The NYU School of Professional Studies CGA Scenarios Initiative is a mediated workshop series designed to enable cross-disciplinary, innovative thinking regarding countries and issues critical to U.S. national interests. By inviting experts from a diverse range of specializations and international backgrounds to participate in scenario-building workshops, the Initiative aims to raise the quality of U.S. foreign policy by improving policymakers’ understanding of, and reaction to, change.
In both official and academic policy debates, the future is often expected to parallel the recent past. Potential discontinuities are dismissed as implausible, information that conflicts with prevailing mindsets or policy preferences is unseen or viewed as anomalous, pressure for consensus drives out distinctive insights, and a fear of being “wrong” discourages risk-taking and innovative analysis. This conservatism can obscure, and thus reduce, foreign policy choice. Our experience, through several workshops, is that experts tend to underestimate the degree of future variability in the domestic politics of seemingly stable states. This was the case with the Soviet Union, as it is now in the Middle East and, suddenly, in Turkey and Brazil. Globalization, financial volatility, physical insecurity, economic stresses, and ethnic and religious conflicts challenge governments as never before, and require that Americans think seriously about both risk and opportunity in such uncertain circumstances.
The CGA Scenarios Initiative aims to apply imagination to debates about pivotal countries that affect U.S. interests. The project assembles the combination of knowledge, detachment, and futures perspective essential to informing decisions taken in the presence of uncertainty. The project comprises long-term research on forces for change in the international system and workshops attended by experts and policymakers from diverse fields and viewpoints. The workshops examine the results of current research, create alternative scenarios, identify potential surprises, and test current and alternative U.S. policies against these futures.