Monday, August 1, 2016
Hybrid Wars. Triggering Ethnic, Religious, Regional and Political Conflicts
THE LAW OF HYBRID WARFARE
Building off of the strategies that he described in last year’s book of the same name, Andrew Korybko has conceptualized a new paradigm for understanding international relations and invented an accompanying methodology for testing it. The “Law Of Hybrid War”, the name of his newest series, states that:
The grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) within a targeted transit state.
Russia’s Eurasian integration objectives and China’s Silk Road projects are the targets of the US’ global Hybrid War strategy, and this accordingly opens up a wide range of geographic battlefields. Andrew examines the Greater Heartland, the Balkans, ASEAN, transoceanic Africa, and Latin America in identifying the vulnerabilities that each of the relevant transit states has to this revolutionary type of asymmetrical warfare.
His unique methodology incorporates the variables of ethnicity, religion, history, administrative boundaries, physical geography, and socio-economic disparity in crafting comprehensive analyses that demonstrate each country’s Hybrid War weaknesses. The objective of the work is to illustrate the means that the US could predictably employ in destabilizing these targeted states, thereby giving decision makers and the public advance notice so that they can be better prepared to deal with certain preplanned scenarios as they arise.
Please visit us to follow the updates of the “Hybrid Wars” series due to be released every Friday starting today.
The Law Of Hybrid Warfare
Hybrid War is one of the most significant strategic developments that the US has ever spearheaded, and the transitioning of Color Revolutions to Unconventional Wars is expected to dominate the destabilizing trends of the coming decades. Those unaccustomed to approaching geopolitics from the Hybrid War perspective might struggle to understand where the next ones might occur, but it’s actually not that difficult to identify the regions and countries most at risk of falling victim to this new form of aggression.
The key to the forecast is in accepting that Hybrid Wars are externally provoked asymmetrical conflicts predicated on sabotaging concrete geo-economic interests, and proceeding from this starting point, it’s relatively easy to pinpoint where they might strike next.
The series begin by explaining the patterns behind Hybrid War and deepening the reader’s comprehension of its strategic contours. Afterwards, we will prove how the previously elaborated framework has indeed been at play during the US’ Wars on Syria and Ukraine, its first two Hybrid War victims. Next part reviews all of the lessons that have been learned thus far and applies them in forecasting the next theaters of Hybrid War and the most vulnerable geopolitical triggers within them.
Subsequent additions to the series will thenceforth focus on those regions and convey why they’re so strategically and socio-politically vulnerable to becoming the next victims of the US’ post-modern warfare.
Patterning The Hybrid War
The first thing that one needs to know about Hybrid Wars is that they’re never unleashed against an American ally or anywhere that the US has premier preexisting infrastructural interests. The chaotic processes that are unleashed during the post-modern regime change ploy are impossible to fully control and could potentially engender the same type of geopolitical blowback against the US that Washington is trying to directly or indirectly channel towards its multipolar rivals.
Correspondingly, this is why the US won’t ever attempt Hybrid War anywhere that it has interests which are “too big to fail”, although such an assessment is of course contemporaneously relative and could quickly change depending on the geopolitical circumstances.
Nevertheless, it remains a general rule of thumb that the US won’t ever intentionally sabotage its own interests unless there’s a scorched-earth benefit in doing so during a theater-wide retreat, in this context conceivably in Saudi Arabia if the US is ever pushed out of the Mideast.
Before addressing the geo-economic underpinnings of Hybrid War, it’s important to state out that the US also has geostrategic ones as well, such as entrapping Russia in a predetermined quagmire.
The “Reverse Brzezinski”, as the author has taken to calling it, is simultaneously applicable to Eastern Europe through Donbass, the Caucasus through Nagorno-Karabakh, and Central Asia through the Fergana Valley, and if synchronized through timed provocations, then this triad of traps could prove lethally efficient in permanently ensnaring the Russian bear.
This Machiavellian scheme will always remain a risk because it’s premised on an irrefutable geopolitical reality, and the best that Moscow can do is try to preempt the concurrent conflagration of its post-Soviet periphery, or promptly and properly respond to American-provoked crises the moment they emerge.
The geostrategic elements of Hybrid War are thus somewhat inexplicable from the geo-economic ones, especially in the case of Russia, but in making the examined pattern more broadly pertinent to other targets such as China and Iran, it’s necessary to omit the “Reverse Brzezinski” stratagem as a prerequisite and instead focus more on the economic motivations that the US has in each instance.
The grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) within a targeted transit state.
This template can clearly be seen in Syria and Ukraine and is the Law of Hybrid Warfare. The specific tactics and political technologies utilized in each destabilization may differ, but the strategic concept remains true to this basic tenet. Taking this end goal into account, it’s now possible to move from the theoretical into the practical and begin tracing the geographic routes of various projects that the US wants to target.
To qualify, the multipolar transnational connective projects being referred to could be either energy-based, institutional, or economic, and the more overlap that there is among these three categories, the more likely it is that a Hybrid War scenario is being planned for a given country.
Socio-Political Structural Vulnerabilities:
Once the US has identified its target, it begins searching for the structural vulnerabilities that it will exploit in the coming Hybrid War. Contextually, these aren’t physical objects to be sabotaged such as power plants and roads (although they too are noted, albeit by different destabilization teams), but socio-political characteristics that are meant to be manipulated in order to attractively emphasize a certain demographic’s “separateness” from the existing national fabric and thus ‘legitimize’ their forthcoming foreign-managed revolt against the authorities. The following are the most common socio-political structural vulnerabilities as they relate to the preparation for Hybrid War, and if each of them can be tied to a specific geographic location, then they become much more likely to be used as galvanizing magnets in the run-up to the Color Revolution and as preliminary territorial demarcations for the Unconventional Warfare aspect afterwards:
* administrative boundaries
* socio-economic disparity
* physical geography
The greater the overlap that can be achieved among each of these factors, the stronger the Hybrid War’s potential energy becomes, with each overlapping variable exponentially multiplying the coming campaign’s overall viability and ‘staying power’.
Hybrid Wars are always preceded by a period of societal and structural preconditioning. The first type deals with the informational and soft power aspects that maximize key demographics’ acceptance of the oncoming destabilization and guide them into believing that some type of action (or passive acceptance of others’ thereof) is required in order to change the present state of affairs.
The second type concerns the various tricks that the US resorts to in order to have the target government unintentionally aggravate the various socio-political differences that have already been identified, with the goal of creating cleavages of identity resentment that are then more susceptible to societal preconditioning and subsequent NGO-directed political organizing (linked in most cases to the Soros Foundation and/or National Endowment for Democracy).
To expand on the tactics of structural preconditioning, the most commonly employed and globally recognized one is sanctions, the implicit goal of which (although not always successful) has always been to “make life more difficult” for the average citizen so that he or she becomes more amenable to the idea of regime change and is thus more easily shepherded into acting upon these externally instilled impulses.
Less known, however, are the more oblique, yet presently and almost ubiquitously implemented, methods of achieving this goal, and this surrounds the power that the US has to affect certain budgetary functions of targeted states, namely the amount of revenue that they receive and what precisely they spend it on.
The global slump in energy and overall commodity prices has hit exporting states extraordinarily hard, many of which are disproportionately dependent on such selling such resources in order to satisfy their fiscal ends, and the decrease in revenue almost always leads to eventual cuts in social spending.
Parallel with this, some states are facing American-manufactured security threats that they’re forced to urgently respond to, thus necessitating them to unexpectedly budget more money to their defense programs that could have otherwise been invested in social ones.
On their own, each of these ‘tracks’ is designed to decrease the government’s social expenditure so as to incubate the medium-term conditions necessary for enhancing the prospects of a Color Revolution, the first stage of Hybrid Warfare. In the event that a state experiences both limited revenue intake and an unexpected need to hike its defense budget, then this would have a compound effect on cutting social services and might even push the Color Revolution timeframe forward from the medium- to short-term, depending on the severity of the resultant domestic crisis and the success that the American-influenced NGOs have in politically organizing the previously examined identity blocs against the government.
HYBRID WARS 2: TESTING THE THEORY, SYRIA AND UKRAINE
This part of the research thus follows the theoretical model that was just set out before it, in that it elaborates on the geostrategic-economic determinants that were behind the Wars on Syria and Ukraine, before touching on the socio-political structural vulnerabilities that the US attempted to exploit to various degrees of success. The last part incorporates the idea of social and structural preconditioning and briefly discusses how it was present in each case.
The traditionally secular Arab Republic was sucked into the US’ theater-wide Color Revolution scheme when the “Arab Spring” was unleashed in 2011.
To concisely summarize the strategic underpinnings of this grandiose operation, the concept was for the US to assist a transnational Muslim Brotherhood clique in coming to power from Algeria to Syria via a series of synchronized regime change operations against rival states (Syria), untrustworthy partners (Libya), and strategic proxy states set for inevitable leadership transitions (Egypt, Yemen).
The resultant strategic environment was supposed to resemble Cold War-era Eastern Europe, in that each of the states would have been led by the same party (the Muslim Brotherhood instead of the Communist Party) and controlled by proxy via an external patron, in this case a joint condominium presided over by Turkey and Qatar on the US’ Lead From Behind behalf.
This loosely organized ideological ‘confederation’ would have been disjointed enough to be manageable via simple divide-and-rule tactics (thus preventing it from ever independently organizing against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States), but easily provoked into sectarian hatred for mobilizing against Iran and its regional interests, thereby making it an extremely flexible tool for promoting American grand strategy in the Mideast.
Given the chaotic origins of this geopolitical gambit, it was predetermined that elements of it wouldn’t go according to plan and that only the partial realization of this project could realistically occur during the first attempt, which is precisely what happened when the Syrian people defiantly withstood the Hybrid War assault against them and courageously fought in defense of their secular civilization-state.
It can be argued that Syria was always seen as the most strategic prize out of all the “Arab Spring”-affected states, and this is proven by the desperate nearly five-year-long Hybrid War that the US unleashed against it in response to its initial regime change attempt failing there. In comparison, Egypt, the most populous Arab state, has only had to deal with low-level Qatari-managed terrorism in the Sinai ever since it overthrew the American-imposed Muslim Brotherhood government.
The reason for this glaring discrepancy of relative importance to American grand strategic goals is attributable to the geo-economic determinants behind the War on Syria, which will be expostulated upon shortly.
The geostrategic determinants behind the War on Ukraine are much more straightforward than those behind the War on Syria, and they’ve mostly already been spoken about earlier when describing the “Reverse Brzezinski” stratagem of geopolitical entrapment.
Part of the motivation behind overthrowing the Ukrainian government and ushering in the subsequent anti-Russian pogroms was to lure Russia into an interventionist trap à la 1979 Afghanistan, and the War on Donbass was the epitome of this attempt. Washington failed to achieve its objective in this regard, but it was much more successful in turning the entire territory of Ukraine into a geopolitical weapon against Russia.
Brzezinski famously quipped that “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”, and while he had a whole different conception in mind when he said that (his thinking was that Russia would try to “imperially re-Sovietize” the region), geopolitically speaking, his quote holds a lot of fundamental truth to it.
The Russian Federation’s national security is to a large extent determined by events in Ukraine, especially as it relates to its broad western periphery, and a hostile government in Kiev that becomes amenable to hosting US “missile defense” infrastructure (which is really a euphemism for increasing the chances that the US can neutralize Russia’s second-strike capability and thus put it in a position of nuclear blackmail) would pose a major strategic threat.
To rephrase Brzezinski and make his quote more objectively accurate, “If the West succeeds in manipulating Ukraine into becoming a long-term enemy of Russia, then Moscow would be faced with a major geopolitical obstacle to its future multipolar ambitions.”
The dire scenario of Ukraine hosting US or NATO “missile defense” units has yet to play out in full, but the country is still making leaps towards “Shadow NATO” membership whereby it becomes a de-facto part of the organization without the formal mutual defense guarantees.
The increased military cooperation between Kiev and Washington, and by extension, between Ukraine and the bloc, is premised on aggressive maneuvering against Russian strategic interests. Nevertheless, this isn’t as bad as it could have been, since American strategic planners had naively assumed that the Pentagon would have already had control of Crimea by this time, and therefore would have been able to position their “missile defense” units and other destabilizing technologies right on Russia’s doorstep.
The ultimate fallacy in the West’s thinking during the Hybrid War preparations was that Russia would back down from defending its civilizational, humanitarian, and geostrategic interests in Crimea (or that if it did so, it would be pulled into a “Reverse Brzezinski” quagmire), which as history now attests, was an epic miscalculation on par with the worst the US has ever made.
Syria is so significant from the perspective of American grand strategy because it was supposed to be the end terminal for the Friendship Pipeline shared between it, Iran, and Iraq. This gas route would have allowed Iran to access the European market and completely nullify the sanctions regime that the US had built against it at that time.
Contemporaneous with this project was a competing one by Qatar to send its own gas through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and thenceforth to the EU, either through LNG or via Turkey. President Assad astutely rejected the Gulf proposal out of loyalty to his country’s long-established Iranian ally, and the War and Syria as waged through the post-“Arab Spring” Hybrid War against it was supported so fiercely by the US and the Gulf States specifically to punish the country for its refusal to become a unipolar satellite.
If it would have been completed, the Friendship Pipeline would have been one of the world’s most important multipolar transnational connective projects, in that it would have revolutionized regional geopolitics by providing an energy and investment corridor linking Iran with the EU.
It would have thus entailed a significant alteration in the Mideast’s balance of power and played to the absolute detriment of the US and its Gulf allies.
Understanding the acute threat that the Friendship Pipeline posed its decades-long hegemonic dominance over the region, the US committed itself to making sure that the project would never materialize no matter what, ergo one of the partial reasons behind the creation of ISIL smack dab in the middle of the expected transit zone.
Seen from this perspective, it’s much clearer why the US would prioritize the destabilization of Syria over that of Egypt, and would actually be willing to pour innumerable resources into this endeavor and organize a global proxy coalition to help achieve it.
The US’ determination in capturing Ukraine was inspired by much more than just geostrategic thinking, since those imperatives intersected with contemporaneous geo-economic realities.
At the time that the urban terrorist campaign popularly known as “EuroMaidan” was initiated, Ukraine was forced by the US into an artificial “civilizational choice” between the EU and Russia. Moscow had been advancing three interlinked multipolar transnational connective projects – gas and oil sales to the EU, the Eurasian Union, and the Eurasian Land Bridge (energy, institutional, and economic, respectively) – that Washington was eager to weaken at all costs.
Recalling Brzezinski’s earlier cited quip about Ukraine and the author’s rephrasing of it, the words now make a lot more sense, as without Ukraine as a part of this interconnected web of projects, the entire whole becomes substantially weaker than if it were otherwise.
As it relates to each of the projects, Ukraine’s removal from the equation: obstructs the Russian-EU energy trade and creates unexpected complications for both sides; leaves a sizeable marketplace and labor force outside the scope of the customs union; and necessitates an infrastructural refocusing solely on relatively smaller and less economically important Belarus, which thus becomes a geopolitical chokepoint that figures even greater than before into the West’s anti-Russian schemes.
As an added ‘benefit’ of poaching Ukraine from the Russian integrational orbit, the US was able to set into motion a chain of thematically preconceived events (excluding Crimea’s reunification, of course) that instigated the New Cold War it was eager to spark.
It wanted to do so in order to create seemingly insurmountable obstacles between Russia and the EU, knowing that the expected security dilemmas (in military, energy, economic, and strategic terms) would dramatically impede cooperation between them and make Brussels all the more vulnerable to being cajoled into the US’ massive unipolar power plays that it was planning.
