderates" willing to lay down their weapons, but the current surge in violence makes a breakthrough even less likely than before.
Northeastern states will likely remain on the front-lines of the Boko Haram threat. Proximity to porous borders with Niger and Cameroon (and on to sympathetic al Qaeda allies in Mali) provides Boko Haram with rear bases and safe havens just over the border. Though the unrest created by Boko Haram has gotten worse since the French-led intervention in Mali, its impact on Nigeria's economy has so far been contained, at least viewed from the country's economic heartland in the south. Investors generally see an attack on the southern business capital of Lagos or in the oil-rich Niger Delta as a game changer for risk perceptions. A large-scale attack in either place would probably have an immediate market impact -- on the stock exchange, currency value, and bond yields, all of which are performing strongly at the moment. For the moment, this remains a high-impact but low probability risk.
But the political and economic stakes would also rise dramatically if Boko Haram ratchets up attacks on the sectarian, ethnic, and political flashpoints in north central Nigeria, including Abuja, the country's capital, and major flashpoint cities like Jos, where sectarian and ethnic tensions are already on the rise. This is an under-appreciated risk and one that is already developing.
Boko Haram has more than once proven that it can hit Abuja. If it reorients its attention and resources to Abuja and to the ethno-sectarian tinderboxes that lie at the fault line between northern and southern Nigeria, the impacts will reverberate across the entire nation, West Africa more broadly, and the restive Sahel region to Nigeria's north.
Philippe de Pontet is head of Eurasia Group's Africa practice. Willis Sparks is director in the firm's global macro practice.
Could Turkey be nearing a resolution of its Kurdish problem? The March 21 ceasefire announcement from Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has certainly raised hopes of a resolution. The optimism, however, masks significant obstacles, not least of which is the fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces structural incentives that could undermine his motivation to pursue peace as strongly and urgently as might be wished. The process could easily breakdown amid recrimination and a return to violence.
Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government and the PKK have been negotiating for several months. The authorities have allowed some members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to visit Ocalan in jail and communicate his position to the rest of the PKK's leadership, and the broad outlines of a deal are slowly emerging. The PKK will gradually pull back its nearly 2,000 armed militants operating in Turkish territory. In the meantime, the AKP and the BDP will start negotiations on a new constitution and revisions to Turkey's legal framework needed to ensure equal treatment for Kurds. The final stage would be the normalization of relations. Both sides will continue to maintain momentum by making small-scale concessions, though significant steps will have to wait until the PKK has fully withdrawn from Turkish territory.
For both sides, a ceasefire offers significant potential benefits and little downside, at least in the near term. The Turkish population is more inclined to consider a peace deal than at any time in the past few decades. Erdogan would reap considerable electoral benefit from resolving the long-standing violence and tension (though there would be little fallout if the deal were to break down). The BDP would gain electorally for improving, even if only marginally, Turkey's legislative framework regarding the Kurdish minority. The PKK leadership would avoid fighting on two fronts simultaneously given developments in northern Syria-while also giving their militants time to recover from the effects of the violent 2012 campaign in south-eastern Turkey. And then there are more intangible factors: The PKK leaders are thought to be tired of life on the run, and Ocalan too is believed to be angling for house arrest rather than jail.
But despite the momentum and the benefits from a ceasefire, peace could founder on one of several issues. While the mood in the country is promising, there is a wide gap between Kurdish demands and what the government can realistically concede ahead of the upcoming elections. There is also a very real danger that some factions in the PKK and the broader Kurdish movement may feel betrayed by the final deal between the government and Ocalan. That disappointment could trigger a resumption of PKK insurgency.
The most immediate challenge, though, will be implementing the PKK's withdrawal without violence, particularly given that a law assuring their safety appears unlikely at this point. The Turkish military as well as nationalist groups will find it very difficult to allow armed PKK militants to simply leave for safety in northern Iraq. And the PKK will not consider giving up their weapons, especially given the situation in Syria.
Finally, there are concerns about the process. Neither the government nor the Kurdish nationalists have any real experience in handling peace talks and the compressed time frame of less than one year to withdraw troops and write a new constitution significantly increases the complexity. Similar developments in other parts of the world took many years to complete and there is no guarantee that either side will be able to manage any potential moments of tension.
Naz Masraff is an analyst with Eurasia Group's Europe practice.
