This article was first published on the Stratfor website.
The author, George Friedman, is chairman and CEO of Stratfor, the
world’s leading online publisher of geopolitical intelligence.
Geopolitics is central to STRATFOR’s methodology, providing the
framework upon which we study the world. The foundation of geopolitics
in our time is the study of the nation-state, and fundamental to this is
the question of the relationship of the individual to the nation-state.
Changes in the relationship of the individual to the nation and to the
state are fundamental issues in geopolitics, and thus worth discussing.
Many issues affect this complex relationship, notable among them the
increasing global trend of multiple citizenship. This is obviously
linked to the question of immigration, but it also raises a deeper
question, namely, what is the meaning of citizenship in the 21st
Nation vs. State
It is difficult to make sense of the international system without making
sense of the nation-state. The concept is complicated by a reality
that includes multinational
states like Belgium, where national identity plays a significant
role, and Russia
where it can be both significant and at times violent. In looking at
the nation-state, the idea of nation is more complex, and perhaps more
interesting, than that of state.
The idea of nation is not always clear. At root, a nation is a group
of people who share a fate, and with that fate, an identity. Nations can
be consciously created, as the
United States was. Nations can exist for hundreds or thousands of
years, as seen in parts of Europe or Asia. However long a nation exists
and whatever its origins, a nation is founded on what I’ve called
of one’s own,” a unique relationship with the community in which an
individual is born or to which he chose to come. That affinity is the
foundation of a nation.
If that dissolves, the nation dissolves, something that has happened
on numerous occasions in history. If a nation disappears, the
international system begins to behave differently. And if nations in
general lose their identity and cohesion, massive shifts might take
place. Some might say it would be for better and others for worse. It is
sufficient to note here that either way would make a profound
The state is much clearer: It is the political directorate of the
nation. How the leaders are selected and how they govern varies widely.
The relationship of the state to the nation also varies widely. Not all
nations have states. Some are occupied by other nation-states. Some are
divided between multiple states. Some are part of an entity that governs
many nations. And some are communities that have developed systems of
government that do not involve states, although this is increasingly
The relation to the nation is personal. The relation to the state is
legal. We can see this linguistically in the case of the United States. I
can state my relation to my nation simply: I am an American. I cannot
state my relationship to my state nearly as simply. Saying I am a
“United Statian” makes no sense. I have to say that I am a citizen of
the United States, to state my legal relationship, not personal
affinity. The linguistic complexity of the United States doesn’t repeat
itself everywhere, but a distinction does exist between nationality and
citizenship. They may coincide easily, as when a person is born in a
country and becomes a citizen simply through that, or they may develop,
as when an individual is permitted to immigrate and become naturalized.
Note the interesting formulation of that term, as it implies the
creation of a natural relationship with the state.
In the United States, the following oath is administered when one is
permitted to become a citizen, generally five years after being
permitted to immigrate:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely
renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince,
potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been
a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution
and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign
and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by
the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of
the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of
national importance under civilian direction when required by the law;
and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or
purpose of evasion; so help me God.
I should say I took this oath at the age of 17. Although I became a
citizen of the United States when my father was naturalized years
earlier, receiving my own citizenship papers involved going to a
courthouse and taking this oath personally. Being confronted with the
obligations of citizenship was a sobering experience.
The American oath is one of the most rigorous; other nations have
much simpler and less demanding oaths. Intriguingly, many countries with
less explicitly demanding oaths are also countries where becoming a
naturalized citizen is more difficult and less common. For the United
States, a nation and a state that were consciously invented, the
idea of immigration was inherent in the very idea of the nation, as
was this oath. Immigration and naturalization required an oath of this
magnitude, as naturalization meant taking on not only a new state
identity but also a new national identity.
The American nation was built on immigrants from other nations.
Unless they were prepared to “absolutely and entirely renounce and
abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate,
state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject
or citizen,” the American enterprise could fall into chaos as immigrants
came to the United States to secure the benefits of full citizenship
but refused to abandon prior obligations and refused to agree to the
obligations and sacrifices the oath demanded. The United States
therefore is in a position shared only with a few other
immigration-based nations, and it has staked out the most demanding
position on naturalization.
The Dual Citizenship Anomaly
It is therefore odd that the United States — along with many other
nations — permits nationals to be citizens of other countries. The U.S.