In order to maintain its hegemonic position over Europe, the US had to engineer a scenario that would split Russia and the EU long enough and in as intense of a manner as possible so as increase the chances that the three following categorical projects of control could be imposed on Europe: NATO’s permanent on-alert deployment in the east (military); US LNG exports to the EU and the newly attractive appeal of non-Russian energy routes such as the Southern Gas Corridor (energy); and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which, among other privileges it grants the US, makes it impossible for the EU to conduct any further Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) without Washington’s approval (economic).
Altogether, these three interlocked factors are intended to bolster the grandest of the US’ strategic objectives, which in a mutually interrelated manner, also increases the prospects for their own success.
This is the artificially engineered “clash of civilizations” between the West and Eurasia-Russia, whereby the US expects the EU to henceforth cobble in fear before Russia and consequently rush into Uncle Sam’s arms as the ‘defender of Western civilization’.
It is this ultimate plan that the US wants to fulfill in Europe, since its successful implementation alongside its three key components (the military, energy, and economic facets earlier described) would create the conditions for multi-generational hegemonic dominance over Europe, and thus spiking the odds that multipolarity’s counter-offense against the US will be a drawn-out, decades-long affair.
Socio-Political Structural Vulnerabilities – Syria
At least 90% of Syria’s population is Arab while the remaining 10% or so is mostly Kurdish. From the Hybrid War perspective, one would assume that this state of affairs might be useful in destabilizing the state, but several factors prevented it from reaching its American-anticipated potential.
Firstly, the Syrian population is very patriotic due to their civilizational heritage and galvanized opposition to Israel. As a result, while there’s obviously a plurality of personal political opinion among the mostly mono-ethnic society, there was never any real possibility that they would violently turn against the state, hence the need to import such a vast number of international terrorists and mercenaries to the battlefield to satisfy this Hybrid War ‘requirement’.
Concerning the Kurds, they’ve never had a history of anti-government rebellion unlike their Turkish and Iraqi counterparts, thus implying that their state of affairs in Syria was manageable and nowhere near as bad as Western information outlets try to retroactively paint it as.
Even if they could have been conjured up into a radical anti-government mass, their relatively minor role in national affairs and obscure geographic distance from any relevant power centers would have precluded them from becoming a significant Hybrid War asset, although they’d be an effective strategic supplement to any Arab terrorists based closer to the primary population centers.
As is known, however, the Kurds have remained loyal to Damascus and have not broken with the government, thus adding confirmation to the thesis that they were content with their original status and not prone to “rebel”.
In sum, the ethnic components of the US’ Hybrid War planning against Syria failed to live up to their anticipated potential, indicating that pre-war intelligence assessments were cripplingly distorted in underestimating the unifying pull of Syrian Patriotism.
Syria’s population is overwhelmingly Sunni but also has an important Alawite minority that has traditionally held various leadership positions in the government and military.
This never was an issue before, but externally managed social preconditioning (in this instance, organized by the Gulf States) acclimatized parts of the population to sectarian thinking and began laying the psychological foundation for takfiri tension to take root among some domestic elements after the Color Revolution stage was initiated in early 2011.
Afterwards, even though sectarianism was never a factor in Syrian society before and still isn’t a major force to this day (despite almost five years of “religiously” motivated terrorist provocations), it would be used as a rallying cry for replenishing the ranks of foreign jihadists and as a ‘plausible’ cover for the US and its allies to allege that President Assad doesn’t ‘represent the people’ and must therefore be overthrown.
Syrian history is thousands of years old and represents one of the richest civilizations of all time. Consequently, this imbues the country’s citizens with an unshakeable sense of patriotism that would later reveal itself to be one of the strongest defenses against Hybrid War (civilizational solidarity).
It’s obvious that this would have been discovered by American strategists in their preparatory research on Syria, but they likely underrated its importance, figuring that they could successfully provoke a return to the destabilizing coup-after-coup post-independence years prior to the late Hafez Assad’s Presidency.
On the contrary, the vast majority of Syrians had grown to sincerely appreciate the contributions of the Assad family to their country’s stability and success, and they never wanted to do anything that could return the country to the dark years that preceded the first family’s political rise.
The brief legacy of separate administrative boundaries during a period of the French occupation provided the geopolitical precedent for the US to resurrect a formal or federalized division of Syria.
Even though the historical memory of this time is largely lost on the psyche of contemporary Syrians (save for the mandate-era flag that represents the anti-government terrorists), that doesn’t mean that there’s no possibility of externally enforcing it on them in the future and “historically justifying” it after the fact.
The Russian anti-terrorist intervention in Syria neutralized the possibility of the country’s formal fragmentation, but the ongoing Race for Raqqameans that the force which captures the terrorists’ ‘capital’ will hold the best cards in determining the post-war internal makeup of the state, opening the possibility for the US and its proxies to force a federalized ‘solution’ on Syria that could create largely autonomous zones of pro-American support.
Pre-war Syria had a relatively balanced distribution of socio-economic indicators, despite adhering to the globally stereotypical ‘rule’ of the urban areas being more developed than the rural ones.
Though the rural areas comprise most of the country’s geographic area, only a fraction of the population inhabited them, with most Syrians living along the western-based north-south corridor of Aleppo-Hama-Homs-Damascus, while a strategically important population also inhabits coastal Latakia. Up until 2011, Syria had been showing years of steady economic growth, and there’s no reason to believe that this would have abated had it not been for the Hybrid War against it.
Therefore, although socio-economic disparities surely existed in Syria before the war, they were properly managed by the government (owing in part to the semi-socialist nature of the state) and weren’t a factor that the US could exploit.
This is the one characteristic that works out most to the advantage of Hybrid War against Syria. The Color Revolution component was concentrated in the heavily populated western-based north-south corridor that was written about above, while the Unconventional Warfare part thrived in the rural regions outside this area.
The authorities understandably had difficulty balancing between urban and rural security needs, and the absurd amount of support that the US and its Gulf allies were channeling to the terrorists via Turkey temporarily threw the military off balance and resulted in the stalemate that marked the first few years of the conflict (with some dramatic back-and-forth changes from time to time).
As this was happening and the Syrian Arab Army was focused on the pressing security matters challenging it along the population corridor, ISIL was able to make swift conventional military advances along the logistically accommodating plains and deserts of the east and rapidly set up its “caliphate’, the consequences of which are driving the present-day course of events in the country.
Socio-Political Structural Vulnerabilities – Ukraine
Ukraine’s demographic divide between East and West, Russians and Ukrainians, is well known and has been heavily discussed. In the context of Hybrid War, this almost clean-cut geographic distribution (with the exception of the Russian plurality in Odessa and majority in Crimea) was a godsend to American strategic planners, since it created an ingrained demographic dichotomy that could easily be exploited when the time was ripe.
Here too is an almost perfect geographic divide between East and West, with the Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches representing the two critical population groups in the country.
Further west are the Uniate and Catholic Churches, corresponding mostly to the former lands of the interwar Second Polish Republic.
Christian sectarianism wasn’t the most visible rallying cry behind EuroMaidan, but its radical adherents used the coup’s success as cover for destroying Russian Orthodox Churches and other religious property in a nationwide campaign that sought to prompt the ethnic and cultural cleansing of the Russian population.
The modern Ukrainian state is an artificial amalgam of territories bequeathed to it by successive Russian and Soviet leaders. Its inherently unnatural origins curse it with a perpetually questionable existence, and the territorial aggrandizement after World War II complicated this even further.
The most nationalist chunk of modern-day Ukraine used to be part of interwar Poland, and before that, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, thus giving its inhabitants a diametrically different historical memory than those in the central or eastern portions of the state.
The Hungarian and Romanian minority communities that live in the newly added areas (acquired from Czechoslovakia and Romania, respectively) also have a natural degree of identity “separateness” from the state that only needed an externally ‘nudged’ destabilization to bring it fully to the surface.
As was argued in Hybrid War and confirmed by Newsweek’s reporting just days before the coup (suspiciously deleted from their website but referenceable on web.archive.org), the historic ethno-religiously separate region of Western Ukraine was in full-scale armed rebellion against the President Yanukovich, and it’s no coincidence that the Unconventional Warfare aspect of that regime change campaign began in this specific part of the country.
Ukraine’s domestic divisions coincide quite neatly with its administrative borders on many occasions – be they the ethnic divide, Christian sectarianism, historic regions, or electoral results – and this served as the ultimate asymmetrical multiplier that convinced American strategists that Hybrid War could easily be rolled out in Ukraine.
Had it not been for the unexpected coup in late February 2014, it’s very possible that the US would have sought to exploit the unprecedented overlap of socio-political vulnerabilities in Ukraine in order to physically separate the western part of the country from the pro-government remainder of the rump state, but only in the event that Yanukovich would have been able to indefinitely hold out against the regime change terrorists and consolidate his holdings in the rest of the non-“rebel”-controlled areas of the country.
Ukraine is similar to Syria in the sense that it also had a near-even distribution of socio-economic indicators, however, unlike the Arab Republic and its modest wealth, the Eastern European state equally spread poverty among its citizens.
The large amount of Ukrainians in poverty or very close to it created an enormous recruiting pool for anti-government ‘activists’ to be culled by the NGO masterminds of the EuroMaidan Color Revolution, and the absence of any civilizational or national patriotism (excluding the hardcore fascist perversion epitomized by Pravy Sektor and company) meant that there were no societal safeguards in preventing the emergence of multiple “rent-a-riots” from being organized beforehand and deployed when the time was ‘right’.
The only unique part of pre-war Ukraine’s mostly standardized plains geography was Crimea, which functioned more like an island than the peninsula that it technically is.
This ironically worked out to the US’ severe disadvantage when the autonomous republic’s favorable geography helped its inhabitants defend themselves long enough to vote to secede from the failing Ukrainian state and correct Khrushchev’s historical wrong by finally reuniting with their brethren in Russia.
The same geographic facilitating factors weren’t in play with Donbass, which thus inhibited the patriots’ defense of their territory and made them much more vulnerable to Kiev’s multiple offensives against them. In the pre-coup environment, Ukraine’s easily traversable geography would have been ideal for the enabling the western “revolutionaries” to make a swift, ISIL-like lunge at Kiev once they accumulated enough stolen weaponry, equipment, and vehicles from the numerous police stations and military barracks that they were seizing at the time.
It’s beyond the scope of the present research to discuss the social preconditioning aspects of Hybrid War in detail, but they can generally be assumed to comprise the social/mass media-education-NGO triad.
The specifics about structural preconditioning are a bit different, as aside from sanctions pressure, the other majorly discussed element described in Part I (i.e. the energy market disruption) didn’t occur until last year and thus wasn’t a factor in the run-up to either of the two examined Hybrid Wars.
Still, other more distinct elements were certainly in play for each of the two states, with Ukraine’s coffers being bled dry by endemic and parasitic corruption and Syria having to perennially balance its military needs in defending against Israel with its social commitment to the population (a tightrope act that it managed quite well over the decades).
PREDICTING THE NEXT HYBRID WARS
Identifying The Targets:
The first two parts of the series introduced new concepts to the Hybrid War theory and successfully tested them on the Syrian and Ukrainian cases. This proved that a certain methodology does in fact exist for explaining and analyzing Hybrid Wars, and excitingly, this rubric can proactively be applied in attempting to predict the places where this form of post-modern warfare could be directed next. To refer to Part I, one must first recall the Law of Hybrid Warfare:
The grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) within a targeted transit state.
Considering this, the next step is to identify the major multipolar transnational connective projects ongoing or planned all across the world. Once this has been done, each transit state is assessed for the greatest number of vulnerable socio-political overlaps as according to the following six factors:
* administrative boundaries
* socio-economic disparity
* physical geography
From there, all that’s left to do is pinpoint the most socio-politically vulnerable transit states and set out to reverse engineer the conditions necessary for emphasizing key demographics’ anti-government “separateness” from the central authorities. Cultural anthropologists, historians, NGO activists, media and marketing experts, and “independent researchers”, among others, play a vanguard role in this social preconditioning process and can also be of integral use to US intelligence in explaining the most efficient methods to be employed in ideologically penetrating their targeted audiences’ psyches.
Concurrent with this, varying degrees of structural preconditioning are also practiced in order to intensify the artificially constructed divide between the state and the strategic elements of its citizenry.
Civilizational And Civic Patriotism:
Hybrid War is essentially the weaponization of chaos theory, which itself is disproportionately dependent on the initial conditions prior to the destabilization’s onset. As has been discussed, the socio-political vulnerabilities in each target state are important indicators in gauging the potential success of the oncoming regime change operation, but the six main factors are difficult to modify (let alone in a short timeframe) if they don’t play to the full advantage of the aggressor.
Due to this, social and structural preconditioning take on an enhanced role, as ideas and economic trends are a lot easier to interfere with and change than ethnic composition and provincial boundaries, for example. Both of these constituent characteristics (affected respectively by social and structural preconditioning) can strongly impact on the target citizenry’s civilizational and/or civic patriotism, which is the strongest defense that a state has in repelling Hybrid War.
It’s at this point where it’s worthy to once more recall the cases of Syria and Ukraine, as each of them proceeded along a completely divergent trajectory owing in large part to their differing level of civilizational/civic patriotism prior to the Hybrid War against them. This initial condition is undoubtedly the most critical in determining whether the destabilization will drag on for years or if it’ll be a swift and easy success.
The Syrian people have one of the world’s most vehement civilizational patriotisms, and this in turn amplified their country’s resiliency to resisting the multidimensional Hybrid War aggression being waged against them. As a result, the US and its allies have had to provide continual support to their proxy elements in order to unnaturally maintain the chaotic processes that they had expected to become self-perpetuating. In the event that such assistance is disrupted, it would thus directly translate into a visible weakening of the Hybrid War elements inside the country and consequently lead to their quick eradication.
Contrarily, the situation was the diametric opposite in Ukraine, where no civilizational patriotism was present (despite the rich legacy of Kievan Rus) and scarcely any civic patriotism existed.
All that the US had to do was efficiently organize the proper assets and give them the signal to initiate their destabilization in unison. The chaotic processes then proceeded as theorized and began to take on a life of their own, requiring minimal guidance from that point onwards when compared to the strategic quagmire that the US crept into with Syria.
The only significant intervention that the US engaged in was the false-flag sniper attack at the end of February, and it only did so because it sensed an irresistible opportunity to maximize the chaos and quickly topple the government.
To summarize this sub-section, the two glaringly different examples of Hybrid War in Syria and Ukraine prove that the initial condition of civilizational and/or civic patriotism is the deciding factor in influencing the course of the asymmetrical conflict, and accordingly, should demonstrate to democratic security specialists the existential importance in proactively supporting such measures within their own targeted states.
Unleashing The Wrath:
Finally, it’s relevant to touch upon the beginning stages of Hybrid War and briefly explain the tactical limitations of the theory as they apply to two specific categories of states.
Concerning the initial stage similarities shared by the vast majority of states, a preconceived moment (typically something symbolic such as an historically important commemoration, a parliamentary/presidential vote, or a provoked instance of state-on-“protester” violence) or a fortuitous turn of events (e.g. Yanukovich’s last-minute decision to postpone the EU Association Agreement) is used as a signal to merge the separate cells comprising the regime change social infrastructure into a critical anti-government mass that inaugurates the Color Revolution movement and heralds the first step of Hybrid War.
Should the ‘soft coup’ (often interspersed with lethal urban terrorism) fail, then the ‘hard coup’ push of Unconventional War is eventually initiated against the beleaguered government and its patriotic citizenry, thereby fulfilling the Hybrid War template.
Not all Unconventional Wars begin with Color Revolutions and not all Color Revolutions end in Unconventional Wars, but the US’ strategic aim going forward is to have the two forms of regime change seamlessly merge together into an escalatory ladder of intensified anti-government pressure whenever possible.