Eurasia Group's weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie -- presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post
Hindsight is 20-20. In light of recent events in Mali and Algeria, this is an interesting look back on a decade of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa.
Lars-Olva Beier, Spiegel Online
With China slated to replace North America as the world's #1 film market by 2020, navigating the Chinese market is increasingly difficult -- and necessary.
Jonathan V. Last, Los Angeles Times
There are 38 million people living in America who were born somewhere else. How do global fertility rates shape U.S. immigration -- regardless of policy?
Ramy Inocencio, CNN
Posting a video of New York in flames? Not cool, North Korea. Using Michael Jackson's "We Are the World" as the background music? For shame. Lifting parts of the video from the latest Call of Duty video game? That's where YouTube draws the line.
To understand Kim Jong Un, it's important to put him in historical context. In the post-war era, North and South Korea's economies were roughly on par. Today, output per capita in South Korea is over 17 times that of the North.
Bill Simmons, Grantland
While it's not political per se, reporting on doping requires a great deal of diplomacy -- especially if you want to make the case that "innocent until proven guilty" does not always apply. This is one of the boldest, most honest pieces of sports journalism you'll ever read.
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
Eurasia Group's weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie-presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.
1. "Al Qaeda 3.0:
Terrorism's Emergent New Power Bases"
Bruce Riedel, The Daily Beast
In a world where international governance is breaking down, leaders are focused more on domestic than on foreign policy challenges. This trend extends to al Qaeda, an organization transitioning from global to local goals.
2. "India's African ‘Safari'"
Sudha Ramachandran, The Diplomat
We hear a lot about the US and China's conflicting investment approaches in Africa, but there's precious little written on Africa's fourth largest trading partner: India. With trade increasing by a factor of 17 over the last decade, India-Africa relations are becoming much more interesting.
3. "How Crash Cover-Up
Altered China's Succession"
Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times
How will Beijing's leadership manage the challenges that come with an era of more open information? What will the rest of us learn about the Chinese leadership's taste in cars, clothes and once-hidden power politics?
4. "Merkel's mastery of
Michael Fry, The Scotsman
Is Angela Merkel the most talented politician in the world? Her domestic political tactics shed light on her policies with regard to the Eurozone and beyond.
5. "A free-trade agreement
David Ignatius, The Washington Post
Though still on the drawing board, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has far-reaching security and economic implications for North America and the Asia Pacific region. Progress on an Atlantic equivalent seems beyond the horizon. But is an ‘economic NATO' already in the planning stages?
6. "The mother of all
worst-case assumptions about Iran"
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy
Would a nuclear Iran carry "shattering geopolitical significance?" This piece overstates its case at times, but it's a question that demands consideration.
The Weekly Bonus:
"Floating Housing (And
Golf Courses) For Post-Climate-Change Island Paradises"
Co.EXIST blog, Fast Company
In a G-Zero world, don't expect political leaders to tackle climate change. An ineffectual climate summit meeting in Doha this week makes that all the more obvious. If climate change continues unabated, the Maldives will end up underwater. The government knows it, hosting a cabinet meeting on the ocean floor in full scuba gear in 2009, and inquiring about land purchases abroad. But even the most daunting risks come with opportunities, however whimsical they may seem.
By Naz Masraff
With civil war in Syria, turmoil in Gaza, Arab Spring aftershocks, and the still simmering conflict over Iran's nuclear program competing for headlines, it's easy for outsiders to overlook another of the region's most intractable ethnic conflicts-Turkey's internal battle with Kurdish separatists. This story deserves attention, because it remains the primary security threat inside the region's most politically modern and economically dynamic country.
First, some background. In 2010, Turkey began secret talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a militant group better known by its acronym PKK. But in the run-up to June 2011 elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought them to a halt. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won those elections, securing nearly half the popular vote and a third successive term in power, and the newly emboldened prime minister has since adopted a relentlessly hardline attitude on Kurdish questions with a pledge to use Turkey's military to crush the PKK.
Since the beginning of 2011, several thousand Kurdish nationalists have been arrested on charges of PKK membership. In October, public prosecutors in Ankara launched a judicial investigation into the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
In July, the PKK launched a new phase in its
28-year insurgency, intensifying attacks on Turkey's security forces and
working to create "no go" zones in designated areas in the mountains
near Turkey's border with Iraq. The stated goal is to intensify pressure on
Turkey's government to introduce greater Kurdish language rights and to cede
many of the powers of the central government to local Kurdish authorities in
southeast Turkey in a process Kurdish nationalists call ‘democratic autonomy.'
