By Andrew Korykbo
First published on the National Institute for Research on Global Policy in 2011
The US markets itself as having an inclusive identity that’s capable of uniting its many disparate parts into a singular whole. Its unofficial motto, “E Pluribus Unum”, proudly proclaims that “out of many, one”, further signifying that this ideal functions as a cornerstone of the American ideology. In what makes for a very peculiar case of ideological doublethink, while the US insists on exporting its “democratic” model abroad, it hypocritically employs a calculated pick-and-choose approach to which countries should retain the “E Pluribus Unum” domestic identity component of its system and which should incorporate the “E Unum Pluribus” geostrategic innovation.
The latter phrase translates to “out of one, many”, and it’s the polar opposite of the way that the US internally runs its affairs. Instead of a strong and centralized governing authority (whether unitary of federal) that holds the state together, the “E Unum Pluribus” method takes internal differences to the extreme and promotes the ‘compromise solution’ of Identity Federalism, usually achieved after a Western-provoked civil war. In practice, this looks a lot like Bosnia, and it leads to an equally dysfunctional and fractured federal whole. The US selectively supports the establishment of broadly independent and loosely connected federal statelets in geostrategic countries that it has an interest in perpetually weakening, expecting that this model might even set off a “grassroots” (externally supported) domino effect in some regional spaces.
Part I of the research begins by explaining the nature of Identity Federalism and its relationship to Hybrid War, detailing what is meant by “E Unum Pluribus” and shedding insight into its nuanced interrelations. Part II then addresses a handful of case studies pertinent to the topic, including the two instances where the latest version of Identity Federalism is being applied and the four most geostrategically significant states where the US is presently pursuing it. Finally, Part III elaborates on why the US is so strongly against Identity Federalism in Spain and Ukraine, before concluding with a forecast about its practical application in the North American unipolar core and the threat that this poses to the existing US establishment.
Enhancing The Hybrid War
The concept of Identity Federalism is key to the US’ foreign policy designs in the post-1991 world order, becoming even more important in the era of the New Cold War. The US is currently engaged in waging and planning a variety of Hybrid Wars across the world, but the author’s conception of this strategy is vastly different than what the mainstream media believes it to be. His 2015 book on the topic describes Hybrid War as being the phased continuum of Color Revolution and Unconventional War destabilizations for regime change ends, and his forthcoming sequel to it is focusing on the global applications of this approach. “The Law Of Hybrid War”, the prospective title of the aforementioned research, elaborates on its namesake by explaining that:
“The grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) within a targeted transit state.”
The planned unrest is organized, provoked, and guided by utilizing the following six socio-political factors of identity separateness within the forthcoming victimized state:
* socio-economic disparity
* administrative boundaries
* physical geography
The objective is not necessarily to always overthrow the government, but simply to create enough of a major disturbance that the targeted multipolar transnational connective infrastructure project is no longer viable, whether this means the indefinite suspension or outright cancellation of a prospective one or the decommissioning of an erstwhile active one. More often than not, regime change is the simplest way to achieve this, hence why it’s most easily manufactured scenario – a Color Revolution – is typically the first one to be deployed. Sometimes it runs into difficulty and doesn’t succeed in its strategic goal, which is why the trend has recently been to viciously transition this failed first attempt into a more effective but less easily organized Unconventional War.
Identity Federalism’s place in Hybrid War is two-fold – (1) it provides an appealing vision around which identity-separate anti-government groups could gravitate in forming a tactical front to coordinate their regime change action; and (2) it functions as a ‘compromise solution’ just short of regime change, whereby the government ‘saves face’ by retaining power after coming to partial terms with the anti-government movement, but sacrifices administrative control over the geostrategic territory that the aggressive foreign power had lusted after. In this sense, Identity Federalism is the perfect complement to Hybrid War, as it can be used not only as a unifying recruitment tool for escalating the regime change conflict, but ironically also as a de-escalation mechanism for settling a stalemate while still preserving the interfering power’s geostrategic gains.
The Fine Line Between Identity Federalism And Conventional Federalism
If a state is forced to implement Identity Federalism, then the hitherto unitary or conventionally federalized country becomes administratively divided along one or more of the earlier cited socio-political factors of separateness, with the more overlap and incidences between them leading to an exponentially weaker entity. Belgium and Bosnia are examples of devolved Identity Federations that were created out of completely separate historical circumstances, and which also internally differ from their more conventionalized and cohesive counterparts in the US, Germany, and Russia. In both cases, however, these two countries are only federally divided into two separate regions, thus relatively mitigating the potential for Hobbesian divide-and-rule conflict within them but by no means precluding a clash between the competing parts. The US, Germany, and Russia are divided into many more units, but the identity differences between each are not as pronounced as within the earlier cited Identity Federations, although they too have the potential for their hitherto mildly separate differences to dramatically widen in the event of emergently distinctive identity agitation.