Some societies with fully developed civil societies (relative to the globally recognized Western ‘standard’) and without many of the prerequisite socio-political vulnerabilities such as Denmark might never experience the Unconventional Warfare aspect of Hybrid War and would only likely fall victim to its Color Revolution side. However, a re-engineering of their demographics (e.g. the “refugee” crisis) could predictably change that and make them much more susceptible to a full Hybrid War.
Continuing along, states that don’t have as robust of a civil society (or none at all in the Western traditional sense), yet overly satisfy the socio-political credentials for Unconventional Warfare like the Central African Republic does, might just outright skip the Color Revolution stage and jump right into the identity warfare part of Hybrid War. As with the first example, this could also change via a demographic re-engineering of society, albeit in a different manner whereby rapid (most likely Chinese-supported) development leads to the birth of an emergent middle class that could potentially fill the ranks of Color Revolution insurgents.
In rare situations, there’s also the possibility of a “Reverse Hybrid War”, whereby an Unconventional War precedes a Color Revolution. To an extent, it can be argued that Myanmar’s drawn-out civil war created fertile conditions for the 1989 Color Revolution and subsequent rise of Aung San Suu Kyi.
While it took over two decades for her to finally win full power, she eventually did nonetheless, and it’s clear that the Unconventional War environment preconditioned the masses into accepting this with time. Likewise, something similar is currently playing out in West Africa with Boko Haram.
Each of the four states in the Lake Chad region are coming under sharp pressure from the terrorist group, and the violence that has resulted is creating a situation where even a disorganized Color Revolution increases the chance of its ultimate success precisely because of the target government’s preoccupation with Boko Haram.
This is especially the case with Chad, whose capital of Ndjamena is in extremely close proximity to the battleground and has already fallen victim to a few suicide bombings.
A nascent Color Revolution would be the ultimate force multiplier in skyrocketing the chances that the government would be overthrown, either by Boko Haram, the urban insurgents, or a tacit and coordinated effort between the two. From a standardized theoretical standpoint, the existing Unconventional Warfighters team up with the newly active Color Revolutionaries in order to decisively shift the balance against the state and succeed in the shared regime change objective.
The only alternative to this scenario would be for the military to crush the crush the “protesters” with extreme prejudice the moment they rise up before moving on to swiftly annihilate any terrorists that try to exploit the coming fray, with the same pattern holding true for Chad as it does for any other state that finds itself at risk of “Reverse Hybrid War”.
Taking everything that’s been reviewed so far and proven by the Syrian and Ukrainian test cases, it’s now time to practically apply the lessons of Hybrid War in predicting where it could strike next.
The most impactful multipolar transnational connective projects are spearheaded by Russia and China, and the two most significant of them are the Eurasian Union and the One Belt One Road (“New Silk Road”).
Their shared area of intersection in Central Asia means that that any large-scale destabilization in this region could accomplish the ‘two-for-one’ goal of offsetting both Great Powers’ ambitions in one geopolitical masterstroke, which is why there’s such a high risk of Hybrid War breaking out there sometime in the near future.
Elsewhere, however, there’s no direct integrational overlap of the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership except in the Balkans, but even there, the confluence of interests is less tightly connected and developed than it is in Central Asia.
It should go without saying, however, that this makes the theater the second-most likely region to fall victim to Hybrid Wars in the future out of American ‘necessity’ to preempt the conclusion of the two megaprojects of Balkan (“Turkish”) Stream and the Balkan Silk Road that could decisively tilt Europe’s strategic balance towards the multipolar world.
The other regions at risk of Hybrid War are targeted specifically because of their cooperation with China’s New Silk Road, and they include” the Greater Heartland states of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; the western part of ASEAN; the Indian Ocean archipelago state of Maldives; a large swath of trans-equatorial Africa that bridges the oceanic divide; and Brazil-Peru and Nicaragua in Latin America.
The below is a map that clearly illustrates the aforementioned geographic zones most likely to be threatened by Hybrid War in the future:
Out of these identified regions (and with the exception of the ‘stand-alone’ state of the Maldives), there are core countries whose identity-based destabilization is most likely to occur due to certain context-specific reasons.
Most realistically in terms of their relative probability, they are as follows: Uzbekistan in the Greater Heartland; the Republic of Macedonia in the Balkans; Myanmar in ASEAN; Djibouti-Ethiopia in Africa; and Nicaragua in Latin America. Simplifying the earlier map, here’s what it looks like with only the geopolitical triggers highlighted:
The above map does come with a caveat, however, and it’s that the core triggers in the Greater Heartland, ASEAN, Africa, and Latin America could possibly be usurped by less likely but regionally more impactful Hybrid Wars in in the countries of Turkmenistan, Thailand, Kenya-Tanzania, and Brazil. Destabilizations in these countries might even be more effective in disrupting the multipolar transnational connective projects that they’re a part of than if they happened in their aforementioned regional counterparts. Here’s a modified map that reflects the caveats:
Having revealed the core targets of Hybrid War, the forthcoming sections of the research will focus on each designated region, with an emphasis on the highlighted triggers that are expected to either set off a wider conflagration or irreversibly sabotage the transnational integrational projects that they’re a part of.
The only exception to the outlined format is the Maldives, since the author has already written an exhaustive three-part analysis about its Hybrid War risk and the broader geopolitical implications of its destabilization. On that account, the next parts of the research will proceed along the order of Central Asia, the Balkans, ASEAN, Africa, and Latin America.
Each section will begin by describing the region’s geo-economic importance, or in other words, how it adheres to the Law of Hybrid War. Afterwards, a brief overview will be given whereby some of the most relevant socio-political vulnerabilities for each state will be touched upon and incorporated into broad Hybrid War scenarios.
Finally, the last part specifically focuses on the core target in each region by explaining how a Hybrid War there would quickly shatter the multipolar transnational connective project that they’re a part of, and when appropriate, it discusses the comparative differences in probability and impact between the core and caveat states.
HYBRID WARS: BREAKING THE BALKANS. NATO’S SOUTHERN EXPANSIONISM
The Croatian-Serbian Missile Race
The rivalry between Croatia and Serbia is centuries-long, stretching to before either of them were modern-day nation states and back to the time when they were still under the occupation of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, respectively.
It’s been argued that both people are of the same ethnic origin, with their only substantial differences being in dialect and adherence to a particular Christian sect (Catholicism for Croats, Orthodoxy for Serbs).
Extended research has already been published on the fraternal similarities between these two people and the reasons for their contemporary perception of “separateness” as regards the other, so the present study will refrain from repeating what has already been established long before it and begin the historical discourse from the more relevant period of World War II.
Leading up to the intercommunal hostilities that formally broke out after the Nazi invasion (although incidents of violence were indeed present right before then), the Croats had been agitating for an autonomous ethno-centric sub-state within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and they finally received their wish with the August 1939 Cvetkovic-Macek Agreement that established the Croatian Banovina.
The Ustase, a hyper-fascist Croatian organization led by Ante Pavelic, had been pushing for this for quite some time, seeing it as a stepping stone to outright independence and the fulfillment of their nationalist ambitions to forge Greater Croatia.
Observed from abroad, the Croatian fascists obviously seemed like ideal and natural partners for the Nazis to cooperate with before and after their forthcoming invasion of Yugoslavia, and it’s no surprise that Hitler would later work hand-in-glove with Pavelic in exterminating the Serbs.
Their pre-war collaboration was so deep that the “Independent State of Croatia”, the Nazi-controlled puppet project during World War II (the most radical manifestation of Greater Croatia), would be declared right after Hitler’s invasion and over a week prior to the formal capitulation of the Yugoslav government, suggesting that its supporters were eagerly awaiting the offensive and understood that it was only with Nazi support that their nationalist nightmare could become a reality.
The pertinence that all of this has to the present era is that the Hitler-Pavelic project for Greater Croatia incorporated the entirety of Bosnia and created a precedent (however ethically disturbing and brief) of ‘leadership’ in the Western Balkans that imprinted a very specific form of geo-nationalism on the historical memory of most Croats.
While thankfully never carried out to the ultra-extreme form of its fascist predecessors, this brand of radical Croatian nationalism would return as a factor during the destructive dissolution of Yugoslavia.
The Croatian military wanted not only to purge ethnic Serbs from the Republic of Serbian Krajina that they had established in part of the former Socialist Republic of Croatia (itself the post-war formalization of most of the Croatian Banovina), but they wanted to take it even further and cleanse their rival demographic from most of Bosnia as well (although this latter objective thankfully failed).
Indicative of just how intimately intertwined the genocide against Serbs has become in the modern-day Croatian national identity, 5 August, the date that the Republic of Serbian Krajina was destroyed, is annually celebrated as the “Day of Victory and Thanksgiving and the Day of Croatian Defenders”.
The takeaway from this broad overview is that the Croatian political-military establishment is vehemently anti-Serbian and that the geo-nationalist historical memory still lingering from World War II can be easily manipulated to gin the population up for supporting another crusade.
The focal point in any forthcoming conflict for carving out a Greater Croatia (whether in fact or in form) is undoubtedly Bosnia, and the provocations that Sarajevo has lately launched against Republika Srpska bode quite negatively for the entity’s future stability.
More than likely, the Croatian deep state (the permanent military, diplomatic, and intelligence apparatuses) is interested in unbalancing Bosnia in order to create the opportunity for wiping Republika Srpska from the map and turning the entirety of the country into an American-Croatian protectorate, or in other words, the post-modern manifestation of the Hitler-Pavelic project for Greater Croatia.
Missile vs. Missile:
This brings the study to the point of discussing the missile race that’s begun between Croatia and Serbia. It was reported in mid-October 2015 that Croatia is planning to purchase 16 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) from the US.
Although no formal statement was yet to be issued on the topic, it’s predicted that Croatia will claim that the MLRS are for “defensive” purposes and shouldn’t trigger worry from anyone, but the fact that they give the country the capability of striking Serbia is a cause for serious concern.
It’s perplexing to try and make sense of what’s foreseen to be Croatia’s “defensive” ‘justification’ for the arms purchase considering that the system only has an offensive purpose. It’s thus not for naught that Serbian Prime Minister Vucic spoke about his interest in purchasing Russian anti-missile systems and other equipment during his late-October visit to Moscow, since Serbia now needs to find a way to nullify this emerging military threat.
Of course, if Serbia for whatever reason backs out of its verbal commitment to purchase the Russian arms, then it would automatically place itself in a position of military blackmail vis-à-vis Croatia (acting as a Lead From Behind proxy on behalf of the US) and would be powerless to correct the military imbalance.
Provided that both transfers go through, then it’s inevitable that the US will push its Croatian proxy into purchasing different sets of weaponry in order to upset the strategic equilibrium that Serbia’s Russian-made anti-missile systems would bring to the region.
This would beget a symmetrical response from Serbia, thus plunging the two neighbors into an American-initiated arms race that neither of their two frail economies might be able to sustain.
In this sense, Croatia would have an institutional advantage over Serbia since its NATO membership might entitle it to discounted weaponry that could prove effective in shifting the military balance, while Serbia has no such agreement with Russia.
Nonetheless, in such a case Russia would probably propose an advantageous and deferred payment plan to allow Serbia to receive the necessary defensive armaments in maintaining its security.
Cyclically, one sale leads to another, and before anyone realizes what happened (except of course the US, which engineered this whole scenario), the Western and Central Balkans’ strongest militaries are engaged in a spiraling arms race across every military spectrum, drawing their American and Russian allies closer to a New Cold War proxy confrontation with the other.
Going back to the conclusion reached after the historical overview at the beginning of this subsection, Croatia and its Western backers are working closely with Sarajevo in engineering the pretexts (whether legal, military, or ‘socially driven’ through a Color Revolution) to abolish Republika Srpska. Such a struggle won’t come easy, however, as the Serbs are sure to symmetrically fight back against any aggressive infringement on their sovereignty, be it legal and/or military.
Everything that’s happening right now as regards the Croatian military buildup is predicated on preparing Zagreb to take the lead in any prospective anti-Srpska operation, whether through a direct or indirect role.
The Bosnian Armed Forces are not capable on their own of carrying out the task, considering also that the Serbian members would immediately mutiny and fight for their constituent republic as opposed to the overall federation (which is being hijacked by the Croat-Muslim entity as it is).
Therefore, from the perspective of American grand strategy in waging the next battle in the War on Serbia and drawing Belgrade into a Reverse Brzezinski trap, it’s imperative for it to use Croatia as its vanguard proxy in achieving this geo-critical objective.
At this juncture, Croatia’s missile buildup makes complete sense, since it gives Zagreb the capacity to project force into Serbia to counter any support that Belgrade gives to Banja Luka.
It’s not for sure that Croatia would ever directly attack Serbia itself (although it might feel compelled to if the US pressures it in this direction), but the mere fact that American missiles could once more rain down on Serbian cities would certainly affect Serbia’s strategic calculations in this scenario.
If the country didn’t have adequate defenses for nullifying this threat, then Croatia would be able to blackmail Serbia and prevent it from directly or indirectly intervening to support Republika Srpska.
However, if Serbia’s defenses were buffeted with state-of-the-art Russian-built anti-missile technology, then Croatia’s blackmail threat instantly disappears and Belgrade would have a much freer course of action in assisting Republika Srpska however it deemed fit.
Croatia would then only have the choice of attacking Serbia directly in face-to-face aggression either in the Bosnian ‘middle ground’ or directly on its own soil and risk escalating the war to unforeseen heights.
Depending on the global New Cold War conditions at the time, the US and NATO might not be so eager to directly assist in Croatia’s offensive, thus hanging it out to dry in fighting Serbia on its own.
This isn’t a risk that Croatia’s decision makers would want to take lightly, thus meaning that if their surface-to-surface missile blackmail is deterred by Serbia’s Russian-provided anti-missile defense systems, then it becomes markedly less likely that they’d directly attack Serbian soil and would probably contain their aggression to the Bosnian battlespace.
In turn, this increases the chances that Republka Srpska can withstand whatever joint Croatian-Muslim offensive is being planned against them, knowing that they can depend on Serbian assistance if need be without having to fear that their ally is under ballistic-missile blackmail in being forced to stay on the sidelines.
From a larger and conclusive perspective,Serbian-Russian military cooperation in balancing against the Croatian-American buildup might even indefinitely delay a unipolar offensive on Republika Srpska and give the multipolar world the adequate time that it needs in brainstorming a solution to this impending brinksmanship.
NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”
During the final years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the US reached a verbal agreement whereby Moscow would allow for the reunification of Germany in exchange for the US agreeing to never expand NATO further East.
As history attests, the US shamelessly reneged on its guarantee the moment the Soviet Union collapsed and was powerless to effectively stop it, swallowing up almost the entirety of Eastern Europe (save for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine) and all the Baltic States by 2004. What’s less studied by observers is NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden” (Drive to the South), which represents one of the last fronts of continental NATO expansionism and has been in the works ever since the end of the Cold War.
Theoretically speaking, this corner of Europe didn’t fall under the Soviets’ purvey when they made their verbal agreement with the US. Moscow didn’t have any forces stationed in Yugoslavia or Albania that would soon be withdrawn, thus making these countries’ prospective membership into NATO a moot point for Moscow to even discuss because it had no power or influence one way or another to even decide on it.
Faced with its own internal problems and its forthcoming theater-wide withdraw from Central and Eastern Europe, it’s likely that the Soviet Union didn’t even consider the then-unthinkable scenario that a series of American-engineered proto-Hybrid Wars would soon lead to the dissolution of Yugoslavia along federative lines and one day see two of its formerly unified members plus Albania under the NATO nuclear umbrella.
Alas, that’s exactly what happened, and it can be suggested that one of the US’ partial motivations for dismembering Yugoslavia was to create a chain of weakened nation-states that would be much easier to absorb into the bloc than the formerly unified and strong federal entity.
