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So it's a futuristic cyberpunky society but it has broken down into factions, and there is ongoing fighting between the factions, armed conflict, making and breaking alliances, etc.

However, there are certain laws that must be obeyed by all factions, sort of like federal laws. (I use the word "federal" here for want of a better word)

But how can these be enforced?

I don't really want there to be a higher authority with a military powerful enough to enforce them for a number of reasons

  1. Why would they tolerate the fighting between the factions?
  2. At one point there is an external threat (an alien invader) which the factions must deal with without help from a more powerful type of federal / imperial structure.
  3. At another point, Faction A uses the fact that Faction B has broken one of these laws as an excuse to attack them to enforce it.

So for example, slavery has just been abolished by federal decree. Faction A spots that Faction B continues to enslave people. So the leader of Faction A sees this as an opportunity, they now feel free to attack Faction B, using the excuse that they are enforcing federal law and freeing slaves. But why do they need this excuse? Factions fighting with each other is not an unusual occurrence.

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You are Describing a Confederacy

Confederations are very similar to federations with the exception of the order of supremacy. A federation is a union of states where the central ruling power has the supreme authority, and the states that make it up are allowed to rule themselves in anyway that does not contradict the laws set forth by the central government. A confederation is also a union of states; however, state law takes supremacy. This means that any law that the federal government drafts only applies in those states who do not have laws that contradict it. In general, powers of confederate law is typically limited to how the states should treat each other, and has very little to do with what happens inside the borders of each state.

While this may make confederacies seem less stable than federations. There are a few general forces that can hold a confederation together despite a weak central authority.

The most common force is a threat from the outside. Confederate states are quite likely to engage in cold wars with one another and occasionally even open conflicts, but each state understands that any threat from outside of the confederation takes precedent. So, if states A and B are in conflict and someone from outside of the confederacy were to attack state C, they would be expected to put thier conflict on hold and contribute thier forces to the united defense of state C. Throughout history, confederations typically form/solidify at the edges of powerful empires. The Delian League was created by the Greek City States to protect against the Persian Empire. The Iroquois League solidified to resist the Colonization of New England by the British Empire. The Alemanni formed to resist Roman Expansion into Germania. So on and so forth. So, if your confederation is under the perceived threat of alien invasion, then it could be quite important to your various factions to maintain, even if it lacks strong legislative powers.

The second reason to maintain a confederation is to limit how wars are fought to prevent major atrocities from happening. The United Nations is a good example of this. Modern technology makes war able to be fought in all sorts of horrible new ways. Certain modern weapons of the biological, biochemical, and nuclear nature are so egregiously horrible that many nations have mutually agreed not to use them in war because of how bad they are. While the confederation has no intrinsic power to enforce these rules, no state in the union is actually willing to break them because they would rather limit thier own forces to conventional arms and tactics than have to fight an enemy that uses unconventional arms and tactics.

So, if most of you confederate states do not want thier people being taken as slaves or tortured during times of conflict, then they may agree ahead of time that those actions are war crimes, and any state that actively encourages or enables these war crimes would risk being expelled from the confederacy making them an "outside nation" that the remaining states would be obligated to attack as a unified front.

So in conclusion to your main question:

But why do they need this excuse? Factions fighting with each other is not an unusual occurrence.

Because any time you attack another faction, your actions come under the scrutiny of the confederation. In most cases, these conflicts are seen as no one else's business so the conflict stays isolated between those two factions. But, if you can make your rival out to be in violation of confederate law, then the other confederate factions are more likely to join the conflict on your side to make sure that the other faction is properly punished for its crimes against humanity. In a best case scenario, you could even get the rival faction expelled from the confederacy and draw on the full strength of the other factions in destroying them.

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Certain actions are considered so horrendous that all factions will immediately attach the violators. As no single faction can withstand the combined forces of all other factions they would be destroyed.

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I'd say this is some kind of inter-tribal law, or possibly an empire with formal authority but limited physical authority - an Empire either fragmented or in the process of collapse. A central Empire might only be able to command loyalty from factions when it comes to certain key issues. It might only have enough troops to selectively enforce some things. It might rely on consensus from a majority of factions or contributions of troops and material from members which could be withdrawn if it plays it too hard - in short, a diplomatic balancing act prone to go wrong if someone too powerful takes offence at it.

There are many examples of empires which existed as formal associations with only limited central influence.

Three big ones come to mind immediately:

1: The Eastern Zhou https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Zhou

The Zhou Dynasty maintained de jure control over many regions whilst defacto control lay with local warlords. The empire slowly collapses, starting from centralised control and ending with the warring kingdoms period in which the sovereign technically still has control but has no actual power. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warring_States_period

The spring and autumn period / early warring states period of Eastern Zhou might be a good model for a collapsing society in terms of there still being a formal authority trying to maintain control but individual warlords also having the power to do what they want.

