The threat of famine, including in South Sudan, is one...

The threat of famine, including in South Sudan, is one of the many crises that will need the attention of the Trump administration. Credit: AP / Samir Bol

The first 100 days of a new presidency predictably deliver a foreign policy crisis, and President Donald Trump was tested, right on schedule. Events in Syria and North Korea were, unfortunately, unsurprising, even as Bashar Assad’s brutal gassing of his people (again) and the bellicosity of Pyongyang’s saber-rattling are no less chilling.

As Trump’s foreign policy team prepares for the next 100 days and the near future, these threats will persist, but three other risks to U.S. national security also require attention. Americans might be tired of hearing about Iraq and Afghanistan, but both are at critical points that will determine whether they can break pernicious cycles of violence that spin into global extremism, and can move toward lasting peace and stability.

The third challenge is the least talked about, but most dire: famine. Four famines loom on our planet, putting at risk the lives of about 20 million people within the next six months in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. This is the equivalent of the population of New York teetering on the edge of dying from hunger.

The need for humanitarian relief is urgent to avert a catastrophe. As we have done throughout our history, the United States should play a leadership role in responding and in galvanizing international action to save millions of lives.

Beyond this moral obligation, we have a national security imperative to confront the famines. The common denominator among these hunger crises is that they’re occurring in fragile states where repressive governments have dissolved into civil war and spawned new and virulent forms of violent extremism. They are states plagued by extreme poverty and vulnerable to natural disasters and the predations of other powers.

Left unaddressed, these crises will continue to take lives, destabilize adjoining regions and potentially create threats to the U.S. homeland. So the United States also must play a leadership role in marshaling regional and international partners to mobilize critical security and diplomatic and development solutions, and to avert continued cycles of crisis.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan are at a crossroads, even as the American people are weary of deeper commitments.

The recent military advances in Iraq by its armed forces and a U.S.-led coalition, for example, raise the urgent question of what happens after the territory is recaptured from the Islamic State and its black flags come down. Our experience shows it’s possible to consolidate military gains. We help tribal, community and religious leaders reach agreements that end vicious cycles of revenge and lay the foundations for peace.

We saw that happen in Iraqi areas like Mahmoudiya, known in 2007 as the “Triangle of Death” for its violence, and in Tikrit after an ISIS massacre in 2014. In both cases, local agreements helped prevent underlying conflicts and divisions from rapidly reasserting themselves and creating fertile ground for more violence.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban is gaining ground again, evidenced by a brutal attack on April 21 in Mazar-i-Sharif that killed or wounded more than 140 Afghan government soldiers. Farther south, the Taliban is pressing for full control of the strategic town of Sangin in Helmand Province.

As frustrating and costly as it has been to stay engaged in Afghanistan, withdrawing U.S. forces could easily pave the way for an outcome much worse for American security and the Afghan people. The United States should couple a strategy of support for the Afghan military with a robust political strategy that helps the Afghan government win popular and regional support to negotiate an inclusive, sustainable peace.

If the challenges seem daunting, consider this: They are only the predictable problems.

Nancy Lindborg is president of the United States Institute of Peace, an independent institution established and funded by Congress.