America gets divorced: what about custody of the energy and the nukes?

Part three in a series.

First look at this map:

Now this one, which indicates the location of US military installations:

Then consider that a vast majority of the nation’s oil reserves and production lie in “red” territory (Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, as well as the emerging boom in North Dakota).

Natural gas?

What about coal?

No point in talking about wind, solar and other renewables just yet – there’s plenty of potential on all sides of whatever lines we draw, but at present we’re still critically reliant on fossils.

My point? Even once we have agreed to partition the US along ideological lines, there remain some extremely important pragmatics to iron out. As the maps above make clear, the South and other regions that we’d expect to align with its particular brands of social, religious and economic conservatism are home to a good majority of the nation’s domestic energy reserves and, if your view of geopolitics is even remotely like mine, way too much in the way of established (and mobile) military muscle.

On the energy question, one thing is clear: the territory we’d expect to comprise the new “blue” states of America is going to have a hard time powering itself. Some possibilities and implications:

  • More oil imports.
  • Oil imports from our powerful new trading partner to the south.
  • Major stress on which side gets places like Colorado and New Mexico.
  • Big reliance on coal, unfortunately. It’s not eco-friendly, but at least there are plenty of reserves within the projected boundaries.
  • Does the need for resources undercut the whole partition process? That is, does the North decide it can live with the wackadoos, after all? Hmmm.
  • Huge, heavy, massive drive to ramp up renewables production as quickly as possible.
  • As much as we hate to say it, does this necessitate building more nuke plants in the North?

The military question is equally sticky. Obviously both sides are entitled to military forces, and both sides are going to remain world powers (if they choose to do so). It seems evident enough (although I’d fully expect certain Sunbelters to argue the point) that the ideologically conservative regions are apt to be the more militarily belligerent moving forward.

I do say this with a measure of reserve, though: it isn’t like our recent military adventures were accomplished without the consent of elected officials from the North, and I absolutely don’t want to seem pollyanna about the issue. However, it is also true that national party dynamics drive state-level elections, and that in a world where the rampant chest-thumping of presidential elections is fueled by the need to capture voters who will be gone post-partition, it is not unreasonable to expect that the new North would be at least marginally less hostile to our neighbors around the globe.

This said, and without putting too fine a point on it, people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, that all Muslims are terrorists, and that government should be explicitly  responsive to a particular interpretation of the Bible, should not be given nuclear weapons. Nuclear theocracies are a bad idea on the other side of the world and they’re bad idea on this side of the world, too. Not only can we not afford to risk them going batshit and attacking the Middle East, we need to remember that we’re partitioning because of pronounced ideological differences and it may not be comfortable having them aimed at us, either.

Am I being paranoid? We’re talking about who gets nukes. If that doesn’t call for at least a bit or paranoia I don’t know what does.

To sum up, then:

  • The North needs energy.
  • The South needs to be assured of its security, but cannot be entrusted with the big red button.

I imagine when negotiators sit down to begin hammering out the details of where the lines are drawn and who gets custody of what, there is going to be some pointed give and take on the subject. The South might insist on all the nukes currently in Southern territory (and I don’t know how many land-based missiles we’re talking about here). Or they might be open to a mutual defense pact of some sort. Or they may say we’ll give you oil if you’ll give us bombs.

Honestly, I have no idea how such deliberations might turn out. But it seems likely that these issues might become intertwined.

Image Credits: University of Nebraska-Omaha, Seeking Alpha, NextBigFuture, Maps of


  • I think the energy issue is a red herring. In a global economy, Japan, Thailand, and many other countries do just fine purchasing energy from outside their own nations. Factories outside the South already purchase energy from sources in the South. Nothing should change for the non-South absent tariffs applied to energy imports.

    The ability to maintain a modern army, navy, and air force is largely economic. The red states are mostly taker states, as you’ve pointed out, and part of that taking, I believe, is because dollars from outside the South are going to military expenditures inside the South. Take away those dollars, and the South will be hard pressed to maintain much more than a defensive military, unlike the non-South, which will still be able to afford a much more powerful force.

    As for nukes, I propose that they be kept in a sort of trust in which the existing ones cannot be used without authorization, and keys turned, from both nations. Any future ones will need to be produced in facilities within those respective countries, using existing budgets and facilities/expertise among the citizens of those countries. Eventually, the existing nukes will be phased out.

    Existing military equipment/forces should be divided proportionately based on population. Navies are very expensive. It remains to be seen if the South would be able to maintain a seagoing Navy. Military technology would no longer be shared, so given the difference in large and productive research universities and facilities, and the difference in the money available to spend on those things, the non-South will eventually pull ahead in military technology.

    Basically, to me, natural resources can be purchased in a number of places. Brainpower that drives economic productivity is much more difficult to buy/reproduce.

  • If you’re talking about natural resources, you can’t forget the Great Lakes, either. In a future where potable water could be as valuable as any energy resource, the largest bodies of fresh water in the western hemisphere might play a fairly important role in trade agreements.

    • Good points all.

      JS, the idea of this particular nation losing its ability to “project a strong defense” into caves on the other side of the world scares the hell out of me. I think we know what happens to this kind of psyche when it feels its macho is being threatened. A shared key turn maybe solves part of the problem, and while part of me recoils from the idea that we’re at their mercy in any situation like this, I also have a hard time imagining a case where it would practically matter. So point JS.

      As for purchasing energy from the South, that works fine so long as we can count on them. Again, I’m not sure to what degree this nation would be a reliable “ally,” so I’m going to want some leverage if I can get it.

      Josh – good point. No telling how crucial water is going to be as climate disruption starts to get more serious.

  • Hmmm. Which side will have the most money?

    This is one of your more coherent series. It’s reminiscent of Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” — published 31 years ago and still pertinent.

    • All the available data suggests that the North will have the most money – if not immediately, due to agreements about dividing existing cash, then shortly thereafter. The Southern government will not believe in taxes, and you’ve seen the stuff that Wufnik and I have written about donor states and taker states, which JSO alludes to above.

      Thanks for the props. Although it will no doubt jump the tracks when I do the installment on breaking up the NCAA…..

  • @Sam: Purchasing energy has always been about having a reliable supply, of course. But there are many nations selling energy in one way or the other, including Canada. Even when they don’t like us, they usually sell to us because they need the money. It’s usually just as devastating for them to stop selling to us as it is for us to be prohibited from buying. So, I’m just not too worried about the natural resource thing, in general, the way the South shouldn’t be too worried about the Great Lakes’ water. Someone will sell them water if it comes to that. Maybe the non-South US.

    The real difference here is that an disproportionate supply of the creative class will be in the non-South. When the two countries split, I think it’s almost a given that many in the creative class who live there now will get the hell out of Dodge, further stripping the South of brains. In the long run, the South will have plenty of coal miners, wildcatters, lumber men, farmers, laborers, and merchants, and too few engineers, physicians, competent managers, computer scientists, financiers, and the like. In the ancient world, that would be no problem. In the modern world, that’s a huge problem. The non-South would almost certainly come to dominate the South.

    That’s a good thing. We get access to their natural resources without having to support their low productivity (on average).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s