Program on Transnational Challenges

CNA’s Program on Transnational Challenges (PTC) is an integrated research program that builds on CNA’s existing work on cross-border and borderless threats, such as terrorism and piracy, and expands into new areas of research on complex and inter-connected trends, including transnational organized crime, natural resource scarcity, and major population shifts and the movement of people globally. The goal of this program is to build understanding not only the direct effects these challenges have on U.S. national security interests, but also the complex second-, third-, and fourth-order outcomes of these challenges that are often difficult to identify and untangle. This program applies the deep expertise in a wide variety of fields—including counter-terrorism, maritime security, cyber security, public health, law enforcement, partner capacity building, regional studies, and environmental science—that exists across CNA using a cross-functional approach to explore current and emerging transnational challenges in the following areas:

Networks of extremism and crime: Profit-driven transnational criminal organizations are engaged in a broad range of illicit activities that threaten the political and economic stability of countries around the world. Extremist organizations—both violent and non-violent—simultaneously challenge the safety, security, and stability of societies in many regions. Increasingly, these global networks are interacting with each other to forward their own goals. To protect the United States from the threats these networks pose, we must understand their shifting and evolving natures and relationships.
Natural resources, climate, and security: Current and future trends such as population growth, increasing per capita energy demand, climate change impacts on water and agriculture, and other changes in our natural world pose complex, hard-to-predict challenges and threats to human and national security. The secondary and tertiary effects of these trends will drive economic prosperity or decline in both emerging and advanced economies; change the diplomatic ties and tethers between nations, impacting spheres of influence and international relationships; and potentially increase demand for military support and engagement. As these changes continue, and in some cases become more severe, it is essential to understand them and identify effective ways of managing and responding.

Population, demographics, and mega-cities: Trends in population movement and growth, including migration and urbanization, are impacting communities around the world. Drivers of population shifts, such as economic turmoil, environmental disasters, and violent conflict are often more prevalent in countries or regions that are ill-equipped to respond to consequences of demographic and population changes or imbalances. These shifts will have consequences that governments around the world will need to prepare for and respond to.



Our work supports a wide range of U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State; foundations; non-governmental organizations; and the private sector. Please contact Julia McQuaid, Director of CNA's Program on Transnational Challenges, at for more information.

In the News
August 30, 2018

Jonathan Schroden, who directs the Special Operations program at the CNA defense think tank, said the changes could be anything from unconventional warfare and information operations to high-risk missions against near peers.”

Al-Monitor: “Pentagon Adjusts War Games to Cope With Iran Threat”

February 8, 2018

Julia McQuaid says, “Iran is one example of water stress triggering unrest on the low end, whether those are riots, protests or strikes. Cape Town could potentially be another example.”

CNA: “Water Stress a Compounding Factor in Global Unrest and Terrorism”

January 18, 2018

Julia McQuaid says while water stress doesn't lead straight to conflict, "It can be catalyst, It can be a thing that breaks the system."

The New York Times: "Warming, Water Crisis, Then Unrest: How Iran Fits an Alarming Pattern"

May 19, 2017

War on the Rocks publishes “Cuba: From Threat to Partner?” by CNA analysts William Rosenau, Ph.D. and Ralph Espach, Ph.D.

May 4, 2017

Global Journalist interviews CNA analyst Ralph Espach, Ph.D. in “Venezuela’s Other Crisis: Drug Trafficking"

April 17, 2017

CNA releases the sixth episode of CNA Talks, a new podcast on current affairs. CNA analyst and episode host Bill Rosenau, Ph.D. discusses Latin American security issues with Ralph Espach, Ph.D. and guest scholar Joseph S. Tulchin, Ph.D.

April 12, 2017

New Security Beat quotes CNA analyst Julia McQuaid in “Water and the Rise of Insurgencies in the ‘Arc of Instability’”

March 21, 2017

CNA releases the fifth episode of CNA Talks, a new podcast on current affairs. Dr. Eric Thompson moderated a discussion on ISIS’s use of social media, drones, tunnels and more with Jonathan Schroden, Ph.D., David Knoll, Ph.D., Pamela Faber and Zack Gold

March 17, 2017

New Security Beat quotes CNA analyst Julia McQuaid in "Julia McQuaid on the Complex Link Between Water and Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa