Threat Assessment

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Researchers collaborate across disciplines at RAND to evaluate terrorist, military, nuclear, cyber, and other threats to U.S. national security — identifying emerging threats, scrutinizing known risks, and evaluating potential strategic and tactical responses. Recent studies have included examinations of al Qaeda, the Afghan insurgency, and Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

  • AI robot pressing a nuclear launch button.

    Article

    How Artificial Intelligence Could Increase the Risk of Nuclear War

    Apr 24, 2018

    Advances in AI have provoked a new kind of arms race among nuclear powers. This technology could challenge the basic rules of nuclear deterrence and lead to catastrophic miscalculations.

  • Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian soldiers stand in formation for the closing ceremony of exercise Silver Arrow in Adazi, Latvia, October 31, 2016

    Report

    Assessing the Imbalance of Military Power in Europe

    Feb 21, 2018

    Since 2008 Russia has been expanding and refining its readiness for conventional warfare. These improvements have reduced the qualitative and technological gaps between Russia and NATO. What do recent trends imply for the balance of capabilities in NATO member states in the Baltic Sea region?

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  • Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in the al-Khafsa area on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Syria, March 9, 2017

    Commentary

    Where Is Assad Getting His Fighters from?

    The Assad regime's defense against insurgents in Syria's ongoing civil war is being provided by forces imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Lebanon and Iraq. Most of these fighters are being trained and equipped by Iran. Could this network of foreign fighters help Iran establish a greater presence beyond the Middle East?

    Jan 4, 2018

  • The new Smart concept autonomous car Vision EQ fortwo model is presented during the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, September 12, 2017

    Commentary

    Autonomous Vehicles: Terrorist Threat or Security Opportunity?

    Terrorist groups that track developments in technology could be considering using self-driving cars in place of suicide bombers or for ramming attacks. But autonomous vehicle capabilities offer a range of potential benefits to law enforcement and security operations, too.

    Jan 3, 2018

  • First responders work at a crime scene in lower Manhattan, where a Home Depot truck was used to strike people on a bike path, New York City, October 31, 2017

    Commentary

    Navigating the Latest Terrorism Trend

    Terrorists are increasingly using vehicles as attack weapons, killing more than 150 people in the last 18 months. If this trend continues, the urban landscape will change as bollards, barricades and barriers, chicanes and checkpoints surround and subdivide public spaces. But do they make us safer?

    Dec 19, 2017

  • A flag of Islamic State militants is pictured above a destroyed house near the Clock Square in Raqqa, Syria, October 18, 2017

    Commentary

    ISIS Could Rise Again

    ISIS has a tried-and-true playbook for bringing itself back from near death. Just a few years ago, it managed to resurrect itself after apparent defeat. And the history of that resurrection should serve as a warning of what may be coming now.

    Dec 15, 2017

  • An MQ-9 Reaper flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan

    Commentary

    Terrorism Before and During the War on Terror: A Look at the Numbers

    While terror-related headlines tend to imply the worst, the truth is much more prosaic. Terrorism since 9/11 is down—and dramatically so—in countries not suffering from civil wars and insurgencies.

    Dec 12, 2017

  • Journal Article

    The Implications of Iran's Expanding Shi'a Foreign Fighter Network

    Well-trained and resourced, Iranian-directed Shi'a foreign fighters pose a significant potential threat to U.S. interests. The more robust this network grows, the more opportunities it will have to expand abroad.

    Dec 7, 2017

  • A law enforcement bomb technician walks away after preparing the controlled detonation of a suspicious object during a search for a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, in Watertown, Massachusetts, April 19, 2013

    Commentary

    The Origins of America's Jihadists

    American jihadists are made in the United States, not imported. Homegrown terrorists have accounted for most of the jihadist activity in the U.S. since 9/11, with most of those who carried out or plotted terrorist attacks either born in the U.S. or arriving as children.

    Dec 4, 2017

  • Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014

    Commentary

    All for One and One for All: Toward a Coordinated EU Approach on Returnees

    To combat the threat posed by returning fighters, EU intelligence and police agencies will need to coordinate to find potential terrorists before they are able to conduct attacks in Europe. The return of dangerous foreign fighters to European soil should be motivation enough for an overarching review of each country’s vulnerabilities.

    Nov 28, 2017

  • Protective barriers are placed along a bike path near a memorial for the victims of the October 31 attack in New York City, November 3, 2017

    Commentary

    America Is Great at Fighting Terrorism, but Terror Is Alive and Well

    When terrorists adopt a strategy of pure terror, it's hard to prevent attacks like those in Nice, Columbus, London, Barcelona, or New York. Instead, strategies are needed to counter terrorism's ultimate aim—to instill fear—and to remove some of the incentives of potential attackers.

