Unintended Consequences

By Mo Fakhro

When one takes a view of human history, it is clear that human actions often have unintended consequences.  This is true at the level of individuals and governments too. 

When the Bolshevik revolutionaries overthrew the Romanov dynasty, their new form of government, communism, under the leadership of Vladamir Lenin and with the ideals of Karl Marx, represented a threat to the regimes of Europe.  Interestingly, during much of the intraWorld War period (1918 – 1939), many in the West were more fearful of communism than they were of fascism.  The great fear was the spread of communism throughout Europe.  It may have been seen by some that Germany was a bulwark to the expansion of the Soviet Union.  This may partly explain the slowness with which Nevil Chamberlain reacted to the maniacal actions of Adolf Hitler.  The loss of Germany in World War II led to the expansion of communism into Eastern Europe.  While the goals of defeating Germany were achieved by the Allies during World War II, their actions inevitably led to an expansion of communism.  In effect then, the main countries that contributed to the emergence of the Soviet Union as a global superpower were the US and the UK, through their alliance with the Soviet Union to defeat the Nazis.  This is even though both the US and the UK did not want communism to expand in influence.  

When the economies of the Arabian Gulf discovered oil, there was a rapid expansion of the economies of the region.  This led to an increase in salaries in both the public and private sectors, which in turn led to an increase in land prices and rentals.  Factories thus found it more competitive to be based in other parts of the world where salaries and rentals were lower.  The discovery of oil led to a great deal of wealth, but it had the unintended consequence of making it difficult for companies in the region to be competitive globally in industries not affiliated with oil. To elaborate, it was possible to be successful in trading, tourism, and banking, for example, because they were services that served the local economy. However, being globally competitive, in say electronics manufacturing was not possible in the absence of artificially imposed barriers to entry.

When the Thai Minister of Science visited Iran, he was said to have been amazed by the industrial development in the country.  He wondered aloud to his hosts that if they were able to achieve so much with sanctions, imagine how much would be possible without sanctions.  The hosts responded that none of this would be possible without sanctions.  There is truth to this.  The sanctions created a barrier to entry that allowed the infant industries in that country to develop on their own.  Their industrial development was thus an unintended consequence of their hostility to the rest of the world.

When the US invaded Iraq, and subsequently, when Saddam Hussein was removed from power, this led to the expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East.  The main government who thus contributed to the emergence of Iran as a regional superpower was the US.  This is even though the US did not want to see an expansion in Iranian influence.  It was an unintended consequence.

What impact would the destruction of Palestinian aspirations have over the long term? What would be the consequences of the US support for Israel and what would be the unintended consequences? One strong possibility is that the positions of the US and UK will unify the Global South in a way that has not happened to date.  It would provide an opening for China to gain geopolitical influence in the Middle East and Africa, and perhaps emerge as a new global superpower.  While it is true that many of the governments of the Arab World maintain relations with Israel, one could argue that such relations are based more on fear and less on affection.  This may also be the case with many other governments around the world. It is an unwritten rule in geopolitics, that if you mess with Israel, you will face consequences from the US.  The intended consequence of the US supporting Israel is to ensure the security of its main ally in the Middle East.  An unintended consequence may be to drive the rest of the world closer towards the new Chinese world order.  In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, it was the sole global superpower.  It was thus able to breach international law without consequence.  By supporting Israel today, even as Israel gets reprimanded by international institutions, the US is opening the door to China to create a new world order.  It is thus somewhat paradoxical that the main country that may contribute to the emergence of China as a global superpower may be the US, as an unintended consequence of its unilateral support for Israel.

The world we live in is highly dynamic.  It is a constantly moving chessboard with infinite parts.  Actions that upset the equilibrium will inevitably lead to unintended consequences.  It is important for us to always pause for thought before taking actions, as individuals and as institutions, to think first about the intended consequences, and then to think multiple steps further to the labyrinth of possible unintended consequences.

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