Author Topic: "The Calm Before the Storm" -- 2015 article on geopolitical fragility theory  (Read 1001 times)

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Offline JasonPratt

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From the journal Foreign Affairs, originally published in the Jan/Feb issue (now available in the Best of 2015 compilation). Visitors to the site get access to one free article a month, and I saw this reff'd elsewhere recently.

The best (well, strictly speaking the only!  ;) ) article I've read on geopolitical fragility theory: the factors that point to instability in a national polity, leading to surprising reversals into chaos against expectations, or to surprising abilities to weather storms (Syria and Lebanon being the initial examples respectively).

Many pundits argued that Syriaís sturdy police state, which exercised tight control over the countryís people and economy, would survive the Arab Spring undisturbed. Compared with its neighbor Lebanon, Syria looked positively stable. Civil war had torn through Lebanon throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 had plunged the country into yet more chaos.

But appearances were deceiving: today, Syria is in a shambles, with the regime fighting for its very survival, whereas Lebanon has withstood the influx of Syrian refugees and the other considerable pressures of the civil war next door. Surprising as it may seem, the per capita death rate from violence in Lebanon in 2013 was lower than that in Washington, D.C. That same year, the body count of the Syrian conflict surpassed 100,000.

Why has seemingly stable Syria turned out to be the fragile regime, whereas always-in-turmoil Lebanon has so far proved robust?

[...] Some political systems can sustain an extraordinary amount of stress, while others fall apart at the onset of the slightest trouble. The good news is that itís possible to tell which are which by relying on the theory of fragility.

Simply put, fragility is aversion to disorder. Things that are fragile do not like variability, volatility, stress, chaos, and random events, which cause them to either gain little or suffer. A teacup, for example, will not benefit from any form of shock. It wants peace and predictability, something that is not possible in the long run, which is why time is an enemy to the fragile. Whatís more, things that are fragile respond to shock in a nonlinear fashion. With humans, for example, the harm from a ten-foot fall in no way equals ten times as much harm as from a one-foot fall. In political and economic terms, a $30 drop in the price of a barrel of oil is much more than twice as harmful to Saudi Arabia as a $15 drop.

Full article at the link:
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