Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Human Behaviour

Current affairs are reported as “shock horror” by journalists and a “then...” way by pedestrian historians. The impression is thus created that human behaviour is capricious and unpredictable. In fact, this is mostly untrue. It is entirely foreseeable, because human actions have a knock-on on effect. Just as chemicals will react in certain ways in certain circumstances, so will humans. This is illustrated by the following examples.

A government will be tolerated as long as its actions are accepted (even reluctantly) by the population at large. Thus in a democracy, the opposition does not win any election. Instead the government loses one when the majority of the voters want change.

Even in an authoritarian country, if more than about 20 per cent of the population actively oppose the rulers, it will become ungovernable and a popular revolution will ensue. Thus the Northern Irish Troubles erupted in 1968, when the Catholic third of the population rebelled against sectarian one-party Protestant rule. (They had previously acquiesced since partition in 1922). Similarly, over 80 per cent of the population of Iran obeyed the Shah from 1953 (the overthrow of Moussadeq) until 1978, whereupon revolution broke out. The same happened in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen during the Arab Spring from December 2010. A dictatorship will last only as long as it can keep active dissent below one fifth of the population.

Similarly, a peace treaty will last only when both sides accept it, even reluctantly. If, however, one country regards the terms as intolerable, it will renew hostilities at the first opportunity. Thus the Treaty of Sèvres of August 1920 was rejected by Turkey, which thereupon renewed hostilities against the Allies until the revised Treaty of Lausanne was concluded in 1923. The same process occurred with Germany; in 1939 (when it had recovered and rearmed) Germany went to war to reverse the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.

If a country believes it has an inalienable right to certain territory beyond its legal frontier, it will occupy it illegally. Thus Israel has retained East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, which it occupied in 1967, but retroceded Sinai in 1973 because the latter is not regarded as part of “Eretz Israel” (Greater Israel). Similarly, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has seized Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine from its neighbours because those areas are considered part of the Russian Motherland.

Perceptive observers can therefore foresee developments. In 1763, after victory in the Seven Years War, Horace Walpole urged the United Kingdom Government not to annex French North America (Louisiana and Quebec), warning that it would result in the American colonists no longer needing British protection and in France fighting a war of revenge. Both duly happened during the American War of Independence (1775-1783), when France declared war on Britain and helped the thirteen colonies break away.

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