Unprecedented Risks, Unprecedented Foresight: A “Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent” Strategy for the United States in 2021

The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) is a security policy institute devoted to anticipating, analyzing and addressing core systemic risks to security in the 21st century, with special examination of the ways in which these risks intersect and exacerbate one another. To further this goal, CSR hosts non-partisan centers tackling unprecedented security risks from climate change (The Center for Climate and Security) and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons (The Center on Strategic Weapons), as well as a program designed to study converging, cross-sectoral threats (The Converging Risks Lab). As the United States looks forward to 2020, it must use its unprecedented foresight to prepare for, prevent and address these unprecedented security risks.

A Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent Strategy for 2021

The bad news is that the United States and its allies currently face unprecedented risks from climate change; nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; authoritarian nationalism; and other disruptive trends. The good news is that the U.S. and its allies, due to advances in data-analysis technologies, including AI, also possess unprecedented foresight about these risks. That combination of unprecedented risks and unprecedented foresight underlines a Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent. This responsibility will fall to whomever assumes the office of the President of the United States in 2020.

In this age of unprecedented security risks, the U.S. President will need to think big. The country needs a strategy that is well-suited for this disruptive age – one whose goal is a resilient United States capable of both weathering these titanic shifts, and prospering in that new landscape. To deal with these big security risks, a new U.S. approach to national security should include three primary pillars: threat prevention, threat preparation and threat foresight.

  • Threat Prevention: Prevent existential, intolerable or highly disruptive security threats to US interests, including severe climatic changes; the dangerous proliferation and use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; sustained victories for authoritarian nationalists; and other systemic risks. This will require significantly reducing the scale and scope of future climatic changes; preventing a new era of increased nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons threats; and pursuing preventive policies that undercut the appeal and reach of authoritarian nationalist forces.
  • Threat Preparation: Prepare for unavoidable security risks from climate change; nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; authoritarian nationalism; and other systemic risks. This will require strategic climate resilience investments at home and abroad; a major commitment to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons threat reductions; strategic investments in combating existing authoritarian nationalists and their benefactors; and support for technologies that will improve U.S. resilience in a rapidly-changing world, ranging from Earth systems predictive capabilities to expanded operational capabilities in space.
  • Threat Foresight: Prepare for unforeseen threats through investments in deep future planning, which take advantage of rapid technological developments for enhancing foresight capabilities in the social, political and economic spheres. Cast a wide net for potential black swans, and start planning for them early.

Watch this space

Over the course of this year, the CSR and a team of senior experts and leaders in the national security, defense and intelligence sectors will be developing a “Responsibility to Prepare and Prevent Strategy for the United States in 2021” that follows the priorities and principles outlined above, with the aim of delivering it to U.S. Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle. Stay tuned for more.

Photo caption: U.S. INDOPACOM service members aiding FEMA operations on Saipan and Tinian as they recover from typhoon Yutu, the 2nd worst storm ever to hit U.S. soil (Oct 2018)

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