The precepts of Identity Federalism that the work is henceforth referring to are more immediately applicable for understanding the cutting-edge multilateral models that have been rolled out for testing in South Sudan and Nepal and are presently being pursued in others, whereby the entire country splits into a kaleidoscope of identity-separate federalized entities. This is unlike the situation in Russia which only has some autonomous units, and it’s also different from the largely identity-homogenous federalized states that characterize the US and Germany. Conventional federations selectively decentralize various rights and responsibilities to their constituent elements in the absence of carrying out devolution, whereas Identity Federations devolve alongside their decentralizations. Nevertheless, most of the insight contained in the subsequent research is also relevant to conventional federations, the Identity Federations of Belgium and Bosnia, and others similarly like them because their existing political structure inherently makes them vulnerable to proceeding along a similar path under various natural or manufactured circumstances. Also, presently unitary states such as Syria, the Republic of Macedonia, and Myanmar are at risk of externally supported Identity Federalism for the geostrategic reasons that were elaborated upon earlier, thereby expanding the research’s relevant functionality and making it applicable to the entire world.
Having gotten the necessary qualifiers out of the way, it’s now time to proceed with explaining the nature of Identity Federalism. The implementation of this internal framework fractures the state into quasi-independent statelets that make the entire federal structure pseudo-independent in whole, with each individual part having potentially more de-facto sovereignty in administering their fiefdom’s affairs than the central authorities do over the full territory that they’re de-jure responsible for. A previously unified state is thus torn apart into a checkerboard of territorial scraps where all the federal pieces (not just the singularly unitary or conventionally federal one like before) are theoretically in play for all Great Powers to compete over, thereby replacing bilateral state-to-state relations with direct interactions between states and statelets. This new template of engagement amounts to nothing more than implicit international acceptance of the “warlordization” of the Identity Federalized state, which remains unified in name only solely out of the manufactured internal and/or external conditions that have been imposed upon it.
In the multifaceted identity complexity that characterizes most non-Western states, the adaptation of this model would likely result in the majority of the federalized fiefdoms being unable to realistically support themselves if they ever achieved full independence. This is because the interfering power(s) is/are likely interested principally in a specific geostrategic and/or geo-economic area of the targeted state that delivers access to envisioned transit routes or labor and/or natural resource wealth. Accordingly, these envied spaces within the targeted unitary state could theoretically provide for themselves in the economic sense by capitalizing off of their privileged advantage(s), whereas the remaining less-important federal constituents would either be tied more closely to the central authority and/or become dependent on the strings-attached patronization of the same and/or separate foreign party. Another reason why the loyalty of each federal entity is so highly sought after is because they have a chance at influencing the affairs of the entire country via their position in the national legislature. Federalized units typically have representation within the governing center that their autonomous counterparts in other administrative constructions lack, thus giving their patrons a stake in pan-federative affairs and opening up the prospects that they can expand their influence beyond their current proxy holdings and into other rivals’ fiefdoms.
The Sovereignty Continuum
The federal fracturing that results from this arrangement produces unique internal and external dynamics for the central authority and the various federal statelets, especially when measured in terms of the sovereignty continuum. To elaborate, this concept holds that all states have either a unitary, autonomous, or federalized composition before experiencing secessionism, and that there is a generally unidirectional domestic progression within them that moves along the following continuum:
Unitary à Autonomous à Federalized à Secessionism
This process may not be naturally occurring, and in most cases it requires the involvement of an external interfering state that employs various instruments such as NGOs in order to provoke and/or guide selected domestic elements in agitating for certain scenarios. It’s possible, whether with or without foreign manipulation, for a unitary state to experience secessionism from a territory that has neither been granted autonomy nor federal status, just as it’s possible for the unitary state to become federalized without first experiencing various internal autonomies. Identity Federalism fits into this model by being the most extreme manifestation of federalism and representing the point right before an outright (multisided) secessionist crisis could break out, which in that case would existentially endanger the nature of the state and place it but one step away from the threat of formal dissolution.
