Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Jesse T. Richman

Committee Member

Andrew Collins

Committee Member

Erika Frydenlund


This dissertation takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding what makes states antifragile and why this matters by constructing a parsimonious, first of its kind agent-based model. The model focuses on the key elements of state antifragility that reside along a spectrum of fragility and transverse bidirectionally from fragile to resilient to antifragile given a certain set of environmental conditions.

First coined by Nicholas Nassim Taleb and applied to economics, antifragility is a nascent concept. In 2015, Nassim Taleb and Gregory Treverton’s article in Foreign Affairs outlined five characteristics of state antifragility. This project aims to advance the study of anti-fragility in the context of the nation-state beyond these initial contributions by (1) development of three propensity variables associated with antifragility, (2) a new agent-based model to investigate antifragility, and (3) applying the findings of the model and the propensity score theorizing to two case studies.

This research posits three propensity variables for a state to become fragile, resilient or antifragile. These variables include learning, power conversion, and agility. Cumulatively, these variables comprise a state’s capacity for dealing with various stressors in the international environment. The agent-based model in this dissertation captures the behavior of a single state when confronted with a stress in a variety of scenarios, forming an essential building block for future work (hinted at in the case studies) involving the interaction between states. The case studies show how the propensity variables, and the model results provide the basis for a distinctive and relatively novel evaluation of the historical record involving the history of the United States in and with Iraq, and the evolving great power rivalry between the United States and China, emphasizing the value of taking antifragility seriously in the context of International Studies.


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