The PKK scored territorial gains in August and early September and have held on to some of them, and it's clear that the PKK is now stronger than at any time since the 1990s.
Military activity has slowed since mid-October when the mountain passes along its main infiltration and supply routes became blocked with snow. But the PKK then continued its progress by launching a series of hunger strikes inside Turkish prisons, beginning in September with 63 Kurdish inmates. The number of hunger strikers quickly grew to nearly 700 people, including seven members of parliament. Strikers demanded an end to the ban on the use of Kurdish language in courts and as the primary language used by teachers in schools in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. They also called for respect for Kurds' democratic rights and an end to the isolation of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who has been incarcerated on the prison island of Imrali since 1999. In late October, Kurdish nationalist organizations began staging protest rallies across the country, triggering clashes between demonstrators and police, and fights between ethnic Kurds and Turkish ultranationalists in western Turkey. Turkish media, wary of antagonizing the government, downplayed the growing violence-though a few incidents injured too many people to ignore.
Turkey's government was slow to react, at least publicly, and downplayed the strikes. Speaking in October during a visit to Germany, Erdogan insisted that only one of the hunger strikes was authentic and that others were mainly "for show."
Behind the scenes, however, Turkish officials knew they had a growing problem to contain. The PKK now appears to have won concessions on the right of Kurds to defend themselves in court in their native language-that's expected to be adopted in parliament soon-and a step has been taken to eliminate Ocalan's isolation, in part by granting his family a visit. This brought an appeal from Ocalan to halt the hunger strikes, and on Sunday, they came to an end.
Yet, the risk of violence continues, and the turmoil in Syria has complicated matters further. Syrian forces have withdrawn from Kurdish areas in northern Syria, creating a de facto autonomous Kurdish regime over the past few months, and PKK leaders can exploit this power vacuum. For the moment, Turkish authorities want to avoid direct military involvement in Syria's troubles, but a sustained wave of PKK attacks on Turkey's security forces from inside Syria might still change their minds.
If the longer-term underlying issues fueling Kurdish separatism can be resolved, it is only with a comprehensive political process. Yet, Turkey's government -- like governments around the world -- is unwilling to negotiate with militants while they continue to launch attacks. This is particularly the case as Turks may go to the polls as many as four times in the next three years, including for a referendum on the constitution, as well as for local, presidential, and parliamentary elections. On the eve of these polls, the government is likely to adopt increasingly nationalistic rhetoric, shying away from taking steps to resolve the Kurdish issue through democratic means.
In short, the hunger strikes have ended, and the protests may die down. But there will be no peace in Turkey's southeast until the two sides can compromise their way toward a lasting political settlement.
By Ayham Kamel
During their fight for the White House, President Obama and Governor Romney made clear they do not believe Syria poses a substantial enough threat beyond its borders to require direct foreign intervention on the ground. Take a closer look. Even if intervention is not a realistic option just yet, it's hard not to notice that Syria's problems have become its leading export.
Syria bloody struggle continues with no end in sight. The international community is paralyzed; it can neither live with an Assad regime that commits daily atrocities nor afford a risky intervention in an already unstable Middle East. To add fuel to the already raging fire, Jihadists are increasingly interested in hijacking the Arab Spring.
This problem is now redefining the rocky relationship between Jihadists, who once focused mainly on global goals, and Salafists who focused on a local agenda. Especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Jihadists have shifted their priorities and gone local, as well, working side-by-side with Salafist allies. Ayman al Zawahiri's call for Jihad in Syria highlights this trend. While the struggle against the West remains a long-term goal, Jihadists are focusing on regaining alternative bases. That's why so many foreign fighters -- though clearly not a majority of rebels -- have joined opposition ranks to fight the Assad regime.
Syria is now the crown jewel for Jihadists. It provides access into Europe through Turkey, a border with Israel, a launch site for a new insurgency in Iraq, and easier access to Salafists in Jordan and Lebanon. The opportunity to find a new recruitment hub is also invaluable: The two movements have always been ideologically close and many Jihadists are exploiting that relationship to boost their ranks.