2: The Mongol Empire and it's descendents, definitely the best & most extensive example IMO.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_Empire

The Mongols spread far and wide & maintained a system of common laws long after the end of the empire. During the reign of the Empire they produced a secret code which was to be adhered to by individuals and rulers https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yassa

The Mongol people and the descendents of the Empire remained connected & developed their own laws, one such example is the Iki Tsaadzhin Bichig, the "great code of the nomads" which was developed comparatively recently and was influential over a geographical area from modern day Russia to modern day China, despite there being no single government capable of enforcing this law.

https://www.academia.edu/33855493/Some_Features_of_Intercultural_Communication_of_Tibet_and_Oirat_Khanates_in_17th_18th_centuries?auto=download

This all loops back on itself, the history of tibetan llamaism / the red hat school / the black hat school will also show up if you dig deep enough into either of the above and can also provide some examples of a fragmented but coherent alliance of nations / states / warlords.

3: Of course, the British Empire - or more specifically the period of collapse between there being an empire and there being no empire during which many individual member states whilst technically under the dominion of the empire were also effectively self-governing. (This effect was so pronounced that when Australia became formally independent no one knew which parliament had the authority to make the proclamation so they both did it at the same time).

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Thucydides' Trap

Motivating these factions to form short-term coalitions seems like a problem you've already solved. How do you get the coalition to fall apart again?

The best lasting way to keep many factions from working together is for them all to be genuinely convinced (by their present successes) that their faction is just on the cusp of dominating all of the others (and therefore doesn't need to "play nice").

Take this scenario:

Keeping it cyberpunk by mixing corporate, demographic, and national factions.

Faction 1 (patterned on 1935 Germany) - has discovered one or more performance enhancing drugs. Most of the faction and faction leadership are on the drugs. They "feel" themselves to be gods walking among lesser mortals, and they are either willfully ignorant or as yet unwilling to admit that the drugs have limits.

Faction 2 (patterned on 1945 United States) - has just developed and been the first to deploy a superweapon, and feels no compulsion to work with anyone.

Faction 3 - represents the majority social, or ethnic demographic in a world or region. They feel like they have the numbers, the influence, and the money to shift things their way, so they are not particularly invested in working with others.

Faction 4 - may be a demographic subset of Faction 3. These are truly some of the brightest people in the world. They've created a fiat currency (based on nothing but trust in Faction 3) and make the money printer go brrrr... to their delight. They've been operating in such a way for generations with impunity and have no reason to care about any other faction, except as to how to squeeze it.

Faction 5 - is also a subset of the large demographic Faction 3. These people think themselves smarter than Faction 4 and have even successfully fleeced some of the slower witted Faction 4 leadership with their own schemes. They have acquired a position of tremendous leverage over information, and use it to shape public perceptions on a whim.

Faction 6 - is a generational administrative layer for Faction 3. They also consider themselves the smartest people in the room, enriching themselves by selling off parts of Faction 3 that have been placed in their trust to all comers. They work with everyone for only a moment and switch allegiances with the wind, because they command all of the official strength of Faction 3. This faction believes they could at any moment shut down the other factions using their authority.

Faction 7 - has been funding the real (not fake paper) resource needs (cheap labor, raw materials, industry without environmental regulations) for Faction 4, Faction 5, and Faction 6 out of the savings of their faction for decades. They want the full faith and credit given to Faction 3 so that they can do things like issue their own fiat currency to endlessly finance their priorities. They have a master plan to achieve that end, and it's been proceeding beautifully. They have built their own biological weapons, and even though one accidentally misfired in their state capitol, they were able to share the pain with the other factions.

These factions may work together ("use one another" from their perspective), but will not sustain a working relationship. In my opinion.

In this case, then : "federal" laws, global standards, pacts, and agreements are all excuses one faction can throw at another faction as part of the sales pitch for whatever it is the faction is about to do.

Oh, Faction 7 has concentration camps, Faction 4 notes. Let's get a few other factions on board to beat up 7.

Oh, Faction 2 may or may not have used novachok nerve agent to kill someone on Faction 3 soil. Time to rally the troops and do some bombing.

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A simple route could be a religious organization, but if you can't see your society conforming to one religion, just associate the religion with the power generation systems for your factions.

In all cyberpunk worlds, high-density power generation is a must, but it would be unlikely that fractioned groups would have the ability to maintain these highly complex systems, resulting in the need for a group that politically spans all the societies.

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