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Brookings’s “Big Bets and Black Swans”

The Brookings Institution’s foreign policy team is featuring an interesting, interactive project called “Big Bets and Black Swans,” framed as a “briefing book” designed to “offer[] President Obama and his Cabinet a set of innovative and actionable policy recommendations to address the critical foreign policy challenges in the year ahead.”  The group’s recommendations come in the form of a series of memos, many accompanied by short videos, and divided into five categories: Big Bets, Double Downs, Black Swans, Nightmares and Holds. 

The Big Bets are issues where Foreign Policy scholars believe the president should consider investing his power, time and prestige in major efforts that can have a transformational impact on America and the world. Double Downs are derived from the Big Bets of 2013, recommendations that the president redouble his efforts on last year’s suggested policy initiatives. The Black Swans are those low-probability but high-impact events that can divert the president and his administration from higher purposes, events so dramatically negative that he will want to take steps in advance to avoid them or to mitigate their consequences. Nightmares are events that look more likely than a Black Swan and could prove particularly troublesome for U.S. interests and the global order, and for which the administration should prepare. Finally, Holds are updated recommendations to stay the course on policy approaches put forward in 2013.

The memos address a wide array of foreign policy-related topics, a number of which may be of interest to readers of this blog.  For some examples, among the “Big Bets” and “Double Downs” are “Reassert U.S. Leadership of a Liberal Global Order,” by Robert Kagan and Ted Piccone, “Secure the Future of the Internet,” by Peter W. Singer and Ian Wallace, “Solidify the U.S.-Afghanistan Allianceby John R. Allen and Michael E. O’Hanlon, “Strengthen Stability in Africa by O’Hanlon, “Return to the Asia Rebalance” by Jonathan D. Pollack and Jeffrey A. Bader, and “Avert Conflict in the South and East China Seas” by Pollack, Richard C. Bush III, and Bruce Jones.

You can check out Brookings’ interactive website here, or a pdf version of the “briefing book” here.

Richard B. Eisenberg
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Air Force