7 Feb 2021

Hostility as adaptation

Posted by jofr

Why do some forms of fascism invade aggressively in neighboring territories, while others remain calm and confined to their borders? Under the influence of Bonapartism and Nazism, the French and the Germans invaded nearly every country in Europe. During the times of fascism in Italy, Mussolini invaded large parts of Africa. But the Spanish dictator Franco stayed neutral and fascism in Spain remained confined to the Spanish borders after the Spanish civil war. Similarly some forms of Islamism are perceived as hostile, for example ISIL in Syria and Iraq, or Islamism in Iran, while other states in the Gulf region are seen as useful, although they are similar in many aspects. Some gulf states for example are quite authoritarian and yet are treated well because they have plenty of oil.

Why did ISIL spread over large regions in Syria and Iraq? The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS or ISIL) is viewed today as a terror organization. It can be considered as an example of fascism as well, if we see it as an attempt to make a country in a crisis great again, by returning to some kind of political and religious proto-state. From the beginning it experienced heavy opposition from all sides that condemned the cruel activities of the group: it appeared early on the UN Sanctions List and was not even recognized as a state. This is not meant to be an excuse for cruel activities, more an attempt to understand the dyanmics in the overall system.

Why did Napolean invade nearly all of Europe? Well, after the French revolution the surrounding princedoms and kingdoms felt very threatened by the idea of a nation state. They behaved increasingly hostile towards France. Before France invaded continental Europe and created a total continental blockade against England from 1806 to 1813, the British Empire did the same to France. As part of the coalition wars against France after the French revolution England fought successfully against the French navy in the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 and blocked the French trade in a naval blockade of the French coasts in 1806. Revolutionary France was surrounded by a coalition of hostile kingdoms and princedoms.

I wonder if the aggressiveness of an authoritarian or even totalitarian system depends on the hostility of the environment. Or at least reflects it. Aggressiveness as adaptation so to speak. In a hostile environment, hostile systems might be the ones that survive best, and their hostility reflects the behavior of the environment.  For example authoritarian states which receive lots of money, military aid and economic support because they have plenty of oil probably will behave modestly. But authoritarian states which experience economic sanctions will probably behave aggressively or hostile.

It looks as if authoritarian systems expand aggressively because of two major factors: a) they are driven by the desire to make the own country great again and to restore a former glorious state (like former national grandeur, lost national honor, the glory of an imaginary caliphate, etc.), or b) they feel increasingly threatened by a hostile environment. For Italy during the time of Italian fascism the former was the main factor. Italy invaded Lybia, Ethiopia and wanted to occupy large parts of Africa not because Africa was hostile to Italy, but because Lybia was the only region Italy could expand to. Algeria was a French colony. Egypt occupied by British forces. Lybia was the only “open” region left. The invasion in Lybia and Ethiopia triggered in turn economic sanctions during the Abyssinia Crisis

I have created a small chart which tries to compare a “hostility score” to a “fascism index”. The fascism index is calculated from about 20 properties of the system which indicate how much freedom is restricted (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, lack of concentration camps, etc., and how many previously independent systems have been merged), while the hostility score reflects the amount of hostility a country faces (economic sanctions against the country or individuals, strong tariffs, lack of military aid and economic support, etc).

Russia has a high hostility score here because it is subject to strong economic sanctions, which reflect the fact that it invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. The international sanctions against Russia were imposed after the invasion of Ukraine, not before. Therefore they can not explain why Russia invaded Crimea in the first place, but both are nevertheless related, since the hostility of the environment mirrors the hostility of the country. Once economic sanctions are imposed, they can of course make the situation worse and increase the hostility of the country. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor for example was triggered by economic warfare of the US and especially by an oil embargo of the US against Japan.

Economic sanctions against Iran have a long and complicated history. The current economic sanctions against both Iran and North Korea are justified with the threat of Nuclear weapons. Yet if we look at the political system there does not seem to be a big difference. The authoritarian system in Iran is not that different from the authoritarian system in many neighboring Gulf States. They are similar in their disdain of democracy, freedom of speech and many other aspects.

Reality is complex. A look at the “hostility score” might help to explain why the Islamism in the Gulf States is not associated with a hostile invasion in neighboring territories, while Islamism in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) is linked to aggressive expansion. A state which receives a lot of money by economic support and military aid will more likely be grateful than hostile. An organization, movement or proto-state which encounters hostile reactions from all sides can only survive if it reacts hostile in turn.


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