The Balkanization of America – Is a Breakup of the United States in the Cards?
Public dissatisfaction is high in America, due in part to a poor economy and a widening gulf in political and social beliefs. The result is a potential balkanization of America.
Political movements to break away from states are the highest ever. Last November, several rural counties in Colorado voted against succeeding from Colorado, although one county in the referendum did give secession a majority of their votes. This week, news came out that some in New York State want to divide the state administratively to separate the liberal New York City from the more conservative upper New York State. In recent months, the Western part of Maryland has voiced a desire to break away from the more liberal parts of Maryland.
California, which is in deep economic and financial distress, is also threatened with succession. Upset at the liberal, more densely populated coast, which dominates state politics, inland Californians have proposed splitting the state into up to five states that will reflect the divergent political views of its different residents.
And, of course, there is Texas, which is booming economically and has always had an independent streak. There is always a movement in Texas to declare independence from the US – a sentiment that has only grown in recent years.
Clearly, polls show a growing social and political divide in the US. Rural parts of the nation are much more conservative and upset by the political agenda at the national level, while urban areas are more supportive of Obama. This has created an exodus of jobs and businesses from more populated and liberal areas of the US to more rural and conservative regions.
In 2008, while President Bush was still in power, Igor Panarin, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian foreign affairs ministry, said the economic turmoil in the US had confirmed his long-held belief that the country was heading for extinction in its present form. He said the country’s break-up would be accelerated by rising unemployment and Americans losing their savings.
Public dissatisfaction was growing and was held back only by the election and the hope that Barack Obama “can work miracles”, he said. “But when spring comes, it will be clear that there are no miracles.”
Although it’s nearly six years since this prediction was made (Panarin thought the breakup would occur in 2010), America is still united. Or is it? And, how much? The trends predicted by Panarin are being seen in American headlines.
Economics and politics are rapidly changing the demographics of the US and where its economic base is. And, of special interest if a breakup occurs, is the movement of America’s vast arms industry from its traditional base to an area of the nation that is in disagreement with the Obama Administration.
The latest news was the announcement Monday that the Remington Arms Company, the oldest American firearms maker and oldest manufacturer in North America was opening a factory in Alabama, which would move the base of operations from Ilion, New York, where it has been based since 1816. Remington is one of America’s biggest ammunition and firearms makers and is known for its precision military sniper rifles. It also produces the Adaptive Combat Rifle that is used by Polish forces.
Although economic reasons had an impact on the move, politics was the major factor. As America have evolved in the last few decades, the state of New York has become less firearms friendly, while Alabama has become a major supporter of firearms ownership rights and a major consumer of civilian firearms. Last year, New York passed a strict firearms law that would have prevented many New York residents from owning several types of Remington firearms. The hostile political environment forced Remington to move its base for the first time in nearly two centuries.
But, other arms producers are also moving – and not just for political reasons. California was once the home of America’s aerospace industry. Today, most of those operations have moved elsewhere.
An example is Raytheon Company, a major arms producer and the largest manufacturer of guided missiles. As of 2012, it was the fifth-largest military contractor in the world,and is the fourth largest defense contractor in the United States by revenue. It produces, amongst others, the Stinger missile, the Tow missile, the Tomahawk missile, Sidewinder missile, and the Javelin Missile. Its missile systems groups was once based in Southern California, but is now based in Tucson, Arizona due to the negative economic climate in California.
It’s not just the aerospace industry that is leaving California. Occidental Petroleum, No. 125 on the Fortune 500, has announced that it is moving its headquarters from Los Angeles to Houston. Nor is this offset by high-tech businesses that California claims. Occidental is about 1.75 times the size of eBay, more than twice as big as Visa, four-and-a-half times the size of AMD(advanced micro devices), and nearly five times the size of Facebook.
America’s largest aircraft maker and the world’s second largest defense and aerospace company is also relocating due to economic pressures. Boeing, founded in Seattle a century ago, has been a cornerstone of the regional economy for decades, though in recent years the company has moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, a key assembly line to South Carolina, and other units to Utah, Missouri and other states. The state of Washington was only able to keep jobs for the Boeing 777 in the state by offering $8.7 billion in subsidies and tax breaks.
Other major companies are remaining in uncompetitive states, but are expanding their businesses in more economically viable states like Texas. Apple plans to go ahead with its $5 billion headquarters in Cupertino, CA, but it also is expanding its operations in Austin, Texas, where it is building a 38-acre campus that will be home to some 3,600 employees.
The result is that California is no longer the home of well-paying jobs. In fact, family income is actually lower than it is in other, less glamorous states. The median income for a three-member household is $67,401 in California. That is less than the Pennsylvania ($68,848) or Wyoming ($73,688), which both have Republican governors and legislatures, as well as lower cost of living. Other states like Texas do have smaller family incomes, but higher job creation and a much lower cost of living.
