Tobin Project Holds a Meeting on Reassessing Threat Assessment

Threat Assessment conference signOn May 20th, the Tobin Project convened policymakers and scholars across a range of disciplines for a meeting in Washington, DC on “Reassessing Threat Assessment: Building a Better Framework for Evaluating Strategic Threats.” Participants explored where new academic scholarship on past threat assessments could help develop the tools we need to accurately and reliably assess threats we face today—whether from state actors, non-state actors, or broader trends in technology, economics, or the international political system. The meeting was motivated by the belief that rigorous analysis of the successes and failures of past assessments can yield a richer understanding of what makes for accurate threat assessment that might help the United States evaluate and sustainably meet the challenges that shape the security landscape.

The meeting on Reassessing Threat Assessment featured four collaborative discussions that engaged with historical cases and contemporary subjects with the aim of identifying areas potentially ripe for future research. Each discussion featured a panel of expert scholars and policymakers and centered on a set of guiding questions, including:

  • How can we distinguish accuracy from luck in threat assessments? What features are most important to study in assessing the accuracy of past assessments?
  • To what extent do advances in biological technology dramatically change the nature of WMD threats? Do past successes and failures in assessing threats posed by new technologies offer guidance for where to target new research?
  • Can we identify important cases where Cold War threat assessments—by important actors on all sides—were accurate or inaccurate? Do these successes and failures offer lessons for contemporary practice? 
  • What knowledge is needed to accurately assess potential threats posed by China and to prioritize and manage them in the context of other threats?

Discussions around these questions yielded many valuable insights that will contribute to new work in the Tobin Project’s National Security initiative. We are grateful to all attendees for their thoughtful participation in the meeting’s discussions and for their meaningful contributions to the advancement of this research inquiry.

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