America's Role in the World Working Group
The Institute's "America's Role in the World Working Group" focused on the geopolitical challenges that a new administration — Democrat or Republican — could face beginning in 2009, and seek to define the central foreign policy choices and responses that are likely to be available. While we did not intend to offer specific policy prescriptions, we hoped to provide the candidates a comprehensive agenda of issues that could require attention and on which they should have been forming views and taking positions. The aim of this working group was to look forward.
The final report was published and made available to the campaigns for federal office — presidential and congressional — in 2008.
Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise
Beginning in late 2004, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy established a bipartisan, multi-disciplinary Study Group made up of senior policy and intelligence officials, Congressional members and staff, private analysts and journalists who undertook a two-year study funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to examine five instances of intelligence failures and "strategic surprise" from recent U.S. history.
The cases included:
- the fall of the Shah of Iran in l979;
- Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in l998;
- the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in l980;
- the decision to terminate relations with Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviets by the U.S.-backed mujaheddin in l991; and
- the Asian financial crisis in 1996.
The Study Group's principal finding is that "strategic surprises," commonly thought to result from flawed or inadequate intelligence, were far more often about a failure of Washington policymakers to adapt favored strategies in the face of shifting international conditions. This proved to be true even when there was compelling evidence that the existing strategy was flawed or failing. The failure to plan for or even consider seriously the implications of new or emerging threats seems often to arise from a systemic tendency to ignore or marginalize warning information that does not conform to leaders' preconceptions about the security challenges they face or the policies they endorse. The reluctance to consider new or unfamiliar information which is not consistent with widely held assumptions proved to be far more influential in situations of strategic surprise than missing or faulty intelligence.
Security and Diplomacy in the 21st Century
The efforts of the Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise working group underscored the need for reforms not just in the intelligence community, as has been widely advocated since 9/11, but to redress shortcomings in the policy-making process as well. To this end, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy has launched a new study to identify systemic weaknesses in the way the U.S. government integrates intelligence support, diplomacy, and policy implementation in the management of international security problems. An experienced group of former policymakers and specialists, many of whom served on the previous panel and once again chaired by Janne Nolan at ISD, is drawing lessons from recent historical cases of regional nuclear proliferation. The objective is to produce recommendations for improving the way intelligence informs policy choices to help sustain effective initiatives aimed at achieving desired security outcomes in the 21st century.
The study, generously supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is examining four cases of governmental efforts to address the rising threat of nuclear proliferation, including North Korea, South Asia (with the study of India and Pakistan combined in one case), Libya and Iran. By examining the relative strengths and weaknesses of U.S. nonproliferation strategies as they applied in these cases, this inquiry will help policy-makers to identify improvements in policy and intelligence processes that may be needed to support successful American initiatives to counter complex regional and global security threats, currently and in the future.
Schlesinger Working Group
During the fall of 1999, ISD launched the Schlesinger Working Group on Strategic Surprises, an exciting initiative of the James R. Schlesinger Program in Strategic Studies. The Working Group aims to review and assess a range of possible scenarios that have significant potential for strategic surprise and unanticipated outcomes. The initiative aims to identify future crisis areas, as well as unexpected events and political and economic discontinuities around the globe. Another motivation is to inject some counter-intuitive discipline and outside-the-box thinking into the Washington policy milieu. This is an environment that — despite the ever-growing number of skilled and expert participants — remains dangerously vulnerable to conventional wisdom and pressure to conform. A further reason to focus on strategic surprise is to raise awareness of the side effects and unintended consequences of apparently successful actions. Recognizing that surprise can never be eliminated completely from global politics, the Working Group explores the implications of potential strategic surprise and how its effects can be managed.
The concept of strategic surprise originates from the military realm and it connotes the clever stratagems we use on adversaries, or they use on us. With today's complex challenges, strategic surprise has a far broader range of meanings in addition to the original one. Surprises with strategic significance may come from random events, historical discontinuities, trend reversals, systemic transitions, our own actions or the actions of others. Strategic surprises come in various sizes and shapes. They can be positive as well as negative in their impact.
- Russia Resurgent? Challenges and Consequences of Shifting Geopolitical Dynamics in Eurasia, 2009
- Strategic Surprises that May Face the Obama Administration, 2009
- Climate Change and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Heat is On, 2008
- Challenges to Freedom's March: Regional Democracy Trends and US Foreign Policy, 2007
- Engaging Putin's Russia: Challenges and Opportunities for the West, 2005
- Strategic Surprises for a New Administration, 2004
- Unintended Consequences of an Expanded U.S. Military Presence in the Muslim World, 2003
- Are We Taking China's Future for Granted?, 2003
- Surprises, Challenges and Opportunities Since September 11, 2002, 2002
- U.S.-European Relations, 2002
- Russia's Southern Neighbors, 2001
- A Turning Point for Turkey, 2001
- Colombia at the Crossroads, 2000
- Challenges for a New Administration, 2000
- Indonesia in Transition, 1999