A Black Swan event is something that is so improbable that it doesn't even register until it happens. It's an event that has an extreme impact, arrives as a surprise, is an outlier, appears unpredictable but is understood in hindsight. A big asteroid strike, or a solar storm powerful enough to knock out the electric grid, are examples of Black Swans.
Some wars may be Black Swan events.
We owe the term "Black Swan" to Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his 2001 book Fooled By Randomness. It's a great metaphor. They once believed all swans were white, but in 1697 there black swan was discovered in Australia.
Black Swan is now used to describe the risk of unexpected, high-impact events. The National Intelligence Council cites some examples of potential black swan events in its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. It's a very accessible and interesting read.
No one seriously, truly, expects China and Japan to engage in conflict over disputed islands in the South China Sea, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. Both countries claim them. Japan controls the islands, but China recently initiated an air defense zone over them. The idea that China may simply take the island by military force does not seem far-fetched. The possibility of inadvertent conflict arising out of these tensions is a worry as well.
China's moves are troubling but Japan isn't helping. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be stoking nationalist sentiments by his recent visit to a shrine that is connected with some war criminals. At the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abe reportedly compared the relations between China and Japan to those of Britain and German in World War I and invoking the fear of a parallel drift to war. The comparison was subsequently blamed on an interpreter's error, but still. You wonder.
Where does this leave Guam? The U.S. has a defense agreement with Japan so if China were to do something really aggressive, it may force a U.S. response. It's difficult to imagine what may arise. But for Guam it may be one more source of worry (North Korea being another) for an island that may have front row seat to a Black Swan event.
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