The ripple effects of this conflict are evident across the region. In Lebanon, the assassination last month of General Wissam al Hassan, head of the intelligence division of domestic security forces, will probably undermine an already shaky security environment in that country. Northern Lebanon has effectively become a zone of instability. Salafist groups, among others, have claimed a share of the money headed for Syrian rebels, joining a battle that is both morally required and financially supported.
Jordan is beginning to experience the contagion. Recently, the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) uncovered a plot by a Salafist terrorist cell. The group acquired weapons and arms from Syria and crossed into Jordan to carry out operations against civilian targets. Both Salafists and Jihadists in Jordan are beginning to view instability in Syria as an opportunity to expand their networks and improve their capacity to carry out attacks. Jihadist forces in Syria, which are currently fighting the regime, have broader goals. As the Assad government grows weaker these groups may be willing to support their allies elsewhere, including in Jordan. While the Jordanian security services have a significant intelligence and operations capacity, it will become increasingly difficult to monitor events across the Syrian border. More importantly, while the GID was able to preempt the most recent terror attacks, their success in the future can never be guaranteed.
Iraq, whose long border with Syria has always been porous, faces growing risk of cross-border militancy. In recent years, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has built a loyal army that succeeded in containing a Sunni insurgency. But he is now right to worry that Sunni forces in Syria are encouraging and supporting their counterparts inside Iraq. Maliki, who initially supported Assad, had feared that a new Sunni government would become a hostile neighbor to Shia Iraq. But he now appears more concerned with Jihadist and Salafist groups. Cooperation between Jihadis across the border and potential flow of new fighters into Iraq are especially problematic for Iraqi stability. While violence is now concentrated in areas that are not core to oil production, the situation could change if Sunnis succeed at mounting a more robust insurgency.
Soon, Americans may again be hearing about a fight with insurgents for control of Iraq.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
By Philippe de Pontet
The Aug. 26 car bombing of a U.N. building in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, which killed more than twenty people and wounded dozens more, suggests that the Islamist militant group Boko Haram may be in cahoots with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This sobering development constitutes President Goodluck Jonathan's most acute political and security challenge yet. If he responds decisively, he could further alienate northerners who resent his rule and would consider a poorly managed crackdown a provocation targeting Muslim communities. If he proceeds too cautiously, he risks frustrating his southern, largely Christian political base while reinforcing his image as an indecisive "accidental president." Either way, Jonathan's unlikely to come out a winner.
While headquartered in Nigeria's economically depressed northeast, Boko Haram (whose Hausa name translates roughly to "Western education is sinful") has steadily expanded its geographical reach, targets, and tactics since 2009. After the group's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed by Nigerian forces that July, Boko Haram got busy establishing mosques, schools, and other institutions throughout the north while stepping up its attacks on government targets. When Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, assumed the presidency, the group's ambitions became national in scope. And the latest attack indicates that the militants' struggle has become somewhat international, with all the hallmarks of an al Qaeda connection.
So far, the Jonathan administration has responded cautiously to the car bombing. For days it delayed confirming Boko Haram's role, even after the group claimed responsibility for the attack both online and in a press briefing. The government's tactic may prove shrewd, given that Nigeria's electorate is divided along highly charged regional lines and many northern community leaders, politicians, and imams are worried that innocent Muslim civilians could suffer from a heavy-handed government response.
On the other hand, the
administration's response could be the product of paralysis and indecision. And
those who see it that way -- particularly southern Christians who consider the
Islamist movement a growing national menace -- are calling for retribution and a
show of force. A handful of prominent northern leaders, including presidential
runner-up Muhamadu Buhari, have also called for a swift response.
Caught in the middle as he is, Jonathan will likely try to strike a balance between hawkish military and police action aimed at weakening Boko Haram's base and increased funding for compliant northern governors. The first prong of his approach will be to beef up security in Abuja, Kano, and other urban centers and launch targeted military offensives on suspected militant hideouts. If bungled, such a campaign could spark a backlash against Jonathan, and possibly a recruiting bonanza for Boko Haram. The second prong of the approach will likely be to funnel funding through northern governors to help ameliorate underlying grievances such as grinding poverty and high youth unemployment. But this won't be possible without a prolonged period of legislative debate, which could further calcify the country's regional fault lines. And unlike the rebels of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Boko Haram's absolutist ambitions may not be amenable to political negotiation or payoffs.
Philippe de Pontet is director of Eurasia Group's Africa practice.