It’s possible for a state to revert backwards along the continuum, but not only is this exceptionally rare, but it often runs the strong risk of prompting a crisis either immediately afterwards or sometime in the future. The pattern is that the central authority typically issues a unilateral announcement that’s enforced by the threat or use of superior military resources, but the historical memory of administrative separateness can later be used as the grounds for sparking a Hybrid War, as was the case in both Eritrea and the Province of Kosovo after Ethiopia and Yugoslavia (Serbia), respectively, rescinded these aforementioned territories’ privileges. As a general rule of thumb, once a state advances along the sovereignty continuum, there’s no peaceful way to go back, which is why most governments fight tooth and nail in doing whatever they can to prevent this from happening and even sometimes resorting to bloodshed like in the recent case of Ukraine (which will be discussed in Part III).
In terms of the Identity Federalized country’s internal relations, most of the geostrategic and geo-economic federal fiefdoms that were created by the interfering government(s) function as undeclared secessionist states, all but legally independent from the central governing authority. As regards the other federal units whose conception was either unplanned or of lesser importance to the external architects of the Identity Federalization project, they can either emulate their geostrategic and geo-economic counterparts by coming under the tutelage of the interfering government, its allies, and/or its rivals for whatever reason it may be, or turn out to resemble autonomous states due to their disproportionate dependence on the federal center.
Concerning the federal government, it will inevitably come under the sponsorship of one or a couple of actors that provide it with subsidies, donations, foreign aid, and general assistance in seeking to ingratiate themselves with the legally recognized pan-federative power, no matter how objectively weak its influence may be over some or all of its constituent units. These supportive actors are motivated by self-interested reasons, wanting to either gain a foothold in the fragmented state which they hadn’t earlier been able to seize amidst their rivals’ race for the scraps, or intent on helping the de-jure national government revive its control over most or the rest of the federalized fiefdoms in order to restore the pre-Identity Federalism domestic and international model that had earlier prevailed.
The Normative Paradox
Identity Federalism and secessionism in and of themselves are not necessarily negative or destabilizing developments, it’s just that they become so when they’re harnessed as strategic weapons by a foreign power (which in most instances is the US). The litmus test for deciding whether or not a given Identity Federalist or secessionist proposal is “good” or “bad” rests on the historical circumstances in which they’re made and whether or not one side or the other received external assistance prior to or at the onset of the crisis. Particularly, this is in regards to whether the Identity Federalist- or secessionist-proclaiming group was acting as a proxy on behalf of another state or if the reactionary authorities received support from abroad in cracking down on a legitimately grassroots movement. All of this is relevant only to the initial conditions at or before the conflict, since it’s a given that the resultant security dilemma and the geopolitics of the New Cold War will lead to the involvement of other foreign actors after the initial red line has been crossed by an aggressive interfering party.
Considering everything that’s been described thus far, the Normative Paradox is as follows:
It should be emphasized once more that the Normative Paradox is entirely dependent on the conflict’s initial conditions, particularly in terms of which side the interfering foreign actor supports. Their destabilizing involvement in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state can quickly set off a chain reaction of counter-responses by their geopolitical rivals, escalating what otherwise should have been an internal issue into an international crisis. High-profile examples of this can be seen on both sides of the Paradox, whether it’s in normative support to Identity Federalists and/or secessionists or to the central governments that are cracking down on such movements.
Concerning the former, the US provided copious back-end military support to Tbilisi prior to Saakashvili’s invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which thereby invalidated any normative support that the Georgian government may have claimed to have in the conflict and correspondingly granted it to the victimized nations that it attacked. Similarly, the US orchestrated the urban terrorism of EuroMaidan and the consequent coup in Kiev, afterwards egging on the hyper-nationalist ‘authorities’ to ethnically purge the country of Russians. This pushed the citizens of Crimea to hold a referendum and reunify with Russia, and it also led the people of Donbass to revolt against the Western-imposed central government. In both instances, the Identity Federalist-secessionists have complete normative legitimacy, while Kiev has none whatsoever because the US’ support for it was the whole reason why the conflict erupted in the first place.
On the other side of the Paradox, the US has supported regime change and ethno-regional separatist and/or Identity Federalizing elements in Syria, Pakistan, and Myanmar, for but a few of the examples that immediately come to mind, and in each one, the responding Great Powers have been totally justified in aiding their partners’ militantly reactive unifying actions. Russia and Iran’s multisectoral assistance to the democratically elected and legitimate government of Syria is predicated on the fact that it’s fighting against an American-organized regime change attempt, no matter if it was originally disguised as a “democratic uprising’ prior to revealing its true terrorist nature. China’s support to Pakistan and (formerly to) Myanmar is similar, except that each of them have been responding more to ethno-regional separatist and Identity Federalizing forces than to outright regime change actors, although the line between the two can often be blurred. The salient commonality that all of these cases share is that the country in question has been targeted by some form of asymmetrical American aggression, which thus makes it a victimized state and wholly legitimizes its responsive efforts and whatever supportive measures its allies choose to partake in.
