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Intelligence communities all over the world have practiced ways to study radical discontinuity contingencies, and plan accordingly. The US system features a methodology for structuring how to think about the COVID-19 pandemic crisis called Net Assessment.
Net Assessment methodology eschews “point” predictions and instead posits ranges of outcomes, each with probability markers assigned to them, in part by distinguishing between stochastic risk and structural uncertainty. In the current case, some of what we don’t know about COVID-19 falls into the category of risk: How long will it go on, how will it affect various economies and the global connectivity of supply chains, and so forth. Other aspects fall into the category of structural uncertainty: Will there be second and third waves of infection, or have no significant following second wave, like SARS? Will the virus mutate to generate a higher mortality rate? Will regimes collapse or civil wars break out, with what second- and third-order effects doubling back on public health and economic stresses?
All net assessment projections are striated into layered decision trees. Applied to the COVID-19 crisis, those layers would move from medical uncertainties, to economic impacts, to social implications, to political consequences within countries, to political consequences for the international system as a whole. Analytic frameworks are structured to be updatable as new information becomes available. They are in general designed to give decision-makers a heuristic tool to aid planning that is at the same time flexible but not excessively diffuse.
Singaporean scholars and analysts might benefit from learning more about US net assessment methodology, just as US scholars and analysts might learn from Singapore’s approach to understanding radical discontinuity.
About the Speaker
Adam Garfinkle is on a year-long engagement at RSIS as Distinguished Visiting Fellow. Aside from being Founding Editor of The American Interest, Dr Garfinkle has served as Editor of The National Interest, as Principal Speechwriter to the US Secretary of State while attached to the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, was chief writer of the Hart-Rudman Commission reports, and has taught at several institutions of higher education including SAIS/Johns Hopkins. His PhD in International Relations is from the University of Pennsylvania.