Henry Chukwuedo/AFP/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer and David Gordon
Individual hackers and organized crime organizations have targeted businesses for years, but cyberattacks have rarely created political risk. They do now. The centralization of data networks -- both in energy distribution (the move to the smart grid) and information technology more broadly (the shift to cloud computing) -- is increasing the vulnerability of states to potentially debilitating cyberattacks. As governments become more directly and actively involved in cyberspace, geopolitics and cybersecurity will collide in three major ways.
First, new cyber capacity allows governments to project power in a world where direct military strikes are much more costly and dangerous. There have been plenty of stories about well-funded efforts from inside China to manipulate access to the Internet, but it's the almost-certainly state-sponsored Stuxnet attacks on Iran's industrial infrastructure that provide the clearest early glimpse of what tomorrow's carefully targeted state-sponsored attack might look like. When a missile is launched, everyone knows where it came from. Cyberattacks are a very different story.
Second, we'll see more cyber conflicts between state-owned companies and multinational corporations, providing state capitalists with tools that give them a competitive commercial advantage. China and Chinese companies are by far the biggest concern here. Throw in Beijing's indigenous innovation plans, which are designed to ensure that China develops its own advanced technology, and this is probably the world's most important source of direct conflict between states and corporations.
Third, there is the increasing fallout from the WikiLeaks problem, as those sympathetic to Julian Assange unleash attacks on governments and the corporations that support them in targeting WikiLeaks and its founder. In fact, the principal cybersecurity concern of governments has shifted from potential attacks by al Qaeda or Chinese security forces to radicalized info -- anarchists undertaking a debilitating attack against critical infrastructure, a key government agency, or a pillar of the financial system. Whether attacks are waged for power (state versus state), profit (particularly among state capitalists), or for 'the people,' (as in the WikiLeaks case), this will be a wildcard to watch in 2011.
On Friday, we'll talk about Top Risk no. 4: China -- and why its policymakers will frustrate much of the international community this year.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group. David Gordon is the firm's head of research.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
By David Bender and Jonathan Tepperman
Since last Friday's near-miss terror attack, when a Saudi tip-off revealed the presence of two bombs making their way by air freight from Yemen to the United States, much nervous speculation has focused on two issues. The first is the supposed sophistication of the sender, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the two year old Yemen-based franchise of the international terror group. Second is the likelihood that Yemen may be quickly collapsing into a Somalia-style failed state, which would allow AQAP to operate there unchecked.
Reports on the technical complexity of the bombs themselves -- which were disguised as printer cartridges and made it past (admittedly insufficient) cargo shipment screening -- bolster the first point. Much of the conversation has also focused on Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), the malleable military-grade high explosive used in these most recent attempts, as well as in the aborted 2009 Christmas Day underwear bombing (also attributed to AQAP in Yemen). Such components mean that "these bombs have the hallmark of a higher degree of professionalism that we've ever seen come out of al Qaeda before," according to Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer in the Middle East.
Is Yemen the next Somalia? The debate over Yemen's fragility is framed by the severe challenges facing the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh: tribal rebellion in the north, secessionist pressures in the south, and a dysfunctional economy marred by rampant corruption and dwindling oil and water resources. On top of all that is AQAP, which is now aiming its guns on the government: the group has killed 70 police officers and soldiers in the past four weeks.
Taking a closer look at both of these concerns -- in Baer's words a "new, more dangerous wave of terrorism" in the United States and impending disintegration in Yemen -- reveals that both are overstated. It's not that AQAP isn't worth worrying about. But the danger is not quite on the level of catastrophe.
For example, while AQAP has made several attempts at striking targets abroad -- printer cartridges, explosive underwear, and in one case, a bomb stuffed inside the bomber himself -- so far, all of these plans have failed.
While all of these attacks could have had devastating consequences if they actually succeeded, they pale in comparison to the sort of mega-strikes al Qaeda central has pulled off. The Pakistan-based major league outfit is known for meticulous planning, simultaneous strikes (like the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania), and monumental targets (such as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). The Yemeni team, judging by its track record, relies on eager but untrained volunteers and luck to hit its much smaller objectives. This scattershot approach may make future attacks more difficult to uncover and stop. But it also means the organization is unlikely to succeed -- and that even if it does, the attacks won't have anywhere near the international impact of 9/11.
While Washington may not yet understand AQAP very well or its place in Yemen's complex political and tribal matrix, Saudi intelligence seems to have effectively penetrated the organization. The Saudis have been watching the group carefully since the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda merged and started targeting Riyadh. And the Saudi efforts have paid off. The key role the Saudis played in disrupting the recent bomb attempts suggests that the kingdom's intelligence either has human assets in AQAP or at least has gained the ability to monitor its communications. As a result, Western and allied intelligence organizations have far more insight into this branch than they do into its Pakistan-based sponsor.
As for Yemen, there are good reasons not to count it out quite yet. Yes, the country's long-term prognosis is grim. But Saleh is a wily operator who has stayed in power for 32 years by relying on bribes, tribal manipulations, kidnappings, and military force. For the next few years, at least, Washington and Riyadh -- both acutely aware of the risks the country's collapse would pose -- will not abandon him. On the contrary, they'll keep supporting Yemen with generous financial and military aid. Of course, Sanaa must be careful how it proceeds. The United States and Saudi Arabia are the object of much hostility among Yemeni public. Public exposure of U.S. military counterterrorism operations killing Yemenis (as when the Bush administration leaked a U.S .operation in Yemen in 2002) could end up weakening Saleh's position and boosting AQAP's popularity.
AQAP is plenty dangerous and a failed Yemeni state is a big risk -- eventually. But Yemen is not yet in crisis and this is not the worst terrorist threat the United States has faced.
David Bender is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice. Jonathan Tepperman is Eurasia Group's Managing Editor and a columnist at TheAtlantic.com.
MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer
For the first time in several years, shifting security dynamics could push India and Pakistan toward confrontation.
The good news is that Pakistan's military has had success lately with attacks on local militants in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. The bad news is that the militants have demonstrated an ability to retaliate in other parts of the country, most recently with a deadly assault on the heavily fortified army headquarters in Rawalpindi in October. The worst news is that they may try to launch new attacks across the border in India.
Pakistan's militants know they face less pressure whenever Pakistan's military and security forces feel directly threatened by India. Following last fall's Mumbai terror attacks, allegedly planned inside Pakistan, Pakistan's military, fearing an Indian reprisal, went on high alert. The breathing room the extremists won and the support they gained from others with an anti-Indian agenda may well have helped them develop new links with like-minded groups in the region -- possibly even with radicals at the margins of India's own Muslim community.
Since the Mumbai attacks, the Indian government has worked to simplify the processes of intelligence -- sharing among security agencies and police and to increase ground -- level coordination in Delhi and Mumbai with U.S. and British counterterrorist organizations. But it's a work in progress, and India's cities remain vulnerable.
India's Congress Party leadership wants to keep simmering tensions with Pakistan from reaching a boil. But to minimize the damage from opposition charges of weakness following the Mumbai attacks, India's government demanded that Pakistan take decisive action to disrupt cross-border terrorist operations. The Pakistanis have done very little in response. Another major attack would all but force the Indian government to take a much more hostile approach to Pakistan's government, allowing Pakistan's military leadership to set aside attacks on local militants and turn their attention to an enemy they feel less reluctant to antagonize.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group.
SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer
When Yemen makes international headlines, it's usually because outsiders look at the unrest there as yet another proxy conflict between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran. It's one more version of the Sunni vs. Shia Middle East story. The Saudis are supporting Yemen's government in a fight with Shia Houthi rebels financed and trained by Iran. The Saudi, Yemeni, and Iranian governments each have their motives for feeding this simplification.
The Houthis are a Shia rebel group in northern Yemen, centered in the city of Saada. They've warned for years that they've been politically and economically marginalized by Yemen's government, and Houthi rebels launched a rebellion in 2004. There have been six rounds of fighting since. In August of this year, the Yemeni government, with Saudi support, launched another battle against the Houthis, and the conflict has spilled across the border into Saudi Arabia, where Houthis have fought pitched firefights with Saudi forces. In response, the Saudis have launched bombing raids on Houthi positions inside northern Yemen. Tens of thousands of people have fled the expanding conflict zone.
The spike in violence is now getting the regional attention it deserves-but for the wrong reasons. Yemen's weak government already has its hands full with a growing threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and increasing secessionist pressures in the south, adding to the risk that Yemen will become a failed state. The refugee problem is creating a risk of social unrest inside Saudi Arabia. These are serious issues. Less serious is the fear, fanned by both Saudi and Iranian officials, that Iran wants to use the Houthis to create an Arabian version of Hizbullah, a direct Shia threat to Saudi territory. The Saudis are playing up this threat to justify cross-border attacks into Yemen. Yemen's government is using the threat to justify its willingness to accept Saudi attacks on Yemeni soil and to gain Western military support and financial help. Iran feeds the story to pose as increasingly influential within the region.