It was earlier discussed at the beginning of the book’s Balkan research that Slovenia was the most gung-ho pro-Western state out of the entire former Yugoslavia, being the first to join both the EU and NATO.
To remind the reader of what was written at that earlier point, Slovenia was largely insulated from the chaos of the Yugoslav Wars owing to its advantageous geography, and its small population was disproportionately well endowed with a legacy of Yugoslav investment that allowed it to rapidly achieve the highest GDP per capita of all the former communist countries in Europe.
Consequently, it joined NATO and the EU in 2004, making it the first Balkan state with membership in both organizations. This was designed to serve as an example-setting precedent for other similarly pro-Western regional elite who wanted to emulate the “Slovenian success story”, leading them to believe that it was Ljubljana’s impassioned desire to join Western-dominated institutions that explained its success and not its inimitable geographic, historic, and economic factors.
Be that as it was, the deceptive ploy prevailed in convincing the Croatian elite of their own self-delusions and consequently in furthering their informational investments in misleading the rest of the population into supporting their predetermined decision to join both blocs. Zagreb would later enter into NATO in 2009 and join the EU in 2013, thus following the Slovenian scenario and dispensing of the tiny Balkan country’s strategic purpose to either organization (hence the institutional neglect that it’s received from both since then).
The situation was a bit different with Albania, as it wasn’t influenced by Slovenia’s example at all. It joined NATO the same year that Croatia did for the complementary reasons of supporting the US’ Lead From Behind grand strategy in the Western Balkans and in placing itself in a more ‘regionally intimidating’ position for promoting Greater Albania sometime again in the future (most likely against Macedonia).
Also, it can’t be discounted that Tirana’s elites were motived to a large degree by their conception of ‘triumphalism’ in formally allying with the bloc that bombarded Serbia and led to the temporary severing of its Province of Kosovo. Taking into account the Albanian understanding of ‘pride’ and how the Ottoman-era culture of completely disrespecting one’s enemy are still influential factors that impact on the Albanian psyche, it’s very likely that one of the country’s driving interests in joining NATO was simply to spite Serbia.
Waiting In The Wings?:
Looking at the rest of the Balkans, every country has some form or another of institutional relations with NATO.
To begin with, Serbia agreed to an Individual Partnership Action Plan in January 2015, in an event that bizarrely received barely any publicity in the country’s media.
One would have been led to believe that Serbia’s closer relations with the same military bloc that bombed it into submission 16 years prior would garner intense outcry among the country’s opinion leaders and institutions, but the fact that it didn’t speaks loudly about the strong entrenchment of influential pro-Western figures inside the country’s establishment.
Also, it’s notable that this decision was undertaken under the Vucic’s Premiership, which has gone to great lengths to please the West. This stands in stark contrast to the contemporaneous Nikolic Presidency, which has worked hard to make pragmatic strides in Serbia’s relations with Russia.
The glaring discrepancy between the foreign policy priorities of the Prime Minister and the President doesn’t seem to be an elaborate ‘balancing’ ruse between the West and Russia, but rather a clumsy and disjointed struggle to hash out compromise between the respective Serbian elites that each figurehead represents.
This political predicament is inherently untenable and cannot progress for much longer without the country being thrown into domestic destabilization. Pragmatic approaches towards multiple geopolitical directions are welcome for any country, but when radical moves such as deepening the relationship with NATO are made, it indicates a decisive power play on behalf of the pro-Western forces.
Couple that early-2015 announcement with the news at the end of the year in December that Belgrade is formally in accession talks with Brussels, and 2015 becomes the ‘Year of the West’ for Serbia. This can’t help but result in opposition from the pragmatic voices represented by Nikolic (who is reflective of the majority of society), which must feel their influence waning amidst Vucic’s pro-Western advancements.
The governmental split that’s being produced by Vucic’s unwavering pro-Western institutional course (continued despite his visit to Moscow and appeal for Russian weaponry) will inevitably result in an intensification of the ongoing power struggle between the two factions of the Serbian elite, the pro-Westernizers and the political pragmatists, unless Vucic tempers his approach.
Failure to do so will force the country into the same manipulated “civilizational choice” that the West imposed on Ukraine in November 2013, which would ultimately work out to the US’ grand strategic benefit at the expense of every Serbian.
Provocatively speaking, it might follow the Ukrainian scenario so closely that a Color Revolution breaks out in Belgrade, albeit with diametrically different geopolitical consequences than the pro-Western one that succeeded in Kiev.
Moving along, Bosnia and the other two remaining Balkan countries that will be discussed have agreed to Membership Action Plans with NATO, which means that they have officially committed their governments to a path that’s supposed to end with NATO membership some time or another.
It’s practically impossible for this scheme to succeed in Bosnia without a renewal of civil warfare between Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim entity, but more than likely, that’s the point of Sarajevo pursuing such a farfetched plan. The Serbs would never accept joining NATO because that would lead to the extinguishment of their autonomous republic, but reversely, if the autonomy of Republika Srpska could be revoked (the scenarios of which Sarajevo and its Western patrons are subtly exploring), then NATO membership would be institutionally uncontested and incapable of being stopped.
As has been discussed extensively already, Bosnia is a giant geopolitical time bomb that’s waiting to be detonated by the West, and Sarajevo’s determined and timed movement towards NATO could be the spark that lights the next Balkan fuse.
The surface conviction among many is that Skopje has committed itself to an irreversible pro-Western trajectory regardless of leadership, and judging by official statements on the matter, that does indeed seem to be the case.
Digging deeper, however, and unraveling the changing domestic and international contexts surrounding Macedonia, the argument can convincingly be made that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Skopje’s pro-Western institutional associations.
December 2014 forever changed the calculations of the Macedonian leadership because of the Russia and China’s dual announcements of the Balkan Stream and Balkan Silk Road megaprojects, respectively, both of which are envisioned to crucially transit through the country’s territory.
Of course, neither Great Power would have made such ambitious plans without having first consulted with the Macedonian government, and Skopje was more than willing to agree after taking stock of the enormous economic windfall that it would receive from either project’s successful completion.
Also, neither Moscow nor Beijing likely made any ultimatums to Skopje for its cooperation (such as saying that it mustn’t join NATO and/or the EU), but that it was probably strongly implied that substantially moving forward with either of these ‘formal’ institutional goals could endanger the projects, and thus, the geostrategic and economically profitable benefits that Macedonia stood to incur.
After discreetly acquiring Macedonia’s advance approval for their initiatives, Russia and China went public with their regional visions, but this triggered the US to initiate its back-up regime change plans for the country in order to keep it firmly in its orbit and pressure it to cancel the multipolar megaprojects.
The US was probably tipped off to its geopolitical rivals’ plans well in advance and had begun tinkering with a destabilization scenario in Macedonia long ago, using it and its allies’ spy agencies to surreptitiously wiretap government and private citizens for use in a forthcoming political blackmail campaign. In the months preceding the monumental multipolar announcements relating to Macedonia, the US ordered its regime change proxy, ‘opposition’ leader Zoran Zaev, to selectively release suggestive snippets from the Western intelligence agency-doctored ‘recordings’ in order to test the waters and gauge the public’s reaction.
After recognizing that the ‘wiretap’ scenario had the potential to stir a critical mass of manipulated public unrest (with the hand-in-hand support of Soros-affiliated organizations and media outlets), the US knew that it had a powerful tool with which to pressure the government. Prime Minister Gruevski didn’t fold to Washington’s implied regime change demands, however, and he instead stood proudly defiant in the face of the externally imposed coup attempt being pursued against him. At around this time in early 2015, he probably started getting second doubts about his ‘Western partners’ (if he hadn’t had them already by this point) and questioning the strategic wisdom of continuing his country’s established pro-Western course.
At the same time, being the leader of a super-strategic but comparatively small country, Gruevski keenly understood his limits of action and came to the conclusion that forcefully rejecting the West would be contrary to his and his country’s physical security. This explains why his formal statements are in support of the unipolar EU and NATO, while his multipolar actions in cooperating with the Balkan Silk Road and Balkan Stream megaprojects speak more sincerely to the strategic direction that he truly plans on taking his country.
Gruevski’s prudence in taking this approach was vindicated after the US attempted an unsuccessful Hybrid War push against him in May 2015 (Zaev’s failed Color Revolution intermingled with the Albanian terrorist plots in Kumanovo), showing the desperate lengths that they were willing to go in getting him removed and stopping the multipolar megaprojects.
Despite this obvious regime change attempt and the subsequently more subtle methods being employed to try and oust him (the EU-mediated ‘negotiations’ with the ‘opposition’ and the forthcoming early elections), Gruevski is still aware that if he succumbs to the emotional temptation to publicly disown the EU and NATO in response, then he might fall victim to an assassination attempt (which is what the plane scare over Switzerland in late-May 2015 was meant to convey to him).
For these reasons, the Macedonian Premier must continue his clever game of telling the West what they want to hear while doing the opposite in practice, although it’s unclear whether he can continue doing so indefinitely without being forced by the US into making a resolute choice one way or another.
For the time being, however, although Macedonia is formally pursuing integration into Western institutions, its policies in practice are purposely ambiguous, and in light of the changed domestic and international circumstances that were just explained, one should hold off on rendering full judgement about Gruevski’s officially declared commitments until after he gains more freedom of political maneuverability following the early elections in April.
The final Balkan country that has yet to be discussed is Montenegro, which just received its official invitation to join NATO during the bloc’s early-December meeting in Brussels.
Even before the announcement was ever formally made, Prime Minister Djukanovic (the country’s ruler in one form or another for almost the past thirty years) declared that his country would unreservedly accept NATO membership, prompting an unprecedented display of public unrest.
The majority of the 600,000 or so Montenegrin citizens are against their country joining the same military bloc that bombed it 16 years ago when it was still part of rump Yugoslavia, and the political opposition has called for the issue to be put before a referendum. The government refused to accede to their suggestion and instead responded with disproportionate force that suppressed the protests and produced an ever stronger reaction of anti-NATO sentiment.
The result was that the violent crackdown predictably intimidated some of the population and led to a noticeable decline in their outward protest activity. This government interpreted this according its preordained expectations and assumed that this meant that the anti-NATO movement was finished.
That wasn’t the case, however, since the form of resistance had simply adapted to the repressive conditions in the country and moved away from large manifestations in the capital in favor of smaller gatherings in the towns and villages.
On the one hand, this was a tactical necessity in order to preserve the protesters’ safety, but on the other, it created the deceptive illusion that the population had been forced into complacency and may have unintentionally contributed to NATO going forward with the membership offering, as opposed to withholding it out of fear that extending the invitation would push the country over the edge and result in the overthrow of their long-cherished proxy.
As it stands, it’s expected to take between one to two years for Montenegro for complete the NATO accession process, meaning that there’s a critical last-minute window of opportunity for the protesters to make history and be the first to carry their country away from the organization after it’s already agreed to join.
Theoretically speaking, it’s entirely possible for Montenegro to set a new precedent in this regard, but it’s clear that the only way to do this is by overthrowing the government or pressuring it to the extent that it acquiesces to a referendum. Granted, even a public vote might not be enough to stop the NATO machine, since it’s unsure at this time whether it would be just as crooked of a motion as the previous ballots held under Djukanovic’s rule.
More than likely, given the donkey-like obstinacy that Djukanovic and his Mafioso clique have, plus their propensity to resort to extreme violence amidst pressure, it’s probable that the only way to reverse the NATO decision is to replace Djukanovic with a sincere opposition figure that will pull Montenegro out of the initiation process before it’s fully completed.
Montenegro’s strategic importance to NATO is disproportionate to its tiny size, and its membership in the bloc is an important step in bringing Serbia more firmly under Atlantic control.
Assuming the most negative scenario where Montenegrins are unable to save their country from occupation, then NATO would have succeeded in tightening its noose of encirclement around Serbia and would then feel more confident in making bolder moves against it and Republika Srpska in the future.
Keep in mind that Montenegrins are closely related to Serbs and that many Serbs still live in the country. Officially, the government lists them as being 28% of the population, but given Djukanovic’s history of statistical manipulations (be it in the 2006 independence referendum or every election in which he’s ran), the real percentage is likely higher.
This is all very important for NATO since they know that they can thus exploit Montenegro as a ‘social laboratory’ for perfecting informational and other strategies for use against the larger Serbian demographics in Republika Srpska and Serbia, thereby giving their campaign in the tiny Adriatic country a heightened strategic importance that is usually lost on most observers.
With all that being said, the anti-NATO and anti-government resistance movements in Montenegro (which are morphing into a unified force at the moment) are indispensably important in pushing back against NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”.
Their success would provide the Central Balkans with strategic breathing space and stunningly put a sudden halt to the strategic plan that the US had taken for granted up until that point. Looked at from the opposite perspective, NATO sees the incorporation of Montenegro as one of the final pieces in completing its geo-military encirclement of Serbia.
It also tangentially expects to receive valuable social feedback from this experience that it can then weaponize against Republika Srpska and Serbia, and the critical momentum that Montenegro’s accession would create could turn into a psychological battering ram for diminishing the population’s resistance in these two states and the Republic of Macedonia.
Due to the high stakes involved for all sides, it’s doubtful that Djukanovic and his allies would leave in peace if confronted with a renewed opposition movement against them, thus raising the disturbing specter that the country might descend into civil war if its people try to free themselves from impending NATO domination.
Orban The Fox
Victor Orban may not be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but he’s definitely a fox. He sly presents himself as a populist voice that outspokenly represents emerging social norms, placing him at the vanguard of a changing Europe and endearing him with millions of fawning followers.
There’s unquestionably a strong degree of institutional resistance from the established European powers to his raging popularity and iconic status, but by and large, this ‘old guard’ resistance to the ideals that Orban embodies only makes his popularity surge even more, and he’s quickly become an iconic and cult-like figure throughout Central and Eastern Europe, including the Balkans.
A fox is known for its cunningness, and this trait more than any other aptly describes the Hungarian Prime Minister. To many, Orban defines a new generation of ‘anti-systemic’ European leaders that are bravely defying the unipolar dictates of the US and the EU, but upon closer scrutiny, this is all but a carefully crafted sham (albeit with sincere convictions on Orban’s part) to ‘let the fox loose in the henhouse’ and undermine multipolar social movements before they ever have the chance to enact tangible change in Europe.
The Shifting EU Zeitgeist:
It’s important for the reader to suitably comprehend the shifting social mood that’s been underway in Europe for at least the past couple of years. Maligned by the mainstream media as “Euroscepticism”, it could more accurately be described as “Euro-caution”, with many people all over the continent progressively becoming disenchanted with the anti-democratic dictates given to their countries by Brussels and behaving more reluctantly in following its commands.
Whether it’s the Greek bailout packages or the current “refugee” crisis to name but two of most prominent examples, the EU’s actions have struck a raw nerve with a critical mass of people who no longer endorse the organization in its present form.
The radical liberal-progressive ideology and rabid power moves of the past decade have finally caught up to its technocratic elite, and they’re having to unexpectedly (for them, at least) contend with rising conservative and pro-sovereignty resistance to their rule.
The threat lies in the fact that this organic pan-continental social movement could become ‘uncontrollable’ and either lead to the EU’s dissolution (whether in full or in part) or indefinitely cripple its efficiency if a Euro-cautionary national leader decides to make things difficult and obstruct the organization’s functioning (the caveat being that the said individual mustn’t be co-opted by the US and acting under its strategic guidance, whether purposely or unwittingly).
The Two-Faced Fraud:
Viktor Orban, however, took Euro-cautionary steps to cripple the EU when hefenced off the Hungarian border with Serbia and initiated a chain reaction of border buffering that unsettled the Balkan region.
