Bulletin / War, what is...

War, what is it good for...?

Author: Charlie Maclean Bristol, Training Director, FBCI, FEPS

With the West on the brink of conflict with Syria and its Russian allies, Charlie advises business continuity professionals to be aware of world events and consider the potential impact on their organisations. 

At the time of writing this bulletin, nothing has happened since the USA and its allies threatened to bomb Syria. The threat came after Syria’s alleged use of chemicals against the population of Douma on 7 April, which killed at least 34 people and possibly more. With the rising tension between the West and Russia, the world suddenly seems a more dangerous and volatile place. 

Since the end of the Cold War, we have seemed reasonably safe living in the UK. The threats, anxiety and devastation endured by our grandparents, as a result of being involved in one or two world wars are a long way away from the threats our generation have faced. Even during the Cold War, which took place when I was at school and university, I didn’t understand the full threat. However, there was also logic and a game to be played between the two sides, which prevented either one going too far and causing mutual assured destruction.  

With the recent upsurge in terrorism over the last few years, although it has been devastating on the lives of those who have been affected, for the majority we have put up with the inconvenience and possible threat of being involved, but I don’t think many believe this will fundamentally change or threaten our way of life.

The confrontation between the West and Russia seems to put us in a new place and level of threat which has not been around for decades. From reading history at university, I always remember when dictators start losing power and influence at home and the economy is on the slide, they incite nationalism and go to war with their neighbours to consolidate their power. Usually using the pretext of some historic wrong, which resonates with their people and they find it easy to get behind.

To add to this mix, in comes President Trump, who is thin-skinned, makes up strategy as he goes along and is influenced by whatever is the latest on Fox news. I found it interesting that media commentators are saying he has adopted the ‘Madman Theory’ as a negotiating strategy. This was first used by President Nixon during the Vietnam War in negotiations with North Vietnam. ‘He and his administration tried to make the leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations think Nixon was irrational and volatile. According to the theory, those leaders would then avoid provoking the United States, fearing an unpredictable American response’. President Trump has used this strategy, so far, rather successfully with North Korea and is using it again with Syria. By saying there would be an imminent attack in “24-48 hours” and later changing that statement to say the attack may come sooner or later, the Russians and Syrians have been left guessing what is really going to happen. They don’t know whether this is a finely nuanced and thought through strategy or if there is no strategy at all, with nobody knowing what is going to happen. This strategy is very different to what was used during the Cold War between the Eastern and Western Blocs.

This is all happening at the macro international level, but what does it mean to us business continuity people operating at the micro level? As I have often said in this bulletin, we need to make sure that we are horizon scanning on behalf of our organisation and understand our exposure to world events. If relations with Russia deteriorate even further, what is our dependence on the country? Have Russians invested in your company; do you export or import to the country or do your staff have to travel to Russia for business? Does your organisation have a high dependence on gas, of which Russia is a big supplier? What about your tier 2 and 3 suppliers; do they have Russian exposures?

So, my message to you today in this more volatile world, and I haven’t even spoken about Brexit and GDPR yet, is that we as business continuity professionals have to be aware of world events and make sure we anticipate and report upward the possible impact on our organisation. All the time we should be providing value in our role and protecting the organisation which employs us.

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