Other major companies are also moving. Small arms manufacturer Beretta also announced that it was making a major move from its North American base in Maryland due to the state’s politics concerning firearms. Originally Beretta was looking intently at a short move to Virginia until Governor Terry McAuliffe was elected on promises of more gun control. They quickly marked the Virginia off their short list and chose Tennessee instead, where Governor Bill Haslam greeted them with open arms.
Beretta Executive Vice President Franco Gussalli Beretta went out of his way to explain how “Haslam and his economic team did an excellent job of demonstrating the benefits of doing business in Tennessee.” What wasn’t mentioned though was that Tennessee was a more gun friendly state.
Several other small arms companies have also moved from strict gun ownership states like Colorado, Connecticut, and New York for more politically friendly parts of the country. Kahr Arms even moved its operations 30 miles from its current location in New York State, across the border, to gun friendly Pennsylvania.
This has been an unprecedented economic migration. In the past, companies rarely moved major manufacturing bases due to cost. In fact, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut, which have all had strict gun ownership laws for decades have been the industrial base of small arms production in the US with companies like Colt, Remington, Smith and Wesson, Ruger, and Beretta. Much was due to a highly trained workforce.
Part of the economic migration of jobs is due to taxes and regulation. States like California, with larger governments and more regulations impose higher taxes. As taxes have grown, the incentive to move has grown. Lower taxes mean larger profits. Higher profits and increased regulation can mean corporate death.
There is no better example than the legendary gun manufacturer Colt. Colt, which decided to stay in heavily regulated Connecticut, has shrunk so much that the UAE pistol manufacturer Caracal imports more pistols into the US that Colt exports out of the US.
The politics and social division of America are also important factors in this economic migration.
Few things provide a political litmus test of a person’s politics than their belief in civilian ownership of guns in America. Urban area, that are liberal are opposed to gun ownership and have strict gun ownership laws. Rural areas that are conservative have more lenient regulations. But this mindset goes beyond just guns. It is reflected in the way gun owners and non-gun owners see the world and the US.
An excellent example was last week’s vote at the VW automobile manufacturing plant in Tennessee to reject union representation. Southern worker’s resistance to unionization has attracted automobile makers to move to the Southern, Republican states and away from the Northern, Democratic states like Michigan, which was the traditional home for the auto industry.
Although the VW management supported the union’s bid to represent the workers and the opposition wasn’t allowed to operate in the factory, the workers rejected the union in a vote that was a surprise to people in Washington, but not to people who understand the mindset of the more conservative people in Tennessee.
However, that isn’t the only divide in the US. There are other serious splits that cut differently – like the concept of privacy and NSA spying. Ironically, one of the most liberal states, Maryland, and one of the most conservative states, Utah, are both considering legislation that will restrict the ability of the NSA to spy within their borders. In this case, the most ideological conservatives and liberals are joining forces.
Although these political differences have existed in the past, current conditions are bringing them to the surface and causing unprecedented fractures in America.
A contributing cause is Obama and his administration. His approval ratings are the lowest in his term as president. The majority of states are in the hands of his political opposition – 29 Republican governors to 21 Democratic governors – 27 Republican legislatures to 17 Democratic legislatures.
At the federal level, the House of Representatives is in Republican control and the US Senate may become Republican in November.
Usually, when faced with this degree of opposition, the president compromises as Clinton did in 1994. However, Obama has decided not to compromise and to bypass the political process and issue executive actions unilaterally.
Rebellion at the State Level
As is seen in other countries that prevent the use of the political process to change, the American voters, upset with the inability to achieve change in Washington have resorted to other action – in this case, at the state level. As a result, the states are now in rebellion for all intents and purposes. This is proving to be an effective political tactic since 2/3 of American voters are opposed to Obama’s executive actions and support state governments who oppose Obama.
While New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Colorado toughened gun laws in the last year, other states actually made them more lenient. Many states have introduced or passed laws that nullify federal gun laws within that state.
In mid-April, Kansas passed a law asserting that federal gun regulations do not apply to guns made and owned in Kansas. Under the law, Kansans could manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons in-state without a federal license or any federal oversight.
Kansas’ “Second Amendment Protection Act” backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: when dealing with “Made in Kansas” guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states.
Although questions have been raised about this tactic, other states like Missouri and Arizona have written legislation that prevents local police from enforcing federal law, something that has been ruled legal by the Supreme Court in the 1997 Prinz vs. US case. This rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot “commandeer” or coerce states into implementing or enforcing federal acts or regulations – constitutional or not.
Again, this isn’t limited to gun legislation. A group of lawmakers in Maryland has introduced a bill that would deny state support to the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., which might see electricity and water supplies cut to the intelligence nerve center. Meanwhile, Utah is looking at a 4th Amendment Protection Act, which would prohibit state material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency that collects electronic data or metadata without a search warrant “that particularly describes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized.” This puts contracts that provide the 1.7 million gallons of water a day necessary to cool the NSA computers at its Bluffdale, Utah facility in the crosshairs.
Other states targeting the NSA are Arizona, California, Tennessee and Washington. The action has been taken at the state level since Obama has made it clear that he would veto any federal legislation that hampers the NSA.
State legislation opposing Obamacare is being used to hamper that unpopular legislation within the borders of these states. Between 2010 and December of 2013, 22 state legislatures had enacted laws and measures related to challenging or opting out of Obamacare.
The use of drones is also causing a rebellion in the states. 10 states have taken action against the federal government use of drones in surveillance within the borders of the respective states and more are considering it. This is another piece of legislation that has wide bipartisan support amongst Republicans and Democrats.
States are finding other ways to oppose federal government action. In fact, the Goldwater Institute has released a list of ways for states to hamper federal action, including having local officials refuse to work with or meet with federal officials.
As a result of this widespread rebellion against parts of Obama’s policies, the State Right’s movement, which many thought was dead 50 years ago, has come back to life. For the first time in half a century, states (both liberal and conservative) are blocking federal actions.
The fractures predicted by Panarin are coming true. Economic forces are destroying some states, while rewarding others. Social differences are reinforcing these economic trends. Meanwhile, those in the states, who disagree with these policies are seeking to breakaway and become their own sovereign states.
States have been the biggest driving force in this rebellion. The move towards a stronger central government has stalled and states’ rights are in the ascendancy as states on both political sides of the spectrum are going their own way on everything from gun ownership to NSA spying to Obamacare.
In many ways, the failures of Obama in his relationship with the states are similar to his failures in the Middle East – he fails to recognize that each state is sovereign and has differing views of its neighbors. Instead, he tries to impose his will on the sovereign entities and pick winners and losers. He supports unpopular causes like Iranian nuclear development, gun control, or NSA spying, only to lose even more support.
If Obama wishes to retain the central power of the federal government, he will need to meet the 50 states halfway. Most governors and state legislatures are more than willing to work with the federal government, which is why federal government control has grown so much in the last 50 years.
If he fails to do that, then Panarin’s predictions of a breakup of the US could become possible. And, there is little that the government in Washington could do.
Traditionally the states have been the enforcer of federal laws. As of December 31, 2009, the FBI had a total of 13,412 special agents. Total federal law enforcement personnel totals about 110,000, with about 75% being in Homeland Security.
In 2008, state and local law enforcement agencies employed more than 1.1 million persons on a full-time basis, including about 765,000 sworn personnel. Clearly, federal law can’t be enforced without state help. That’s why legislation to curtail the power of state and local police to assist the federal government (which has been ruled constitutionally legal by the Supreme Court) could hurt the federal government considerably.
That leaves Obama or any other president with few legal options. He could hire more law enforcement officers, but that would mean that Congress would have to raise taxes, something they are loath to do. Nor, will a Republican House be willing to give Obama vast legal powers.
That leaves Obama with either questionable executive action – which still needs federal law enforcement offices to execute it. Or he may try to use military force to enforce administration actions, which is forbidden by federal law.
The use of military force would be a red line as far as Americans are concerned. In addition, there are only about half a million active duty army troops in the US and abroad, which is less than the number of local law enforcement. The benefit of calling them in to enforce federal law would be outweighed by the political furor on both conservative and liberal sides of the aisle.
Calling in federal troops to enforce federal laws would be tantamount to starting a new civil war in those states affected. But the results may be quite different this time.
If Obama tries to enforce his will through military force on the Republican states that oppose him, he may find himself on a losing side. As was noted earlier in this analysis, defense contractors and small arms manufacturers are moving to Republican states along with other major industries. Unlike the Civil War in the United States 150 years ago, the rebels will have the industrial base instead of the states that side with the federal government.
The balkanization of the US has already occurred. Differing political and social views are found in different parts of the nation. The only thing that is holding them together is the federal government.
Under Obama, the power of the federal government has been pushed without regard for the political opinions of the states, which are under Republican control. The result is that states are fighting back by using their constitutional rights that have been upheld by the US Supreme Court.
Assuming that the states don’t back down, there are a few options for the federal government. The first is that Obama reaches some sort of compromise that gives the states some relief in turn for stopping their current rebellion. The second option is that he continues his current policies and ignores the states actions, which will have a serious impact on the power of the federal government and give the states a degree of freedom not seen since before the American Civil War. The final is to try to impose the will of the federal government on the states, a risky move both constitutionally and in practice.
Break ups of nations are often unpredictable. The Soviet Union seemed invulnerable in early 1989, but showed its weaknesses just 11 months later when the Berlin Wall was torn down. Mubarak seemed likely to stay in power indefinitely, until the waves of unprecedented popular uprisings. And, Yugoslavia seemed to remain united until the fractures caused by Tito’s death.
The same is true with the United States. The fractures are there and it only requires an incident to cause an irreparable schism. If that happens before Obama leaves office is pure conjecture.
Iraq in Crisis
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
February 18, 2014
This most recent draft of Iraq in Crisis has been revised to take into account outside comments covering the trends in violence, Iraq’s political crisis, the role of Al Qaeda in Iraq, problems in Iraq’s security forces, and challenges with the Iraqi economy and petroleum sector. In addition, numerous tables and charts have been added, adjusted, and update to serve as reference. The new draft now focuses on the deep structural problems in Iraqi governance, the Iraqi security forces, Iraqi demographics, the Iraqi state sector and Iraqi agriculture. It also expands the analysis of Sunni-Shiite tensions, growing problems between the central government and Syria, and the role of Iran in Iraq.
The Egypt Effect: Sharpened Tensions, Reshuffled Alliances
By Anouar Boukhars, Nathan J. Brown, Michele Dunne, Raphaël Lefèvre, Marwan Muasher, Frederic Wehrey, Katherine Wilkens, and Scott Williamson
February 13, 2014
The military coup that overthrew then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in early July 2013 and the new government’s ensuing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood are having a dramatic impact on the politics, security, and rights environment in Egypt. But the effects of these events outside Egypt’s borders—in North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf, and Turkey—are also significant. The Egypt effect has generally heightened Islamist-secularist tensions and pushed the region in the direction of zero-sum politics rather than consensus building. Islamist leaders and parties that behaved just a year ago as though their ascendance to power through elections was a historical inevitability are now on the defensive. At the same time, secularists— whether in opposition or in power—are more assertive and less ready to compromise. This dynamic has led some Islamists to become increasingly defiant in their isolation. In some cases, it has enlivened Islamist dissent in surprising ways.
An Opening for Peace: Israelis, Palestinians and the Two-State Solution
By Justin Finkelstein
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Particularly in the past few years, a wide array of pundits, experts and observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict have suggested that the two-state solution is dead. Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest push for peace has not done much, if anything, to temper these opinions. Despite his proclamations—at times ubiquitous in the media—that the two sides are close to an agreement, Kerry is being met with far more pessimistic assessments among most Israelis, Palestinians and commentators.
Strategic Depth & Israel’s Maritime Strategy
By Seth Cropsey
February 20, 2014
Israel’s military accomplishments have often approached their biblical antecedents. Surrounded by the combined invasions of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1948, the newly created Jewish state triumphed decisively. Anticipating attack by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1967, Israel gained air superiority with a surprise strike that destroyed most of the Egyptian and—later in the same day—Syrian air forces as they sat parked on the ground. Israel’s success in the south helped the late Ariel Sharon decimate Egyptian tank forces in the Sinai. Israel won in six days and, among other accomplishments, threw Syrian forces from their commanding position atop the Golan Heights. But the future strategic focus for Israel may be as much at sea as on land or in the air. What is concentrating the attention of Israeli strategy toward the sea? The need for physical distance between a threat and what needs to be protected – strategic depth.
When Barry Met Hamid
By Christina Lamb
February 18, 2014
WHEN Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me in an interview in the Arg Palace last week that he and President Barack Obama had not spoken for seven months, I was astonished. The war in Afghanistan might be unpopular – more so even than Vietnam according to latest polls – but it is America’s longest war and there are still 39,000 U.S. troops on the ground, not to mention the $91.5 billion spent there last year. So one might have assumed the two leaders were in regular contact. Instead Karzai said; “We last had a video conference in June when we had a very direct talk, from that time onwards we didn’t talk. We met in South Africa [for Mandela’s funeral] but didn’t speak. Letters have been exchanged.”
Jordan Not Out of the Woods Yet
By David Schenker
February 19, 2014
On February 14, President Obama met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Rancho Mirage, California. In the year since their previous summit, tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed and over 400,000 have registered as refugees in Jordan, bringing the total number of exiles from across the northern border to nearly 1 million. Despite the deterioration next door and the 16 percent increase in the kingdom’s population, Jordan is paradoxically more stable today than when the two leaders met in March 2013. Yet the refugees still constitute a threat that will likely increase, especially given President Obama’s assessment that “we don’t expect to solve [the Syria crisis] anytime in the short term.”