The more prominent aftershocks of this policy indirectly resulted in EU-leader Germany re-imposing temporary border restrictions with Austria and de-facto violating the very same principles that it had previously pledged to protect at all costs.
Partially as a result of this and other actions, Orban has become the leader of the anti-“refugee” movement in Europe, taking the strongest and loudest stand of any EU member in questioning the intentions of these individuals, legally challenging Brussels’ quota resettlement scheme, and decrying the liberal-progressive ‘religion’ of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘zero-borders’. In a sense, he’s positioned Hungary as the underdog in foiling Angela Merkel’s German-led vision of a liberal-progressive Europe, conservatively proposing a more sovereignty-centric approach to intra-union affairs and spearheading the way in leading by example.
In general, Orban’s approach has enjoyed the full backing of his citizenry, as well as many other distressed Euro-cautionary individuals all across Central and Eastern Europe, turning him into the normative leader of the EU’s new nation-centric zeitgeist.
Enchanted by his fearless rebukes of Brussels and the strength of personality that he has in carrying out his populist decisions, Orban’s international supporters tend to overlook his less scrutinized role as a sleazy salesman for NATO expansionism.
It was reported in early October that Hungary would host one of the bloc’s command centers, despite not sharing any border with Russia and thus invalidating the organization’s stated reasoning for such a facility.
Looked at in a regional perspective, Romania and Bulgaria are doing the same thing, and the one point of commonality that they all share is that these countries border Serbia, one of the only European countries that’s not part of the grouping and is a key transit state for Balkan Stream and the Balkan Silk Road.
Keep in mind that Hungary is supposed to be the terminal point for both projects, but alas, this doesn’t mean that Orban is immune from the temptation to project influence towards the country that he’ll one day become strategically dependent on if either project is ultimately completed.
In late November, Orban announced that he supports NATO membership for Macedonia, ‘justifying’ his position by saying that while Hungary wants “a unified economic and security zone, today there is a void between Hungary and Greece”, implying that it needs to be filled not just by the Macedonia, but also by Serbia.
Granted, Hungary is in a much better position to influence the latter than it is the former, and it could potentially exert pressure on it by inciting ethnic disturbances in the demographically heterogeneous Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.
Orban’s personal motivation wouldn’t be to disrupt the multipolar megaprojects that are expected to make his country the premier trade and energy hub of Central Europe, but to use this newfound position to expand Hungary’s influence over its neighbors and de-facto resurrect a new form of the Hungarian Empire (St. Steven’s Space, as it was referred to earlier).
Of course, this neo-imperial vision can easily be used by the US as a carrot in goading Orban along into carrying out his majestic fantasy of national glory in order to facilitate the ‘unintentional’ obstruction of both projects, with the Hungarian leader being too blinded by the new nationalism that’s taken hold of his thinking (and that of Europe in general) to realize that he’s been tricked.
Around the same time that he was trying to impress Macedonian Prime Minister Gruevski with his fervent pro-NATO attitude, Orban also met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and received a congratulatory pat on the back for all that he has done in stepping up Hungary’s “collective security” commitment.
What was being specifically addressed was how Orban increased the country’s defense budget (with the expectation that some of the new funds will be diverted to NATO) and ordered his country to participate in the anti-Russian Baltic “air-policing mission”.
The NATO chief also thanked Orban for continuing to provide Hungarian troops to the bloc’s ongoing occupations of Afghanistan and the Serbian Province of Kosovo.
Along the topic of NATO, Orban’s Foreign Minister attended the early-December summit in Brussels and helped brainstorm ideas for how the US-led military alliance could get more heavily involved in the Mideast against ISIL.
Assessed from a neutral perspective unadulterated by the sway of Orban’s magnetic political personality and attractive advocacy of social conservatism, it’s objectively accurate to state that he’s one of the most pro-NATO leaders in the entire EU, and worse still, he’s also the only one that’s gained enough social ‘trust’ from the Central Balkan people to potentially mislead some of them down the path of formal American occupation.
It was earlier stated that Orban, led by his own desires, won’t intentionally do anything that would make the Balkan Stream and Balkan Silk Road projects unviable, believing that Hungary has too much to strategically lose than to foolishly play with fire for no tangible reason whatsoever. The problem arises when one becomes mindful of just how strong of an influence nationalist thought has on Orban and the rest of the population at the moment, and herein it’s necessary to draw a definitive difference with patriotism.
Nationalism and patriotism are commonly (but improperly) used interchangeably by many people, unaware that although they might at times manifest themselves in similar ways, they are conceptually separate strands of thought. Nationalists tend to be more influenced by racial interests than state-based ones whether they’re cognizant of this reality or not, and in many of the cases where people blur the distinction between patriotism and nationalism (like in Hungary), the country in question has a strong degree of ethnic homogeneity.
Patriotism differs from the previous by placing a stronger emphasis on the whole country’s interests, not just those of the titular majority, even if they come off as contravening the “racial interest” ardently supported by their nationalist counterparts.
A good example of this is in Russian Patriots supporting the authorities in the Muslim and autonomous Chechen Republic despite the majority of the Russian Federation being ethnic Russians and Orthodox Christian practitioners.
A Russian Nationalist is absolutely opposed to any form of positive interaction with the non-Russian, non-Orthodox members of the country’s society, believing that individuals who don’t share these two demographic traits aren’t worthy of being part of Russia.
Per this example, Russian Nationalists are thus predisposed to the racist slogans of American proxy Alexei Navalny to “stop feeding the Caucasus”, with the inference that Russia should ‘cut them off’ to become independent countries. This would lead to the voluntary Brzezinski-esque unravelling of the diverse Russian state and fulfill the US’ principle geopolitical objective for a fraction of the cost.
Comparatively, a Russian Patriot has a vested interest in preserving Russia’s rich cultural, ethnic, and religious history and not in cutting the country apart based on identity lines, seeing his motherland’s diversity as a source of its civilizational strength.
Returning back to Hungary after clarifying this important difference between concepts, it’s difficult at the moment to tell whether Orban is a nationalist or a patriot, since, as was mentioned, his country is one of those hard-to-discern types where the vast majority of the population is ethnically homogenous.
The deciding factor in assessing which of the two ideologies he actually adheres to is in his government’s policies towards the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina, where they constitute around 13% of the population heavily concentrated near the border. At this time, Orban hasn’t taken any concrete moves in supporting that community’s “separateness” from the Serbian state, but the real test will come if the nationalist Jobbik Party happens to stir up ethnic discontent there and prompts a news-making provocation that he’s forced to respond to.
Should this happen, then the Hungarian Prime Minister would find himself in a political trap of his own making. He has already done so much to promote nationalism/patriotism (it’s not yet clear which one because of the blur between them due to Hungary’s demographic situation) that some citizens will surely be upset at him regardless of what he does because they too were confused over which ideology Orban had been peddling.
The nationalists will be distraught to the point of potentially protesting against him if he doesn’t take strong and forceful anti-Serbian measures in response to a Jobbik provocation in Vojvodina, whereas patriots will be equally upset with him if he does, realizing that such a move would endanger Balkan Stream and the Balkan Silk Road.
The very zeitgeist that Orban thought he had under his control could unwittingly prove to be his undoing if the nationalist opposition chooses to put him in the spot and force his hand one way or the other. Along the same train of thought, the US could indirectly influence Jobbik in this direction, knowing that their nationalist ideology makes them gullibly susceptible to being led along such a route.
The anti-government protests that could erupt in this scenario would be much more intense than the ones that preceded them in October 2014. At that time, NGOs organized thousands of people to march against him after the government levied a controversial internet tax, and John McCain even joined in the fray by maligning Orban as a “neo-fascist dictator”.
While the fervor quickly died down after Budapest backtracked on the tax, the message that the protests sent was clear – the US is more than capable of stirring up Color Revolution unrest in Hungary if Orban doesn’t fall in line with its preferred policies.
While he’s ‘behaving’ himself nice and well for the moment, if he ever does decide to ‘step out of line’ in a significant enough manner, the US could revive the Color Revolution threat against him, but by replacing the anti-tax protesters with much more aggressive and violent nationalists, provided of course that Orban falls deeper into the trap by refusing to go along with the anti-Serbian provocation scenario that’s set for him.
Predictably, however, he’ll probably acquiesce to whatever he’s being guided to do, since the October 2014 Color Revolution scare seems to have made a significant enough of an impression on him that he’s now promoting NATO to the highest degree.
Orban pretends to be against ‘the system’, but in all actuality, he supports the US’ unipolar deigns in crafty and unexpected ways. His continental popularity stems mostly from being a vanguard of the evolving strategic paradigm for controlling post-“refugee” Europe, where nationalism/patriotism (again, the difference depends on domestic contexts and the individual leader practicing it) are becoming the order of the day.
The US is turning away from using liberal-progressives as its agents of choice and is instead switching to nationalists and fake patriots, with the latter label being used to describe people who verbally espouse “patriotism” but actually practice nationalism.
Orban falls under this category, since he’s deceptively gained much of Central and Eastern Europe’s trust through his conservative commentary and nationalist actions regarding the “refugee” crisis, but he’s a Trojan Horse in spreading normative support for NATO.
It’s too early to tell if he’ll voluntarily practice his nationalist-NATO policies towards Serbia or if he’ll have to be tricked into doing so by the US and/or Jobbik, but there’s a very real possibility that Hungary will one day activate its ethnic card in Vojvodina for whatever political ends it has in mind (be it to gain a one-up advantage on ‘upstream’ Serbia or to viciously destroy the multilateral Balkan Stream and Balkan Silk Road projects).
For these reasons, while Orban might appear like a willingly enthusiastic multipolar partner in some respects (and he could very well be serious in his cooperative intent owing to the strategic-economic advantages that Hungary will predictably reap), he’s also an easily misled unipolar stooge in others, if not an outright agent of the US.
HYBRID WARS: CONTAINING CHINA, DISRUPTING SOUTHEAST ASIA, AMERICA’S VENDETTA AGAINST VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA
Insular ASEAN has a strategic role in presiding over maritime access points to the region and beyond, but it’s mainland ASEAN and its political stability that most directly affect China’s core strategy at the moment. It’s highly unlikely that circumstances will rapidly change to the point where China is completely cut off from the South China Sea and the international waterways around it, but it looks ever case that its access will come under the watchful gaze of the Chinese Containment Coalition (CCC) and that the potential for military-strategic blackmail might one day arise.
In order to counteract this crippling scenario, Beijing is progressively taking steps to circumvent its full dependence on the waterways and balance this with a more substantialized on-the-ground infrastructure presence, the ASEAN Silk Road and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
Both of these ambitious projects were comprehensively discussed at the beginning of the research’s ASEAN focus, and it’s predicted that the US will go to extraordinary lengths to disrupt their full implementation. To remind the reader, the Law of Hybrid War is “to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political, etc.) within a targeted transit state”, so it naturally follows that Color Revolution and Unconventional War schemes with be hatched against these countries in order to stop China’s strategic ‘escape’ from maritime containment.
There are essentially three situational theaters in mainland ASEAN – Indochina, Thailand, and Myanmar – and the research will progress to examining each of these Hybrid War battlefields in that sequential order.
The first area to be studied is Indochina, taken to mean the former French colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. As with the other countries that have been geopolitically dissected thus far, it’s imperative that the reader first acquaint themselves with a relevant historical background prior to commencing the Hybrid War investigations.
This will imbue the individual with an understanding that allows them to recognize the utility of certain socio-political variables to the scenarios that are subsequently described.
The Indosphere Meets The Sinosphere:
Indochina lies precisely at the geographic convergence point of Indian and Chinese civilizations, and as such, there’s actually a clear delineation point between them inside this subregion. For the most part, Cambodia and Laos fell under Indian cultural influence and their historical kingdoms were “Indianized” to a broad extent, while Vietnam was under Chinese control for over a millennium from 111 BC to 938 AD.
The effect of these separate civilizational forces on such a small geographic area was to accentuate identity differences between these two adjacent parts, the legacy of which continues into the present day and is likely to once more become a driving factor in forthcoming events.
By itself, the civilizational separateness that “Indianized” Cambodia and Laos feel towards “Sinified” Vietnam wouldn’t coalesce into a sufficient agent for political action on its own, but the historical trend of Vietnamese expansionism at their expense (some of it subjectively so, other parts only perceived as such) reveals itself to be the catalytic cause.
Neither country outright rejects Vietnamese influence, nor are they in an economic position to do so even if they wanted to, but the point is that their history of relations with Vietnam undoubtedly plays a role in why these two states want to diversify away from their former mono-dependence on their neighbor (experienced from 1975-1991) and achieve a balance through complementary relations with civilizationally similar Thailand and economically expanding China.
Caught In The Middle:
Being situated between their larger Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, Cambodia and Laos have historically been under pressure from both of these powers and eventually turned into the object of their conquests.
The golden age that each of these modern-day states had prior to their submission came during the era of Cambodia’s Khmer Empire and Laos’ Lan Xang kingdom, stretching between 802-1431 and 1354-1707, respectively. After that, each of these once-glorious entities fell under the control of the Kingdom of Ayyuthaya, nowadays referred to as Thailand.
Vietnam didn’t become a significant player in the rest of Indochina until after it completed its centuries-long “Nam tiến”, which was the state’s piecemeal incorporation of the southern parts of the country that only ended in the early 1800s.
Siamese Ebb, Vietnamese Flow:
After Vietnam’s contemporaneous consolidation, it fought two wars with Thailand from 1831-1834 and1841-1845 over Cambodia, but the object of their mutual rivalry eventually requested French “protection” in 1867 and threw off both of its neighboring rivals.
It became France’s second colony after “Cochinchina”, the southern part of Vietnam, fell to an invasion and was occupied by the Empire a couple years earlier in 1862. Just a little over three decades later, Laos was added to the list of French conquests in 1893 following the Franco-Siamese War of the same year.
With their Indochinese imperial realm acquiring a great deal of strategic depth and coming to encompass almost the entirety of its eventual territory, the French were in a comfortable position to accelerate the economic exploitation of their colonies, with a concentrated focus on what is today Vietnam.
It should be noted, however, that modern-day Vietnam was actually divided into three separate colonies by the French – Tonkin, Amman, and Cochinchina – but taken as an aggregate, Vietnam’s colonial economic output was much more valuable to Paris than Cambodia and Laos’.
The period of French Indochina was also the first time that these two states were grouped together under the same umbrella as Vietnam, heralding a state of affairs that would go on to continue with various ups and downs until the end of the Cold War.
World War II And Greater Thailand:
Indochina was largely spared from the ravages of Japan’s traditional wartime occupational practices, although by no means was it totally immune. Still, Tokyo had less of a militant presence in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos than it did in Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, and the entire territory of French Indochina remained under their control until the end of the war.
What’s notable about this period though isn’t necessarily the influence that Japan exercised over the former French colonies, but the role that Thailand played in reasserting its territorial claims eastward.
Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (popularly known as Phibun) became Prime Minister of Thailand in 1938 and led his country on an irredentism campaign to re-annex parts of Cambodia and Laos after the Franco-Thai War from 1940-1941.
He also expanded Thailand’s territory into northeastern Myanmar’s present-day Shan State and the northern territories of Malaysia, all of which he claimed used to be part of his kingdom prior to the advent of colonialism.
Thailand was able to get away with all of this because it was an ally of fascist Japan at the time, and it wasn’t until 1946 that it rescinded all of its irredentist claims as part of a deal in exchange for joining the UN.
Despite representing an outburst of militant Thai nationalism, this brief period was not overly influential in determining the future attitudes of Cambodians and Laotians towards Bangkok, partly because of the civilizational similarities between all three peoples and also due to the fact that only portions of their respective territory (and not all of it) were annexed. Another factor that played a role was that the annexations were only in effect for five years.