The Houthis, though, have no reason to play along. They follow the Zaidi form of Islam. They're technically Shia, but theologically and historically distinct from Iran's Twelver Shia majority, which has cultural connections in Lebanon and (to a lesser extent) in Iraq -- but not in Yemen. The Houthi rebels need guns and cash and can't be picky about where they get them. If Iran is willing to sell, they're willing to buy. That doesn't mean they will use them to advance Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia's backyard.
In Yemen, at least, all militancy is local. Few outside al Qaeda relish the idea of the world's largest oil-producer sharing a border with a failed state. That's a risk worth worrying about, but it's not a good reason to over-simplify a complex political, economic, ethnic, religious, and social problem into some sort of regional proxy war between Sunni and Shia.
KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer
In the Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday, a dozen gunmen attacked a bus carrying members of Sri Lanka's cricket team, killing six policemen and a driver and injuring several of the athletes. Press accounts of the assault suggest a level of coordination similar to that used by the Pakistan-based militants who killed 173 people at several sites in Mumbai in September. Across Pakistan, suicide bombers killed two people in 2005, six in 2006, 56 in 2007, and 61 in 2008. Suicide attackers killed more people in Pakistan last year than in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
There are two important reasons why the threat of global terrorism is growing. The first is long-term and structural. The second is more directly tied to the global financial crisis. Both have everything to do with what's happening in Pakistan.
First, a report released in December from the U.S. Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism hints at both sets of problems. The report notes an increasing supply of nuclear technology and material around the world and warns that "without greater urgency and decisive action by the world community, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013."
Destructive (and potentially destructive) technologies are now more accessible than at any time in history for small groups and even individuals. This will dramatically increase the baseline threat of disruptive violence from non-state actors over time. It's not just biological and nuclear material. GPS tracking devices help pirates operating off Somalia's coast venture further from shore and undertake increasingly ambitious attacks on private and commercial vessels.
Second, it's unlikely that we'll see the "greater urgency and decisive action by the world community" called for in the report. For the moment, political leaders around the world are too busy wrestling with the effects of the global financial crisis on their domestic economies (and their political standing) to coordinate action against such a diffuse threat.
But there's another reason why the financial crisis heightens the risk of global terrorism. Militants thrive in places where no one is fully in charge. The global recession threatens to create more such places.
No matter how cohesive and determined a terrorist organization, it needs a supportive environment in which to flourish. That means a location that provides a steady stream of funds and recruits and the support (or at least acceptance) of the local population. Much of the counter-terrorist success we've seen in Iraq's al Anbar province over the past two years is a direct result of an increased willingness of local Iraqis to help the Iraqi army and US troops oust the militants operating there. In part, that's because the area's tribal leaders have their own incentives (including payment in cash and weaponry) for cooperating with occupation forces. But it's also because foreign militants have alienated the locals.
The security deterioration of the past year in Pakistan and Afghanistan reflects exactly the opposite phenomenon. In the region along both sides of their shared border, local tribal leaders have yet to express much interest in helping Pakistani and NATO soldiers target local or foreign militants. For those with the power to either protect or betray the senior al-Qaeda leaders believed to be hiding in the region, NATO and Pakistani authorities have yet to find either sweet enough carrots or sharp enough sticks to shift allegiances.
The slowdown threatens to slow the progress of a number of developing countries. Most states don't provide ground as fertile for militancy as places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen. But as more people lose their jobs, their homes, and opportunities for prosperity -- in emerging market countries or even within minority communities inside developed states -- it becomes easier for local militants to find volunteers.
This is why the growing risk of attack from suicide bombers and well-trained gunmen in Pakistan creates risks that extend beyond South Asia. This is a country that is home to lawless regions where local and international militants thrive, nuclear weapons and material, a history of nuclear smuggling, a cash-starved government, and a deteriorating economy. Pakistan is far from the only country in which terrorism threatens to spill across borders. But there's a reason why the security threats flowing back and forth across the Afghan-Pakistani border rank so highly on Eurasia Group's list of top political risks for 2009 -- and why they remain near the top of the Obama administration's security agenda.
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.