Constitution doesn’t bar this, but the oath of citizenship would seem to
do so. The oath demands that the immigrant abandon all obligations to
foreign states. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Afroyim v. Rusk in 1967
that revoking citizenship on grounds of voting in foreign elections was
unconstitutional. The ruling involved a naturalized American who
presumably had taken the oath. The Supreme Court left the oath in place,
but if we are to understand the court correctly, it ruled that the oath
did not preclude multiple citizenship.
It is impossible to know how many people in the United States or
other countries currently hold multiple
citizenship, but anecdotally it would appear that the practice is
not uncommon. Not being required to renounce one’s foreign citizenship
verifiably obviously facilitates the practice.
And this raises a fundamental question. Is citizenship a license to
live and earn a living in a country, or is it equally or more so a set
of legal and moral obligations? There are many ways legally to reside in
a country without becoming a citizen. But the American oath, for
example, makes it appear that the naturalized citizen (as opposed to
just the legal resident) has an overriding obligation to the United
States that can require substantial and onerous responsibilities within
military and civilian life. An individual might be able to juggle
multiple obligations until they came into conflict. Does the citizen
choose his prime obligation at that time or when he becomes a citizen?
The reality is that in many cases, citizenship is seen less as a
system of mutual obligations and rights than as a convenience. This
creates an obvious tension between the citizen and his obligations under
his oath. But it also creates a deep ambiguity between his multiple
nationalities. The concept of immigration involves the idea of movement
to a new place. It involves the assumption of legal and moral
obligations. But it also involves a commitment to the nation, at least
as far as citizenship goes. This has nothing to do with retaining
ethnicity. It has to do with a definition of what it means to love one’s
own — if you are a citizen of multiple nations, which nation is yours?
It is interesting to note that the United States has been equally
ambiguous about serving in other countries’ militaries. John Paul Jones
served as an admiral in the Russian navy. American pilots flew for
Britain and China prior to American entry into World War II. They did
not take the citizenship oath, having been born in the United States.
While you could argue that there was an implicit oath, you could also
argue that they did not compromise their nationality: They remained
Americans even in fighting for other countries. The immigration issue is
more complex, however. In electing to become American citizens,
immigrants consciously take the citizenship oath. The explicit oath
would seem to create a unique set of obligations for naturalized
The Pull of the Old Country
Apart from acquiring convenient passports on obscure tropical
islands, the dual citizenship phenomenon appears to operate by linking
ancestral homelands with adopted countries. Immigrants, and frequently
their children and grandchildren, retain their old citizenship alongside
citizenship in the country they now live in. This seems a benign
practice and remains so until there is conflict or disagreement between
the two countries — or where, as in some cases, the original country
demands military service as the price of retaining citizenship.
In immigrant countries in particular, the blurring of the line
between nationalities becomes a potential threat in a way that it is not
for the country of origin. The sense of national identity (if not
willingness to sacrifice for it) is often stronger in countries whose
nationhood is built on centuries of shared history and fates than it is
in countries that must manage waves of immigration. These countries have
less room for maneuver on these matters, unless they have the fortune
to be secure and need not ask much of citizens. But in those countries
that are built on immigrants and that do need to call for sacrifice,
this evolution is potentially more troublesome.
There are those who regard nationalism
as divisive and harmful, leading to conflict. I am of the view that
nationalism has endured because it provides individuals with a sense of
place, community, history and identity. It gives individuals something
beyond themselves that is small enough to be comprehensible but far
greater than they are. That nationalism can become monstrous is
obviously true; anything that is useful can also become harmful. But
nationalism has survived and flourished for a reason.
The rise of multiple citizenship undoubtedly provides freedom. But as
is frequently the case, the freedom raises the question of what an
individual is committed to beyond himself. In blurring the lines between
nations, it does not seem that it has reduced conflict. Quite the
contrary, it raises the question of where the true loyalties of citizens
lie, something unhealthy for the citizen and the nation-state.
In the United States, it is difficult to reconcile the oath of
citizenship with the Supreme Court’s ruling affirming the right of dual
citizenship. That ambiguity over time could give rise to serious
problems. This is not just an American problem, although it might be
more intense and noticeable here. It is a more general question, namely,
what does it mean to be a citizen?