After World War II, Vietnam’s influence replaced Thailand’s and remained the paramount social factor impacting on these two countries’ affairs.
The First And Second Indochinese Wars:
The struggle against the French and Americans was a heroic one of epic proportions, and readers should look more into it on their own time if they have an interest in these exploits.
For the sake of time and scope, the summarized relevance of this period of time to the research at hand is that it represented the on-the-ground expansion of (North) Vietnamese influence into Cambodia and Laos, with the Vietnamese communists training and supporting their Khmer Rouge and Pathet Laos counterparts during the entire conflict.
In fact, if it wasn’t for crucial support from Hanoi, neither Phnom Penh nor Vientiane would have cast off their respective pro-Western governments, with all three countries liberating themselves from imperialism in full during the dramatic year of 1975.
Alas, the conclusion of these two anti-imperialist wars weren’t a harbinger for the end of the region’s conflicts in general, and a few forthcoming ones would soon break out that would derail Indochina’s dynamics.
Vietnam vs. Cambodia
The first war that broke out after the end of the anti-imperialist struggle was the one between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1978-1979. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge government had turned on its former Vietnamese benefactors and began aggressively demanding territorial revisions in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region.
The supposed reasoning for this is that the lands of the late Cochinchina had historically been inhabited by ethnic Khmer (the majority demographic in Cambodia) and were only forcibly incorporated into Vietnam after the end of Nam tiến.
There were also intra-communist Cold War considerations at play too, with Vietnam and its Laotian ally being aligned with the Soviet Union, while Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge authorities were very close to China (partly in order to balance against Vietnam’s 19th-century historic interests over the country).
Although Vietnam righteously and quite accurately claimed that it was liberating Cambodia from the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge (which had killed up to a quarter of the country’s population in only four years’ time), it’s clear in retrospect that it was also pursuing clear geopolitical interests at the same time, installing a pro-Vietnamese government in Pol Pot’s wake and bringing the country fully under its influence as a result.
Vietnam vs. China
As an immediate response to the overthrow of China’s regional ally, Beijing invaded the northern part of Vietnam in mid-February 1979, intent on punishing its erstwhile partner and sending the strongest possible message that it totally denounced its actions. Neither side gained anything tangible from this brief but bloody campaign, but it’s worthwhile to remind the reader that this conflict occurred after China had already de-facto sided with the US in the Cold War.
Seen from this vantage point of contextual insight, it’s evident that Beijing was enforcing Washington’s will by proxy against its hated Vietnamese enemy, whether it wittingly did so or was unknowingly guided into this scenario.
The exacerbation of intra-communist Cold War tension between China and the USSR also played to the US’ grand strategic advantage, and it was shortly after this conflict ended that the US took the decision to provocatively arm the Afghan Mujahedin on 3 July, 1979 in order to provoke a Soviet intervention.
In the grand global scheme of things, China had put the Soviets’ position in Southeast Asia on the relative defensive while also ensuring that it would redirect a sizeable number of its forces to defending the joint border.
Concurrently, the US started using radical Islam to stir up trouble in the USSR’s southern front with Afghanistan, and it was only one year later in 1980 that the anti-Soviet,CIA-influenced Solidarity movement would be created in order to tempt an Afghan-like intervention in Eastern Europe.
Taken together, the situationally coordinated anti-Soviet advances that had popped up in this short two-year period in Southeast Asia, the Chinese frontier, Afghanistan, and Poland are evidence that the US was serious in influencing a concerted effort aimed at destabilizing the USSR along as many of its strategic fronts as possible.
Seeing as how this also coincided with the “Reagan Doctrine” of ‘rolling back’ the Soviet influence in Africa (e.g. Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique) and Latin America (Nicaragua), it can be said that the Sino-Vietnamese War was actually the opening salvo in this forthcoming worldwide campaign.
Vietnamese-Thai Border Skirmishes
After militarily withdrawing from Indochina, the US resorted to using Thailand as itsLead From Behind to promote their strategic vision in the region. Both Washington and Bangkok supported the Khmer Rouge and other insurgents against the Cambodian-based Vietnamese forces and newly installed pro-Hanoi government, effectively giving the Cambodian Civil War the foreign support that it needed to continue indefinitely.
As part of its anti-insurgent campaign, the Vietnamese military would launch raids along the joint Thai-Cambodian border, even engaging in select cross-border attacks against fleeing militants.
The tensions that boiled up with Vietnam all along Thailand’s southeastern border with Cambodia would later directly express themselves in the Thai-Laotian Border War of 1987-1988, during which Bangkok and Vientiane (the latter supported by the Vietnamese forces that were based in the country) had a brief military conflict over their disputed frontier.
Despite not resulting in any status quo changes, the incident was symbolic in the sense that it showed that the entire Thai-Indochinese border region was ‘fair game’ for proxy conflicts, especially considering that the Vietnamese military was based in both Cambodia and Laos at the time.
The escalation of border tension with Laos was significant in that it occurred at the period of time when hostilities between Thailand and Vietnam were subsiding over Cambodia, thus showing that the US-backed authorities in Bangkok were insistent on advancing their anti-Vietnamese goals in some form or another no matter what third-party state was used to achieve these ends.
Interestingly enough, the US’ proxy policy of Southeast Asian destabilization via its Lead From Behind partner of Thailand carries with it a strong foreshadowing of what would later happen in the Mideast after the formal US military withdrawal in 2011. Just as the US withdrew from South Vietnam in 1973 but later used Thailand as its base of covert operations to destabilize its regional foe, so too did it do something similar by withdrawing from Iraq in 2011 but using Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to continue promoting its anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian agendas, albeit in a more accelerated manner than it had done vis-à-vis Vietnam.
Therefore, clear links of strategic continuity can be witnessed between the US’ Cold War policy in Indochina after 1973 and its current one in the Mideast after 2011, with both being characterized by an asymmetrical proxy offensive that follows a conventional retreat.
Indochina After The Cold War:
The changing global dynamics brought about by the end of the Cold War had a monumental impact on Indochina. First off, the most noticeable change was that Vietnam formally withdrew its military from Cambodia and Laos, thereby lessening the direct expression of its influence over these two neighboring states.
In turn, Vietnam was able to concentrate its focus on internal economic affairs as opposed to external military-political ones, and the Western community lifted its anti-Vietnamese sanctions that were initially implemented in response to the 1978 Vietnamese-Cambodian War and subsequent military presence there.
Due to the institutional relief that Vietnam experienced from this and the positive reaction that the pro-Western members of the region had to these dual developments, Hanoi was able to rapidly incorporate itself into the global economy, joining ASEAN in 1995 and establishing very close trade ties with the US, Japan, and South Korea afterwards.
Cambodia and Laos would go on to join ASEAN as well, albeit in 1999 and 1995, respectively. Instead of moving closer to the US and its East Asian allies, however, they would actually opt to intensify full-spectrum relations with China and Thailand. While both maintain cordial and somewhat close ties with Vietnam (Laos much more so than Cambodia), it can subjectively be assessed that they are no longer as strongly under its influence as they once were.
Laos is integrating itself into the ASEAN Silk Road and becoming the literal link between China and Thailand, whereas Cambodia has blossomed into a bastion of Chinese economic and diplomatic influence.
The current governments of these two Indochinese states are firmly in the sphere of the multipolar world, with their position exponentially increased by Thailand’s new pro-multipolar leadership.
That isn’t to say that Vietnam isn’t somewhat multipolar as well, seeing as how it beneficially cooperates with Russia in the economic and military realms, but overall the country has come under the strong influence of the unipolar anti-Chinese states of the US and Japan, with the TPP being the ultimate epitome.
Going forward, it’s expected that Vietnam will balance its South China Sea maritime strategy with ambitious asymmetrical mainland inroads into its former ‘backyards’ of Cambodia and Laos, partly out of its own desire to economically entrap these two states into its subregional TPP influence zone, but also due to the US’ strategic guidance in using Hanoi’s historical proxy leadership over them to complicate China’s One Belt One Road plans.
The Vendetta Against Vietnam
Vietnam is currently one of the US’ closest strategic partners in the South China Sea, with bilateral relations on the strong upswing out of the shared economic interests and the joint vision of containing China. While ties are unprecedentedly positive between these two states, Vietnam might one day begin reasserting its strategic sovereignty against the US vis-à-vis a possible improvement of relations with China.
That doesn’t look all that probable in the given moment, but it certainly can’t be disregarded, especially since China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner and likely will remain so for at least the rest of the decade (despite the TPP and barring any anti-Chinese sanctions over the Spratly Islands dispute).
In the event that Vietnam more pragmatically engages China and perhaps even chooses to fully participate in the One Belt One Road project, then it would draw the strong consternation of the US, whether this is publicly expressed or relegated to backdoor talks.
Just as the US stands to manipulate domestic Hybrid War factors in the presently pro-American countries of insular ASEAN, so too could it do so in Vietnam if Hanoi doesn’t behave as “loyally” as Washington envisions it to be.
One of the possible ‘symptoms’ of an assuredly sovereign state policy would be if Vietnam refuses to go along with some of the US’ CCC practices, for which it would obviously experience certain punitive repercussions.
For this reason, it’s useful to explore what kind of destabilization potentials exist in Vietnam and game out the various means for how the US could possibly manipulate them if its newfound ally wavers in its strategic anti-Chinese commitment.
The six most realistic variables and scenarios can be categorized into those that deal with ethnic, regional, and social divides, and they will be examined in that order below. The ethnic groups function as support actors, while the social ones are expected to be the primary ones that take the lead in sparking the destabilization.
The regional divide that’s explained below allows for a supportive and encouraging backdrop for ideological predisposed or indoctrinated individuals, and it also creates high hopes for those that are already entertaining anti-systemic notions.
A little more than one million Khmer inhabit the southern reaches of Vietnam, and in the past their presence was used by Pol Pot as justification for Cambodia’s historic claims over the Mekong Delta.
While the issue itself has largely receded in the decades since Vietnam put a stop to the aggression in 1979, it still remains possible that this demographic could be used in some manner to stir local anti-government discontent. As it currently stands, the Cambodian government is anathema to such suggestions, both out of multipolar pragmatism and stark remembrance of how disastrously it turned out last time around, but that doesn’t mean that a third-party actor (either the US directly or via one of its many NGO pawns) could do aggravate the situation instead.
There’s no practical way that the Khmer Krom could ever destabilize the whole of Vietnam, but a coordinated campaign could be implemented to use them as bait for provoking a military crackdown that leads to collateral damage against ethnic Vietnamese and/or international condemnation, especially if this scenario is mixed with a labor rights dispute of some sort.
What’s pivotal in this example is that the Khmer Krom, separate in culture and language from the majority Viet ethnicity, are vulnerable to identity mobilization and thenceforth to being led into a bloody confrontation with the state, with the end result of the clashes (collateral damage, misleading media exposure) being more important than whatever short-term aims the ethnic group had been misled into coalescing around.
Infamous for their collaboration with the US military during the Vietnam War, this scattered ethnic group poses a joint destabilization threat to both Vietnam and Laos.
The Hmong are divided through dialect but united through geography, occupying a crescent of territory from northern Vietnam into northeast Laos. There are estimated to be over one million Hmong in Vietnam and less than half of that in Laos, so altogether they only form a recognizable percentage of the population in the latter (which has about 6.7 million people).
The Hmongs’ significance derives from their identity in being a restive, anti-communist demographic with experienced cross-border travel between Vietnam and Laos, raising the tactical prospects that they could once more be used for drug and/or weapons smuggling.
While the ones that remained in both countries after the US retreat have mostly been re-incorporated into society, if they were to resort back to their illegal transnational practices (whether being contracted by an intelligence agency to do so or out of their own pursuit of profit), they could create some trouble in this rugged and underpopulated frontier despite their miniscule numbers.
Strategically speaking, any eruption of instability in Laos could then more easily spill over into Vietnam, with the Hmong communities once more plying their militant trade across the border and potentially arming distressed factory workers that are preparing for a local, regional, and/or nationwide uprising.
Just like with the Khmer Krom, the Hmong by themselves are not in any position to destabilize Vietnam aside from being an isolated nuisance, but if their specific on-the-ground advantages are utilized in a certain manner, then they could be used as a force multiplier in any larger unfolding scenario.
These mutually synonymous terms are used to refer to the native people of the Western Highlands. These Christianized tribal groups were allied with the French and US forces during the First and Second Indochinese Wars, and in terms of geopolitical importance, they abut the country’s borders with Cambodia and Laos and are located at a critical position in the country’s south.
They have a history of rebelling against all aspects of Vietnamese rule, be it from the former South or the current reintegrated state, and they partook in a low-intensity anti-government insurgency that wasn’t disbanded until 1992.
The Degar join the likes of their fellow Khmer Krom and Hmong minority compatriots in being unable to affect significant disturbances on their own (especially with the current Cambodian government being unwilling to offer them any type of sanctuary to do so), but having the opportunity to maximize the potential of other destabilization scenarios if their actions are coordinated in sync.
For example, if the 2001 “land rights” unrest and 2004 Easter protests (both of which were instigated from abroad) were to repeat themselves in some form concurrent with violent labor disputes elsewhere in the country, then it could possibly offset the authorities and create an opening for asymmetrical advances such as a renewed insurgency.
Furthermore, Degar destabilizations could ultimately lead to a large refugee flow into Cambodia if they end up failing, and this carries with it a risk to the Kingdom’s overall balance. The northeastern provinces bordering the Western Highlands are rural and mostly underpopulated, so it’s possible that this demographic could exploit the feeble governance there in order to set up anti-Vietnamese training camps.
For now, at least, this doesn’t seem likely at all, but if Phnom Penh were in the midst of putting down its own anti-government riots (likely initiated under the cover of a labor revolt and to be explained in the relevant section), then it could be expected that this might occur to some extent.
The days of a distinct division between North and South Vietnam are long gone, but certain socio-cultural differences still remain between the two. The reunification of the two entities after 1975 was fraught with many challenges, but none so more difficult than integrating the formerly capitalistic market of the South into the state-controlled system of the North.
After experiencing some economic turbulence related to this undertaking and feeling the winds of American-supported global change that were sweeping across the world, the Vietnamese authorities decided to progressively open up their economy through the 1986 Doi Moi reforms. What’s ironic about this is that it represented an about-face for the communist state, which had just gone through great lengths to implement a strict top-down system in the South, but only to retreat from this policy about a decade later.
Other than some of the global and structural factors that were at play and exerting an undeniable impact, it’s unmistakable that Southern-based liberals also had a role over this decision. It’s not to insinuate that they had any ulterior motives in doing so, but that they genuinely believed from their experience that the economic model previously in place in South Vietnam was relatively more efficient than the one that they were later ordered to transition into by the North.
No matter the degree of influence that the Southern liberals had over initiating the Doi Moi reforms, the fact remains that they were a comparative reversal of the previous system and an embrace of capitalist principles, the same operating structure that had earlier been in place in the South.
The pertinence of that period to the present is that the pro-Western economic thinking of that time is once more on the ascent in Vietnam, and with it, the possibility of a complementary pro-Western foreign policy.
The last time that Hanoi followed the lead of Western influencing factors in the mid-1980s, it ended up unassumingly doing the West’s foreign policy bidding a few years later by withdrawing from Cambodia and Laos at the end of the Cold War.
This time, Vietnam is on the verge of entering into the forthcoming TPP arrangement, and it’s playing a more militant role in the CCC hand-in-hand with this development. Whereas in the past it may have been contextually pragmatic for Vietnam to implement Doi Moi and remove its troops from the rest of Indochina, no such rationale can be evoked when it comes to the TPP and the CCC, both of which Vietnam is lunging into head-first.
