Warning Signs

A Response to “The Calm Before the Storm”

Courtesy Reuters

Intelligence analysts have labored for years to identify the factors that make countries unstable. For those wanting to anticipate the next failed state, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Gregory Treverton (“The Calm Before the Storm,” January/February 2015) offer a counterintuitive insight: “Disorderly regimes come out as safer bets than commonly thought—and seemingly placid states turn out to be ticking time bombs.” But the authors fail to support that claim, and their proposed method for assessing a state’s fragility does not appear to offer anything better than the early warning methods already in use.

Taleb and Treverton point to “five principal sources” of fragility: “a centralized governing system, an undiversified economy, excessive debt and leverage, a lack of political variability, and no history of surviving past shocks.” These variables are indeed important, as other forecasting models recognize. In particular, intelligence analysts have long evaluated what is called “state resilience” to

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