At the request of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), SMA initiated a study to understand the strategic implications of destabilizing population dynamics within the Central Region. The effort examined drivers of instability in the region emerging from radicalization, great power competition, state-level instability, and black swan scenarios. This report integrates the research conducted by the teams listed on the front cover in response to USCENTCOM’s questions about great power competition. This report is intended to be a succinct, easily navigable representation of the exceptional work by the collective SMA team. Please click on the links embedded in the report to go directly to the research studies.
Much is made of Black Swans by financiers, pundits, and national security experts (Bellomo, Herrero, & Tosin, 2013; Hunt, 2008). It is easy for such provocative and frightening concepts to become the flavor of the day without thinking through if they matter and, if they do, why. Dr. Claudio Cioffi-Revilla summed up the reason why we should be concerned with Black Swans: they matter because the aim of science in the service of national security is to achieve strategic excellence and not merely react to crises surprised and flatfooted. Further, strategic excellence will not be achieved without applying advanced scientific methods to understand problems like Black Swan surprises. LTC Thomas Pike stressed that warfighters must possess the technical skills to use these methods in order to achieve strategic success. This report integrates various SMA Black Swan research efforts as examples of the kinds of information, data, modeling, and thinking required to achieve strategic success in the USCENTCOM AOR. Examples of surprises that can be avoided and how to monitor them are given, and a range of potential Black Swans that could happen but cannot be predicted are reviewed. Each of the SMA Black Swan efforts also provide USCENTCOM with guidelines for thinking through Black Swan scenarios and recommendations as to what can be monitored and predicted, and these are highlighted at the conclusion of this report.