It’s the author’s understanding that the 1980s Doi Moi and Cambodian and Laotian withdrawals symbolized the victory of the ‘spirit of the South’, or in other words, of certain policies that wittingly or unwittingly corresponded to Western preferences.
In the same vein, joining the TPP and the CCC, and perhaps reinvigorating soft (economic) Vietnamese influence in Cambodia and Laos, accomplishes the same thing, albeit this time in full and witting compliance to the US’ regional vision.
Therefore, the regional differences in Vietnam are less of a geopolitical nature and more of an ideological one, with the North (in ideas, not necessarily in terms of actual politicians) typically representing independent pragmatism, whereas the South symbolizes pro-Western bandwagoning.
Ultimately, it’s the rivalry between these two camps that defines the current state of Vietnam’s international economic and political decision making, with the South obviously in charge at the moment. Should that change, then it’s likely that the US would fall back on utilizing the country’s ethnic and/or social destabilization variables in order to enact pro-Southern pressure on the government to bring it back in line with its CCC preferences.
Banned Religious Groups
One of the largest social disruptors in Vietnam could potentially come from the religious community in the country. Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Vietnam per the 1992 Constitution, and the country currently boasts a belief rate of around 46%, with 16% practicing Buddhism, 8% partaking in Christianity (be it Catholicism or Protestantism), and the rest following unorganized traditional beliefs.
On the whole, these individuals are peaceful and apolitical, and it’s very rare for regular believers to encounter any sort of trouble from the state. The issue arises when adherents of banned Buddhist and Christian organizations such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship, to name just two of them, illegally gather for services and proselytization practices.
As a general rule, such groups are banned because they have a track record of engaging in political practices, and this is why they could present such a difficult challenge for the authorities if they go out of control.
To expand on this idea, so-called “religious freedom” is a powerful rallying cry for indoctrinated individuals and those susceptible to Western liberal-democratic thought. The general concept holds that governments should unrestrictedly allow any and all religions to be practiced, including obscure cult beliefs affiliated or unaffiliated with a major religion.
Obviously, the individuals experiencing some type of state restriction on their religious practices (whether semi-conventional or outright cultish) are the ones most eager to reverse this state of affairs, and they may go about recruiting related co-confessionalists (as in the case of the banned Buddhist and Christian organizations) in order to assist them in this endeavor.
At this point, what’s important to concentrate on is broader religious affiliation (be it Buddhist, Christian, or sympathy to both) being used as a mobilization issue for non-state agenda-driven actors.
It doesn’t matter whether they use their socio-physical networks to agitate against state atheism and certain religious “restrictions” or any other object of protest, since the saliency lies in them simply organizing a critical mass of demonstrators that can ultimately disrupt the state’s stability.
Another critical component of this disruption strategy is that the religious-driven organizations and their affiliates could easily mislead their congregants to the conclusion that the only way for them to achieve their goals is through a violent overthrow of the state.
They might point to “state-suppression” of their prior ‘activism’ as ‘evidence’ that working within the system is futile, thus compelling them to resort to Color Revolution and Unconventional Warfare practices (Hybrid War) in order to actualize their objectives when the time is right. While keeping their faith and religiously motivated end goal of regime change a secret, they can then take to recruiting other citizens to join their ‘dissident’ cause, most likely using a more encompassing and non-religious rallying issue such as workers’ rights to broaden their movement’s base.
There’s a high chance that the majority of people brought into this fold might not be aware of the regime change purposes of the growing underground movement, being guided instead into thinking that they’re lending their support to a short-term, low-intensity protest movement about a seemingly ‘legitimate’ issue such as workplace safety. Unbeknownst to them, they’re actually being attached to a preplanned provocation that will inevitably result in violence, with the most ardent of the religious believers leading the way in sparking the militant conflict against the authorities.
To summarize the strategic framework that’s been articulated above, select members of the banned religious community in Vietnam and their supportive state-approved counterparts could quite easily band together in building a covert anti-government network.
The more radical of the bunch could have already been convinced that the only way to affect the tangible change that they’re aiming for is to violently overthrow the government, and they’ll probably keep these intentions hidden from the more moderate members of the group.
Even if this religiously affiliated organization sought to commence a destabilizing protest or an outright putsch, they’d likely fail without garnering enough supporters in advance. Since it can safely be assumed that the vast majority of Vietnamese are against a violent overthrow of their government, the only way to get them to physically support the regime change movement is to conceal its ultimate intentions, using more inclusive and broad-based language such as protecting/advancing labor rights and other non-religious issues that the majority of people could relate to in order to motivate them enough to come out in the street with their support.
Even then, it’s not guaranteed that the scheme will appeal to enough people to make it effective, but the vehemence of the religiously motivated core organizers might be enough to give it some gusto.
Labor Rights Activists
The final Hybrid War factor impacting on Vietnam is also the most important, and it deals with the forthcoming institutionalized unionization in the country.
One of the TPP’s precepts is that it mandates that Vietnam “legalize independent labor unions and workers’ strikes”, which in and of itself is certainly a welcome and positive gesture, but considering the regime change reputation that Washington has mustered, such a seemingly innocuous and well-intentioned prerequisite must defensively be viewed with the utmost suspicion.
The author doesn’t intend to imply that all labor unions and workers’ strikes are potentially nefarious fronts for anti-government plots, but that under certain national conditions, there’s no doubt that they could be used as vehicles for advancing this agenda.
Vietnam has been dragged into a stereotypical dilemma – on the one hand, it needs to ensure and better workers’ rights and conditions, but at the same time, it needs to prevent its reforms from being abused by politically motivated actors.
The crux of the problem is that the state waited so long to legalize these labor privileges, so that neither it nor the citizenry fully know what to expect. Hanoi is predicating its decision on the notion that this move will strengthen the government’s appeal and preempt socio-economic disturbances, but it might inadvertently end up weakening its power over the country and ushering in the same type of destabilization that it hopes to avoid.
It’s inevitable that some of the unions will be co-opted by politically motivated elements or outright created as front organizations for them, yet their magnetic appeal and the popular acceptance that they’re expected to attain in Vietnamese society could indicate that an uncontrollably large segment of the population might vehemently be in support of them.
As was earlier stated, there’s nothing inherently wrong with labor unions, but from the Hybrid War perspective, these groups are capable of gathering a large amount of people and assembling highly charged and easily manipulatable crowds that could be turned against the government.
For example, if the unions and their supporters enter into a confrontation with the authorities (which is bound to happen in any organized labor dispute and/or strike) and provocateurs steer the situation along a preplanned scenario of violence, then the government reaction, no matter how justified it may be, could end up upsetting many people and enflaming anti-government sentiment.
There’s no clear-cut solution to handling this dilemma, and it’s obvious that both the state and the citizenry will have to learn as they go along. As regards the government, it needs to be able to identify the difference between a peaceful and legitimate labor-related protest and one which is on the verge of bubbling into an anti-government riot. It also needs to learn how to handle such incidents so that it doesn’t unwittingly do more harm than good in the tactics that it uses in breaking such demonstrations up.
Alternatively, the public needs to get a handle on what sorts of behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t, and legitimate protesters need to learn how to police their own ranks to root out any provocateurs before they have the chance to act.
The issue, as mentioned previously, is that neither side has the necessary experience to engage in this sort of civil society discourse without there being some unavoidable ‘growing pains’ such as Color Revolution infiltration and/or overreactive government crackdowns, both of which may serve to exacerbate preexisting anti-state sentiment and advance an externally directed regime change scenario.
Out of all of the variables discussed thus far, the “labor rights activist” one is the most all-encompassing, since it can conceivably envelop most of the working-age population within its ranks in some form or another.
It doesn’t matter if they’re card-carrying members or sympathetic citizens, what’s important for the Hybrid War observer to realize is that the banner of labor rights is capable of organizing millions of people for the same shared objective, and that this critical mass of individuals can be guided against the government by adept practitioners of crowd-control psychology.
Put another way, an untold number of regular, law-abiding, and well-intentioned citizens could get drawn into participating in what they believe to be a labor rights-focused protest, but only to in effect function as human shields protecting a radical core of urban terrorists that are intent on attacking the state.
These political and/or religious radicals aim to provoke ‘incriminating’ and visually-documented police-on-protester violence that could then deceptively be disseminated as ‘truth’ and used to help recruit more people into the growing anti-government movement.
Along the same lines, nationwide or strategically focused regional labor disputes and strikes could be used to enact economic war against a targeted state from within, especially if the “union” has been co-opted by externally directed anti-government elements or is an outright front organization for them. In the circumstances where this is the case, the external actor (in mostly every imaginable situation, this would be the US and its intelligence/NGO apparatus) can inflict a two-for-one destabilization against their target.
If the state is compelled to violently crack down on the rioters in order to restore order, then this could be manipulated against it via the social and physical anti-government ‘activist’ networks in generating even more dissatisfaction against the authorities; but at the same time, if the government doesn’t react and it allows the labor dispute and/or strike to continue indefinitely, then it risks experiencing a prolonged economic loss, especially if the factory, industry, and/or locale chosen for the disruption is of a strategic nature. In both instances, there isn’t a ‘win-win’ solution for the authorities, and they’re pressed to choose what they believe will be the lesser of two evils.
Putting the state on the defensive and forcing it to continuously react to these sorts of strategic lose-lose dilemmas are precisely the sort of tactics that Hybrid War practitioners specialize in. No matter what specific form they take or whatever particular issue the infiltrated or front organization claims to support at the time (be it labor rights, “free elections”, or the environment, for example), the indisputable pattern is that they always find a way to lure as many civilians into their ranks as possible in order to use them as human shields and ‘collateral damage’ for their preplanned anti-government provocation.
The next step follows naturally enough, and it’s that the average citizen who hears about what happened (either on their own or via a nifty NGO-directed social media campaign) starts to lose faith in the government, largely unaware that what they had seen or read was totally staged and/or guided to occur by a foreign intelligence agency.
The compound effect of this occurring on a large enough scale and with a certain context-specific frequency is that the population begins to either actively turn against the authorities and/or passively comes to accept the individuals that are fighting against them and whatever new state entity emerges in the wake of the current one’s possible defeat.
The Chances For A Hybrid War Crisis In Cambodia
Moving along in the book’s examination of Hybrid War threats in mainland ASEAN, it’s time now to turn to Cambodia, the first of the studied states to most likely be in the US’ regime chance crosshairs.
Up until this point, the research was addressing countries where engineered Hybrid War scenarios were possible only in the event that their governments strayed from the general anti-China line (to varying degrees of rhetoric and form) that the US had ‘preferred’ that they abide by.
Cambodia is a completely different matter altogether, since it’s the first ASEAN state that the book addresses in which bilateral relations with China are at an extraordinarily high level.
Although not a key node in Beijing’s primary ASEAN Silk Road from Kunming to Singapore, there are plans in motion to make it a supporting spoke, and the close ties between Beijing and Phnom Penh have drawn the ire of the US.
Cambodia occupies a strategic position in China’s ASEAN strategy, and thereby it’s likely that it will experience some sort of renewed regime change destabilization in the coming future despite not being a chief transit state for Beijing’s transnational connective infrastructure designs.
Additionally, the US is aware of the strategic regional advantages that it would gain from overthrowing Cambodia’s current government, and these calculations further increase the odds that long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen might become Washington’s next regime change target.
This segment of the research begins by explaining the geopolitical significance that Cambodia has to China and the mainland ASEAN region.
Afterwards it looks into the present political situation in the country and highlights the determined efforts of the ‘opposition’ in trying to topple Hun Sen.
Finally, the last part draws attention to the most realistic Hybrid War scenario facing Cambodia, which just like in Vietnam, is the infiltration of the labor rights movement and its hijacked repurposing into the optimal regime change instrument.
Why Strategists Care About Cambodia:
The average reader might be perplexed about why ASEAN’s poorest state has any significance whatsoever in terms of Great Power planning, but the answer lies no so much in economics (although there’s plenty of opportunity there, as will later be explained), but in geopolitics.
This is partly explained by China’s historical relations with Cambodia and general strategy towards ASEAN, but it’s also due to the demographic and state-to-state destabilization potential that Cambodia could potentially release towards its neighbors if it ever became a pro-American satellite state.
The China Factor
The most important issue to address in describing Cambodia’s geostrategic significance is its relationship with China. In the eyes of Beijing’s decision makers, Cambodia occupies a similar geopolitical importance to China as Serbia does to Russia, in that the strong partnership between the two allows the Great Power to ‘jump’ past a wall of obstructionist states. In the instance of mainland ASEAN, these historically had been Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, with the first two actually becoming pretty pragmatic towards China since the end of the Cold War.
Even if those two diplomatic successes hadn’t been achieved, the relationship with Cambodia allows China to maintain a strategic presence in the Gulf of Thailand and have a firmly committed ally in the ranks of ASEAN.
Most importantly in terms of China’s contemporary global strategy, Cambodia has proven to be the ideal testing ground for China’s overseas investment vision. The lessons that it learned by investing $9.17 billion in the nearby state during the period from 1994-2012, begun during the early days of China’s international rise and carried into the present, were obviously instrumental in helping it acquire the feel for managing similar overseas projects.
Altogether, these experiences would blend together and contribute to forming the global One Belt One Road vision, with China’s initial investment forays in historically allied Cambodia undoubtedly playing an influential role.
From the Cambodian perspective, its leadership has historically looked to China as a type of ‘big brother’ in helping it hedge against Thailand and Vietnam. The historical memory of having been an object of rivalry between these two powers, and in one sense or another, the military basing ground for each of them at different times, weighs heavily on its decision-making imperatives.
The collapse of the Khmer Empire brought Cambodia under the Siamese (Thai) fold for centuries, whereas the country was institutionally closer with Vietnam during the French imperial period. During the Vietnam War, its territory was continuously traversed by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, and although the Vietnamese later liberated Cambodia from the genocidal Khmer Rouge, nationalist elements interpret the subsequent years as an unnecessary military occupation by an historic rival.
Aside from the decade-long Peoples Republic of Kampuchea period from 1979-1989 when it hosted Vietnamese troops and was barred from dealing with China, there’s a clear continuity of pragmatic relations with its ‘big brother’ that was practiced by Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and then Hun Sen.
Nowadays, other than the political-economic benefits that it reaps from its partnership with China, Cambodia also gains elevated prestige in ASEAN simply by being so closely aligned with Beijing, which has thus transformed the country from a diplomatic backwater to a premier outpost for regional states to engage China’s interests in the region.
From an overall perspective, Chinese-Cambodian relations are a win-win for both sides, and they’re about to be taken to a totally new level of mutual benefit through the Greater Mekong Region’s “Central Corridor” project.
To remind the reader, this is one of the various connective projects in mainland ASEAN, with this particular route being a branch of the North-South Corridor through Laos. The Central Corridor branches off from Vientiane and slithers southwards down the country’s spine towards Cambodia, following the Mekong River along the way.
This variation of the ASEAN Silk Road is important in its own right because of the potential that it has for deepening trade between China and Cambodia via an optimal unimodal system (solely ground-based as opposed to transshipment from boat to land), but it lacks the geostrategic capability of providing Beijing with an alternative route to the Indian Ocean.
The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor fully avoids the South China Sea headache and Strait of Malacca bottleneck, while the primary ASEAN Silk Road through Thailand has the possibility of doing so in the region of southern Thailand.
This explains why Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand have a higher chance of falling victim to the US’ anti-Chinese plans (either in co-opting their elite or wreaking havoc) than Cambodia does, although Phnom Penh’s chummy ties with Beijing unquestionably puts it on the target list as well, albeit in a relatively lesser prioritization.
Transnational Ethnic Trouble
The Khmer ethnic majority in Cambodia are a very proud people, infused with the civilizational glory of the ancient Khmer Empire.