    Nov 16, 2017

  • Syrian Democratic Forces fighters ride atop of military vehicle as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017

    Commentary

    Why the Fall of the 'Caliphate' in Syria Will Not Ease Western Security Concerns

    A Syria and Iraq free of ISIS do not, unfortunately, free the West from the ISIS threat. Instead, ISIS is likely to either disperse, with its followers prepared to carry out a range of further attacks, or attempt to regroup in the fragile states of Africa.

    Nov 3, 2017

  • Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in lower Manhattan in New York City, November 1, 2017

    Commentary

    New York Terror Attack: Can Vehicle Attacks Be Prevented?

    The recent vehicle attack in Manhattan was the deadliest terror attack on New York since 9/11. Preventing every attack is unrealistic, but with increased vigilance, cooperation with law enforcement, and intelligence sharing, citizens can help mitigate the threat of terrorism.

    Nov 1, 2017

  • Police look toward the scene of a pickup truck attack on West Side Highway in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31 2017

    Commentary

    Terrorism Fatigue

    By continually staking claim to big and small terrorist attacks, regardless of target selection or casualty count, ISIS has attempted to instill a sense of omnipresent and unpredictable danger. And in the process, terrorism fatigue may be setting in around the world.

    Nov 1, 2017

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front move toward their positions near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city, November 25, 2014

    Commentary

    The Moderate Face of Al Qaeda

    Al Qaeda in Syria cut ties with its parent organization to portray itself as a legitimate, capable, and independent force in the Syrian civil war. The group appears dedicated to helping Syrians prevail, and now that ISIS has lost its capital in Raqqa, al Qaeda may be the only group viewed as militarily capable of challenging the Assad regime.

    Oct 24, 2017

  • A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer is joined by Republic of Korea air force F-15s, during a 10-hour mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, into Japanese airspace and over the Korean Peninsula, July 30, 2017

    Commentary

    On North Korea, Past Foreign Policy Fiascoes Show U.S. What Not to Do

    Foreign policy disasters are often the sum of two basic errors: embracing exaggerated claims about the need to act, and inventing a conceptual magic wand to wish away potential consequences. Both are apparent in U.S. policy toward North Korea's nuclear aspirations.

    Oct 5, 2017

  • Police officers check the identity cards of a people as security forces keep watch in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017

    Commentary

    All That Could Go Wrong When Jihadists Return Home — to China

    About 300 of Western China's Uighurs, the Sunni Muslim indigenous ethnic minority, went to Syria to join ISIS. Now that the caliphate is collapsing, Beijing could soon find itself in the crosshairs of a religiously motivated, battle-hardened crop of returning terrorists.

    Sep 29, 2017

  • Iraqi security forces inspect the site of a bomb attack at a police checkpoint on a highway near the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, Iraq, September 14, 2017

    Commentary

    How ISIS Is Transforming

    The campaign to counter ISIS has made significant progress, but predictions of the group's demise are premature. It is transitioning from an insurgent organization with a fixed headquarters to a clandestine terrorist network dispersed throughout the globe.

    Sep 25, 2017

  • Suspected former Islamic State (IS) fighters Ayoub B. (R) and Ebrahim Hadj B. (L), hide their faces as they wait for the start of their trial in a courtroom in Calle, Germany November 30, 2015

    Commentary

    How Will Authorities Know When Foreign Fighters Have Returned?

    As the Islamic State's territory shrinks and its prestige declines, militants will try to find their way home. Many foreign fighters began as criminals, and many might turn to crime on their return. One of the most productive ways to identify and disrupt returning fighters is to focus on the criminal underworld.

    Sep 25, 2017

  • A soldier engages a target during a convoy live fire exercise at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, on July 7, 2017

    Report

    What Are the Trends in Armed Conflicts? What Do They Mean for U.S. Defense Policy?

    Until the wars in Syria and Ukraine, armed conflict in the world had been decreasing for decades. Future projections show continued decline, but the U.S. military has an important role in deterring conflict, underpinning peacekeeping coalitions, and possibly in responding to proxy wars by other powers.

    Sep 12, 2017

  • Report

    Conflict Trends and Conflict Drivers: An Empirical Assessment of Historical Conflict Patterns and Future Conflict Projections

    Based on conflict projections through 2040, this report concludes that despite the generally declining incidence of armed conflict, the Army must prepare for conventional wars against other states as well as irregular warfare against nonstate actors.

    Sep 12, 2017

  • Report

    Understanding Conflict Trends: A Review of the Social Science Literature on the Causes of Conflict

    This report explores, through an extensive literature review, whether the extreme rarity of interstate war and reduced incidence of intrastate war represent permanent shifts in world politics or are a temporary aberration.

    Sep 12, 2017