The Technium

Breakup of the USA


In the world of scenario planning, the fact that something is unthinkable should not prevent us from considering it. The breakup of the Soviet Union was unthinkable almost until the day it happened. At the same time, of course, not every impossible thing will happen.

Among the most unthinkable scenarios for most Americans is the unthinkable idea that the United States could become the disunited or turn into divided states. Even though this union accumulated very slowly in the first place, and against all odds — in other words it was not inevitable — the fact that the USA will not always be as united, or at least united in the way it is now, is considered, well… unthinkable.

But as Juan Enriquez notes in his amazing PopTech talk, based on his book “The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future”, no US president has ever died under the same flag that he was born under. That is, the borders of the United States has constantly shifted even in modern times. The last state was added in 1959 (after I was born!) and more could be added still. Americans are comfortable ADDING states, but it might not take much to subtract one. The outcome of the US Civil War has biased Americans to disbelieving in subtraction, but that might change.

In past decades bold American thinkers have imagined how the US might break up, but these were more thought experiments indicating the cultural differences within this large country. There’s no shortage of maps showing the alternative arrangements of North American countries. One of the finest is Joel Garreau’ s 1981 scenario of the Nine Nations of North America.

9Nations

However the current economic instability and the general devolution of nation states around the world has led to several outsiders considering the break up of the US as a serious possibility. Two of these scenarios come from Russians.

In the past year or so, traffic to Dmitry Orlov’s online presentation about the ‘collapse gap‘ has soared as word of mouth recommendations about his scenario flourished. Orlov’s argument is that the parallels in the state of the USSR twenty years ago and the USA now make an economic collapse likely. Orlov does not specifically talk about breaking up as collapse. He says the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US.

Mscan5

The most recent breakup scenario was noted today in the Wall Street Journal in a piece about Russian professor Igor Panarin, who predicts the breakup of the US in the year 2010. He has been predicting the same for the past decade but is now getting an audience. The logic of his scenario goes like this:

He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

With his Soviet KGB background it may be no surprise that in Panarin’s scenario the breakaway “countries” all succumb to foreign influence and are not really independent. In contrast American scenarios of breakup envision the resultant countries — like the Pacifica coast — as vibrant independent influences themselves.

Dividedstates

It is certain that in the long run, the borders of the US will change. I think it is far from clear how it will change at the moment. I would be willing to bet the US will add something (Puerto Rico?) before it subtracts, but that is a minor matter. History is betting that at some point the nation as we know it will break up.

So, to my fellow Americans, happy new year!




Comments
  • Steve Gottschalk

    Well, I had considered that the USA might lose its hegemonic status, but I hadn’t thought about a breakup or where different states would go. It’s an interesting quandary.

    Orlov’s comparison to the USSR is apt. The only reason I can see that the USA isn’t collapsing is its unique status as producer of the global reserve currency. Either we find a way to be productive again and validate the confidence that is being shown in the US Dollar, that is, in American ingenuity, or China diversifies its reserves and we’re out of a job.

  • dave

    Let s be real. The USA break up maybe but the factors are far more then the usa. Most of the first world doesn’t have the magic number 2 young to 1 old person to sustain their nations. Water well be the new oil in the coming years. With world populations rising it leads to water use exceeding the rate that earth produces it. Eg in India the water table over all fell 1/2 inch last year. Imagine that happening all over. 2 years ago a report to the UN said the ocean well be fished out by around 2050 Climate change with bio diversity going down hill. Eg. 65% of types of farm animals we ever used are dead, dead and gone. Add in the mix of India , China competing for resources that came here between 1940-today. Add in the problems of national debits with the aging populations world wide. Aging intersuchture that there is little money to repair.
    I may need meds for being paranoid by some people standards but it’s not a case, is the usa etc is going to be around in a 100 years ?! It’s a case of how is all this going to play out on the world stage. We are far to interconnected for it not to effect us. Oil is far to woven into our lifes for it’s decline not to have world changing events. Dam I m depressed now, were is my beer??

  • Miguel

    This Russian Professor has been drinking to much Vodka. When the USSR split was it absorbed by its neighbors? No. Hmm. Mexico can barely stay together on its on and the last time its economy collapsed in the 1990s we bailed them out not that there thanking us. Europe is dead has been since wwII they just don’t know it. Canada nice country but how do you think they can absorb any section of the USA that would outnumber them? China third world country with Illusions of grandeur. They face their own civil war soon enough. Russia should be more concern about China and not losing any more of it self. USA will emerge from any crisis bigger and badder than ever. You forget USA isn’t DC its We the People. Civil war yes its coming but our enemies will dread what emerges. No dont view Russia as enemies.

  • Anonymous

    This Russian Professor has been drinking to much Vodka. When the USSR split was it absorbed by its neighbors? No. Hmm. Mexico can barely stay together on its on and the last time its economy collapsed in the 1990s we bailed them out not that there thanking us. Europe is dead has been since wwII they just don’t know it. Canada nice country but how do you think they can absorb any section of the USA that would outnumber them? China third world country with Illusions of grandeur. They face their own civil war soon enough. Russia should be more concern about China and not losing any more of it self. USA will emerge from any crisis bigger and badder than ever. You forget USA isn’t DC its We the People. Civil war yes its coming but our enemies will dread what emerges. No dont view Russia as enemies.

  • cameron

    I agree with CT Reader,theres no way Texas would ever allow mexico to govern over the lone star state in any way period.China and russia couldn’t hold either hawaii or alaska because it would be a logistical nightmare if revolts arised or invaded and reclaimed by other former or existing u.s. entities or states. What is most likely is that Obama will overstep his authority and there will be a civil war where the conservative majority is overwhelmingly victorious over the Communists within,and the revitalized and renewed republic will destroy the Muslim Caliphate forever.

  • cameron

    I agree with CT Reader,theres no way Texas would ever allow mexico to govern over the lone star state in any way period.China and russia couldn’t hold either hawaii or alaska because it would be a logistical nightmare if revolts arised or invaded and reclaimed by other former or existing u.s. entities or states. What is most likely is that Obama will overstep his authority and there will be a civil war where the conservative majority is overwhelmingly victorious over the Communists within,and the revitalized and renewed republic will destroy the Muslim Caliphate forever.