Accordingly, they’re also very patriotic, and their manifestations of pride could sometimes translate into nationalist demonstrations that put Thailand and Vietnam in an uncomfortable position.
The reason that Cambodia’s neighbors feel uneasy at the exercise of Khmer patriotism is because they have their own Khmer minority within their borders, a legacy that nationalists have tried to exploit by attributing it to colonialism.
In the case of the Thailand, these are the Northern Khmer that inhabit the northeastern region of Isan and live close to the Cambodian border. They constitute around a quarter of the population in Buriram, Sisaket, and Surin provinces.
There are also scattered segments of the Western Khmer living in Chanthaburi and Trat provinces, although they have less of an impactful contemporary presence than in Isan.
All told, it’s estimated that there are a little over one million Khmer living in Thailand. The situation with the Khmer Krom in southern Vietnam was already discussed in the earlier section about that country’s Hybrid War vulnerabilities, but to revisit the details for a moment, there are also about one million Khmer living there as well.
The geographically contiguous presence of ethnic Khmer diaspora living in the Thai and Vietnamese border regions means that a nationalist-driven Cambodia could pose a serious threat to the region’s stability. At the moment, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that Hun Sen would ever proceed down this destabilizing path, but in the event that he’s overthrown by a Pravy Sektor-like band of ultra-nationalists, it’s foreseeable that this demographic variable could become a complication in Cambodia’s bilateral relations with each of these states.
If history is an indication, then a future nationalism-obsessed government might follow in the Khmer Rouge’s footsteps and stage aggressive border provocations against Vietnam, possibly to the point of tempting Hanoi to launch a retaliatory strike to snub out the threat just as it did back in 1979. Drawing a parallel to the present, this might turn out to be a Southeast Asian variation of the “Reverse Brzezinski” stratagem, with the entire provocation predicated on the intent of dragging Vietnam into a quagmire (in this scenario, possibly as punishment for bettering relations with China).
Using these strategic principles, the same concept can actually more realistically be applied towards Thailand in the Khmer-populated areas of its already distressed Isan region.
Bangkok has been rapidly warming up to Beijing since the 2014 military coup and is now an integral transit state for the ASEAN Silk Road, thus meaning that any future Khmer-nationalist government in Cambodia would most likely be directed or implicitly guided by the US to targeted Thailand before Vietnam.
The only thing that needs to happen to turn this Hybrid War projection into an actual plan is for an ultra-nationalist opposition movement to seize power in Phnom Penh just as they did in Kiev two years ago, most likely following a similar template of urban terrorism as their pro-American predecessors on the other side of Eurasia. In fact, such a possibility is actually being actively prepared for, the specifics of which will be explored more in-depth when the research discusses the internal political situation in Cambodia.
Aside from the asymmetrical destabilization that a hyper-nationalist Cambodian government could bring to its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, there are also more conventional dangers that would go with this type of American-imposed government as well. As the reader likely realized by this point, Cambodia hasn’t always had positive relations with its two largest neighbors, and these have also manifested themselves into border disputes, the most recent and acute of which is the one with Thailand.
The two countries almost went to war in 2008 over a disputed patch of land right near the Preah Vihear Temple in northern Cambodia. The reasons for the disagreement extend well past the physical territory in question and broach the larger historical and cultural issues, but the immediate root of the problem was the use of differing imperial-era border maps to support either case.
The problem was eventually settled in Cambodia’s favor by the International Court of Justice in 2011, but because of the broader historical-cultural disagreements at play and the potential for a Khmer-nationalist Cambodian government to aggravate the situation with Northern Khmers, there’s a plausible chance that Phnom Penh might render irredentist claims against Thailand one day.
Adding a branch to this scenario, the US might extend some form of outward or implicit diplomatic support for this initiative in order to pressure the Bangkok authorities and incite grassroots reactionary violence against the Northern Khmer in Isan.
The border situation with Vietnam hasn’t been as dramatic as the one with Thailand since the time of the Khmer Rouge, and currently there aren’t any feasible scenarios that it could apply against its eastern neighbor. The Khmer Krom are vastly outnumbered in southern Thailand when compared to the majority ethnic Viet, unlike the situation in the underpopulated provinces of Isan where they form a critical mass concentrated nearby the border.
The prospective problem, then, isn’t so much ethnic irredentism (which is logically impossible to pull off against Vietnam), but a militant dispute over their recently delineated border.
Historic flukes and random kinks along their frontier had long marred bilateral relations after the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, and even now, the border demarcation issue been exploited by the nationalist opposition in the latter in an attempt to score political points. Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNPR) and the country’s main opposition leader,criticized Hun Sen for allegedly ceding land to Vietnam.
His politically ally, Senator Hong Sok Hour, was arrested in August 2015 for presenting a forged government document that purportedly ‘proved’ Rainsy’s accusation, and the opposition leader himself was later issued his own arrest warrant in early January 2016 for involvement in the case.
By that time he had already fled to France to avoid doing jail time for an unrelated defamation offense, but the fact that this issue has continued to bubble indicates that Rainsy may militantly act on his supposed claims if he ever succeeds in violently seizing power.
King Of The Cambodian Political Jungle:
The mentioning of Sam Rainsy is a perfect time to transition the research into discussing the internal political setup in the country. In a sense, it can read as a lead-up to what most likely will be a forthcoming Color Revolution attempt sometime between now and the July 2018 general elections. There are only two main players – Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy – but only one can be king of the Cambodian political jungle.
Cambodia’s prevailing leader has been in some capacity or another of the premiership since 1985, making him one of the world’s longest-serving heads of state. He was briefly a member of the Khmer Rouge before defecting to Vietnam, after which he reentered his homeland following its liberation by the Vietnamese military.
He became Prime Minister in 1985 and served under the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party, which later rebranded itself as the Cambodian People’s Party in 1991 and continues to hold power to this day. Hun Sen was almost booted from the government after losing the disputed 1993 elections, but after protesting the result and threatening that he’d lead the eastern part of Cambodia to secession, an agreement was reached whereby he’d serve in the position of co-Prime Minister.
His counterpart Norodom Ranariddh attempted to clandestinely seize power in 1997 through the use of covertly infiltrated Khmer Rouge and mercenary units to the capital, but Hun Sen was able to preempt the coup and stage his own countermoves that removed his rival from power and solidified his sole leadership.
The next and last threat to his premiership came during the aftermath of the 2013 elections, whereby Sam Rainsy and his newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party clinched 44.46% of the vote compared to Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party’s 48.83%, which prompted Rainsy to accuse the authorities of fraud.
The resultant protests descended into riotous behavior and closely resembled a Color Revolution attempt at times, but the drama was officially resolved when both parties agreed to a parliamentary power-sharing proposal on 22 July, 2014. Still, the close election results and the regime change behavior that was exhibited for a prolonged period afterwards indicates that a repeat of such events is very likely to happen in 2018, if not beforehand.
Looked at more broadly in an international perspective, Hun Sen is an adept pragmatic, skillfully able to maneuver his country between its two historical rivals and still retain the dominant political position within his country. Although he began his career as being ardently pro-Vietnamese during his premiership of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, he moderated his approach the moment that his nominal ally’s military forces departed from his country.
While never taking any anti-Vietnamese moves, he then swiftly sought to replace his former patron’s role with that of China, as has been the historic post-independence tradition of most Cambodian leaders. This decision was made on geopolitical grounds in hedging against both Vietnam and Thailand, although not doing so in an aggressive security dilemma-like manner that would jeopardize profitable relations with each.
Consequently, he was able to retain his country’s friendship with Vietnam while making positive inroads with Thailand, and his partnership with China allowed Cambodia to secure its strategic independence and safeguard its decision-making sovereignty in what otherwise could have been a complicated geopolitical situation (especially after having just emerged from a ravenous US-supported civil war).
Cambodia’s main opposition leader is the son of Sam Sary, one of the organizers of the Dap Chhuon Plot. Also known as the Bangkok Plot, this failed 1959 coup attempt sought to remove Sihanouk from power and is suspected of having been assisted by the CIA.
Rainsy moved to France in 1965 and remained there for 27 years until 1992, after which he returned to his homeland and became a member of parliament. Since then, he has consistently remained involved in politics and founded the Khmer Nation Party in 1995, before changing its name to the Sam Rainsy Party in 1998.
It’s interesting to note that he initially chose nationalistic name for his organization, which corresponds to the thesis that his opposition movement seeks to capitalize on such sentiment and may plan to take it to a destabilization international extent against Thailand and/or Vietnam if he ever attains full power.
Rainsy’s own actions attest to his nationalist bent, since he was arrested in 2009 for encouraging villagers to destroy border markets along the Vietnamese frontier, for which he was found guilty in-absentia for inciting racial discrimination and intentionally damaging property.
He was pardoned by the King in July 2013 and returned that month to run in the general elections under the newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party, a merger organization composed of his namesake party and the “Human Rights Party”. He eventually lost the vote and used his defeat as a rallying cry for organizing a Color Revolution attempt to seize power, which as was mentioned, ended up diffused after a parliamentary power-sharing proposal was agreed to.
True to his nationalist ‘credentials’, he continued to agitate that Hun Sen was apparently ‘ceding’ land to Vietnam, and he worked hand-in-hand with his political ally Senator Hong Sok Hour in having the latter produce a forged government document ‘proving’ this outrageous charge.
His sidekick was soon arrested, and when Rainsy’s own parliamentary immunity was stripped from him and a warrant issued for his arrest during a visit to ‘supporters’ tin South Korea, he opted to evade the courts and currently remains abroad.
Days before, he had gone on social media to intimate that Suu Kyi’s electoral victory forebodes well for what he believes will be his own forthcoming one in Cambodia, seemingly confirming that he too might also have been groomed by the CIA for future leadership.
Overall, in assessing Sam’s political strategy, it’s evident that he has repeatedly gone out of his way to emphasize Khmer nationalism, which for the reasons described in the previous section, could end up being very destabilizing for the region if he ever succeeds in seizing power.
Constructing Cambodia’s Next Regime Change Scenario:
Rainsy The Rascal
Wrapping up the research on Cambodia, it’s now time to finally address the most likely scenario in which Hun Sen’s government could be overthrown. Sam Rainsy, like has been earlier described, is a clear nationalist and has sought to fuse his aggressive ideological rhetoric and provocations with Color Revolution tactics.
His near-victory in the 2013 elections demonstrates that there’s a sizeable proportion of the population that agrees with him, although not quite enough to democratically legitimize his leadership aspirations.
Rainsy will face arrest due to his two outstanding warrants (one for defamation and the other for his involvement in Senator Hour’s forged government documents case) if he returns to Cambodia, and Hun Sen has recently said that he’d “cut off [his] right hand” before he allows his rival to be pardoned again.
In all probability, he’s likely to do whatever it takes to make sure that Rainsy doesn’t come back to Cambodia before the July 2018 elections, seeing as how he so bluntly put his entire reputation on the line through his dramatic threat.
What will probably happen then is that Rainsy will become a type of political symbol either through his ‘self-imposed exile’ (as he styles it) or the ‘political martyrdom’ that would result in his return to Cambodia.
If he chooses the latter, it might be a lot easier to stir the Color Revolution pot and paint him as following in the footsteps of Tymoshenko or Suu Kyi, two of his regime change predecessors whose imprisonment catapulted them to global (Western) media stardom.
No matter how it occurs, it’s certain that the Color Revolution movement will aim to socially precondition both the Cambodian masses and the foreign media into viewing the upcoming vote as a battle between a pro-Chinese (and possibly even falsely slandered as a pro-Vietnamese) “dictator” and a pro-Western “democrat”, bringing the tiny Southeast Asian state into the forefront of global attention.
By that time, the Color Revolution infrastructure would be in place and the opposition can then commence their regime change operation, knowingly taking it as far as urban terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, thus representing the latest Hybrid War battleground.
Be that as it may, the scenario can actually be fast-forwarded and deployed before the elections. Like with the newer Color Revolution templates that have been experimented with across the world, a concrete “event” such as a ‘disputed election’ or some other conventional rallying cry need not actually happen in order to spark the premeditated insurgency.
What’s most important is that the necessary social infrastructure be capable of gathering large crowds of ‘human shields’ (civilian protesters) in order to protect a small core of violent provocateurs and engineer what can later manipulatively be made to appear as a “bloody government crackdown” against “peaceful protesters”.
While nationalism is visibly a strong unifying force in Cambodian society, patriotism is equally as strong, and even though these two could clash (manifested by anti-government and pro-government demonstrators, respectively), the patriots might neutralize the disruptive “nationalists” and spoil their plans for a larger uprising. Along the same lines of thinking, a minor border spat in one of the frontier villages might not be enough to motivate people in the capital to come out to the streets in protest, especially since they have to worry about their own mouths to feed in ASEAN’s poorest state.
Labor Unions’ Unifying Role
That last point is actually the most important, and it’s precisely the one that’s capable of bringing large segments of the population out to protest against the government.
Unlike in Vietnam, labor unions are already legalized in Cambodia and have played an active role in the country’s post-civil war history. The threat of labor disturbances has become increasingly common in the past few years, and garment workers recently prevailed in pressuring the government to once more raise their minimum wage in October 2015, this time to $140 a month from the previous $128 that they succeeded in gaining the year prior.
To put this into context, the minimum wage had earlier been $80 a month in 2012, before being raised to $100 a month for 2014 prior to the aforementioned increases, all of which were the result of threatening labor strikes and engaging in selective clashes with police.
Just like the author argued in the preceding analysis for Vietnam, there’s nothing at all inherently wrong with an organized labor movement that agitates for worker’s rights, but the danger presents itself when these organizations are exploited by politically minded actors working for regime change ends.
Unleashing The Dogs Of Hybrid War
In the prospectively forthcoming scenario for Cambodia, labor rights activists take center stage in leading a renewed anti-government movement, perhaps even before the July 2018 elections. They may either do so independently as part of their strategy to continuously raise the minimum wage, or they might craft a provocation in order to prompt a “government crackdown” against the “peaceful protesters”.
Additionally, if Hun Sen accepts Washington’s offer to join the TPP but then gets cold feet like Yanukovich did with the EU Association Agreement, then that event in and of itself might be the spark needed to ‘justify’ the preplanned anti-government movement.
No matter which route is finally decided upon, the end result is that the labor movement, particularly one which involves the country’s 700,000 garment factory workers (responsible for $5.8 billion in exports for 2014), takes the leading role in opposing the authorities.
This critical mass of individuals could then enact or threat to enact a paralyzing strike that would cripple the country’s economy and immediately cast it as an unpredictable and unstable place to do business in.
The nationalist appeal of this campaign would be maximized if it’s coordinated in such a way as to target Vietnamese business, which account for $3.46 billion worth of projects in Cambodia and are the country’s sixth largest investor.
Expectedly, the ‘labor protesters’ will link up with the Cambodian National Rescue Party to create a unified front against Hun Sen, and the combined sum of their efforts might realistically be enough to topple the government.
The only alternative in such a case would be large-scale state-inflicted violence, which even if it’s done in the interests of self-defense and the preservation of overall peace and harmony, could be damage the authorities’ legitimacy to the point of unwittingly engendering even more anti-government sentiment.
Worse still, Western countries could pull out their investments and cooperate with ASEAN in sanctioning Phnom Penh. In this dire scenario, Hun Sen hangs on to power by a thread and the consequent economic warfare that’s launched against the country is impactful enough to lead to his government’s dissolution within the next few years.
To be continued…
Andrew Korybko is the American political commentator currently working for the Sputnik agency. He is the post-graduate of the MGIMO University and author of the monograph “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” (2015). This text will be included into his forthcoming book on the theory of Hybrid Warfare.