The emergence of Identity Federalism in any particular state is the result of exacerbated identity tensions within it, often following a phased continuum of escalation that mirrors the pattern of Hybrid War. In order for Identity Federalism to even have a chance at being implemented, there need to be objectively recognizable on-the-ground factors that at least superficially justify it, ergo the six aforementioned indicators of ethnic, religious, historical, socio-economic, administrative, and geographic separateness. Any one of these factors or combination thereof are incorporated into the first phase of Identity Federalism, whereby an information campaign is launched to raise awareness about the specific distinctiveness of the selected identity relative to its national composite whole. This step and those that come after it can either be initiated organically or through the support of a foreign patron, which in the latter case, no matter at which planning point the external actor decides to proactively interfere (i.e. at the very beginning or right at the onset of the physical destabilization), invalidates the cause and turns it into a proxy instrument of political influence that typically provokes a justified response by its rival(s).
The information campaign that precedes the hostilities doesn’t necessarily have to agitate for Identity Federalism right away, but merely for increased domestic and international recognition of the said interest group’s separateness. This can be carried out by individual activists, “NGOs” (whether legitimate grassroots ones or foreign intelligence agency front groups), and/or alternative and conventional media, typically in accordance with the pre-Color Revolution hierarchical model that the author illustrated in an earlier analysis. The objective at this point is to socially precondition the targeted audience into accepting that the stated demographic is entitled to a different set of political-administrative standards than the rest of the country, the specifics of which vary depending on the individual case, as does the anticipated (and adaptable) timeframe for implementation.
With the example of Belgium being perhaps the only exception (and that being solely because of external pressures on it), Identity Federalism (especially its multilateral component like in South Sudan) is typically instituted after a period of heightened political and physical conflict, with one gradually phasing into the other just as Color Revolutions phase into Unconventional Wars. It’s here where the Hybrid War paradigm proves itself the most accurate model capable of describing these processes since the aforementioned escalatory pattern is completely in sync with its precepts. Additionally, it was previously stated that Identity Federalism can be strategically proffered as the ‘compromise solution’ at any given conflict phase (informational-political, Color Revolution, and Unconventional War), and it’s through this manner in which it can ultimately be applied as a ‘face saving’ technique on behalf of the beleaguered government. This accordingly confirms that Identity Federalism and regime change are two sides of the same external inference coin, with either of them being capable of phased implementation at any point that’s considered most tactically convenient, thereby demonstrating the adaptive flexibility that differentiates this ‘compromise solution’ from any other.
Depending on the region that it’s implemented in, and especially in the case of it being the result of external foreign interference in a given state’s affairs, Identity Federalism can come to represent the latest expression of Fifth Generation Warfare, or in other words the weaponization of previously non-militant actors and processes (e.g. Color Revolution “protesters” and “Weapons of Mass Migration”). Under certain conditions, it can become a type of structural virus that infects other states with a similar internal composition, much like how the US-engineered “Spring of Nations” set off a regime change chain reaction in Eastern Europe and the “Arab Spring” theater-wide Color Revolution did something similar in the Mideast. The militant devolution of previously unified and cohesive states (whether unitary, autonomous, or already federalized) forges post-modern entities that cease to function as singularly integrated units, which could predictably lead to the formation of a ‘black hole’ of governance that results in all or part of the resultant polity turning into a breeding ground for region-sweeping chaotic processes.
In many areas of the world, primarily post-colonial states marked by a rich diversity of pronounced multi-variable identity differences, the introduction of Identity Federalism is one of the most regionally disruptive events that can occur in the context of the New Cold War. As was explained earlier, it’s typically preceded by a Hybrid War, which itself is extremely destabilizing, but the post-conflict ‘compromise solution’ of Identity Federalism creates a strong institutional effect that can negatively impact on the similarly identity-diverse surrounding states. To draw an historical parallel, Identity Federalism in certain geostrategic states has the same domino potential in the New Cold War as the emergence of a pro-US or pro-Soviet government in a key region during the Old Cold War, with both instances having the possibility of catalyzing a regionally disruptive chain reaction in their given locales. Strategically speaking, this could be either favorable or unfavorable to the promotion of American foreign policy, thus leading to the creation of two categories of Identity Federalism scenarios; those that the US is encouraging, and those that it’s adamantly against.