Category Archives: Geopolitical Volatility

25/2/18: Syria: a Web of VUCA

In his column this week, Tyler Cowen, of Bloomberg View, sums up the VUCA nature of the ongoing conflict in Syria. In fact, his article is more fundamental than that. He paints a coherent picture of how Syria conflict serves as a fertile ground for growth of Black Swan-type tail risks (risks of large scale impact events with low or zero historical predictability).

In simple terms, in Syria, the U.S. and Russia (and their auxiliary proxies) combine three key VUCA factors:

  • Ambiguity: represented by the inability to distinguish and delineate clearly the adversarial actors involved in each individual incident: Russian proxies are met with American proxies, amidst a veritable soup of various other actors;
  • Uncertainty: represented by lack of clear, stated in advance, and transparently enforced objectives by major actors, most commonly the U.S., but also Russia and Iran;
  • Complexity: captured by a complex web of interests, internal-to-Syria and global objectives, etc. 
As Cowen correctly warns, incidents like the alleged Russian proxies-led attack on the U.S. and Kurdish compound can create a potential for a large scale risk materialization or blow-out. Or, put into more academic language,  VUCA environment is self-sustaining: ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity interact to produce a cyclical reinforcement of Volatility (risk). The vicious cycle repeats, amplifying the extent to which VUCA impact (size of the potential forthcoming systemic shock), likelihood (probability of a systemic forthcoming shock), proximity (timing of the systemic shock) and velocity (speed with which the forthcoming shock arrives) rise.

Read Cowen's article in full here: and read these excellent descriptors of how complexity of Syrian conflict is evolving: and here: