Blue States Press
Thoughts on Panarin
By Mark Arnold
Blue States Press
Published: March 16, 2009
Russian professor Igor Panarin, a former KGB analyst, has received much publicity of late in the American and international press after predicting the political unraveling and break-up of the United States as a consequence of several political, economic and social trends, not least of which is the current economic crisis.
A map of North America, according to Panarin’s vision, divides the American states into six major blocs. These six blocs, however, are fused together without an understanding of the cultural and economic differences of US states and regions. For example, the Northeast – deemed ‘Atlantic America’ – includes not only New England and the Middle Atlantic states, but also the Virginias, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky. While regions are generally conceptual entities and are difficult to define, I think most Americans would include these states as belonging to the cultural South. Further, Panarin argues that this ‘Atlantic America’ could join or come under the influence of the European Union – an issue I’ll come back to.
Other regions, meanwhile, like the Gulf Coast states, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma – fused together as the ‘Texas Republic’ – supposedly would “go to” Mexico or come under the influence of Mexico. States West of the Rockies would form the ‘California Republic’ and fall under the influence of China, while the entire Midwest from the Ohio River to the Western states of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado would “go to” or come under the influence of Canada. Finally, Alaska would revert to Russian control and Hawaii would “go to” either Japan or China.
Most commentators have treated Panarin’s predictions with amusement, but the fact that he has received any publicity at all points to a real degree of seriousness his predictions are being taken among at least some people in responsible positions. At the same time, however, I have yet to see any serious analysis or critiques of Panarin’s predictions, with the exception of commentaries by the likes of Jeffrey Nyquist (http://www.financialsense.com/stormwatch/geo/pastanalysis/2009/0313.html). Hence, with this article I hope to offer a reasoned critique that is at the same time sympathetic to Panarin’s basic argument; that is, to provide some idea of what the world might look like if there was to be some kind of political unraveling and break-up of the United States.
First, Panarin is not the first to argue that the US or North America could conceivably break apart or split into new geo-political units. Harm de Blij, a South Africa-born US geographer, reported on Good Morning America in 1991 that, under conditions similar to what the USSR faced, the US could breakup in a way similar to that of the Soviet Union. His argument was the USA was, in essence, a world empire, and that the break-up and collapse of the USSR – an empire itself – could portend the end of an era of empires. De Blij then pointed to the work of Joel Garreau, author of The Nine Nations of North America in which he describes nine distinctive cultural and political regions of North America, including Mexico and the Caribbean. De Blij pointed to Garreau’s book as a model of the possible fractures along which the USA could break apart.
Second, Panarin’s analysis is Russo-centric. That is, he believes that Russia, and to a lesser extent, China, would be the natural hegemons to replace the United States on the global stage. This view, however, is narrow at best. What Panarin doesn’t understand is that any unraveling or break-up of the United States would represent a cataclysmic political earthquake with global reverberations. The nations of the world are not islands unto themselves, and following a break-up of the United States devolutionary nationalist and sub-nationalist movements could envelop the entire globe, threatening to unravel countries across all of North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia, including China and even Russia herself.
In North America, the United States would not be alone in its dis-integration if it were to break apart. Indeed, it seems more likely that Canada or even Mexico would unravel before the United States. French-speaking Quebec, for example, came within just 1% of voting for secession from Canada in a referendum on independence in 1996. Mexico, meanwhile, has a history of state-centered separatist movements, particularly in the North. More likely, separatism would begin perhaps in Quebec, and soon would include parallel devolution in the US and Mexico.
Following a break-up of the United States – and, further, North America – an entire new world order might emerge, but not necessarily one in which Russia and China are the natural ‘heirs’. Rather, new hegemons that might emerge are, at present, sub-national political entities. California, for example, has somewhere between the 7th and 10th largest economy in the world (depending on the year in which GDP is compared to other countries). If California were to be an independent country, it would automatically rise in rank as it retains the taxes now flowing to Washington and, ultimately, to lesser-developed states. It is highly unlikely that California would “go to” or fall under the influence of Russia or China or any other country for that matter.
In the case of an independent Cascadia, an elongated country akin to Chile in both its physical shape and its environment, Cascadia’s cultural liberalism and environmentalism would be at odds with Russian or Chinese culture, and once again it would unlikely fall under the influence of a foreign power. As for Alaska . . . well, good luck trying to “re-take” this land of rugged individualist and well-armed citizens. And, in addition, any move on Alaska by Russia would surely pull in a range of North American powers not eager to let Alaskan resources get snatched-up by an aggressive Eurasian-based power. Finally, like California, an independent Atlantic States - comprised of the states of the Northeast Corridor (from Maryland to Maine, and including Washington DC)- would be among the largest economies of the world and would unlikely fall under the influence of a foreign power.