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What Would It Look Like If Red States Actually Seceded?

Our interconnected world makes an amicable divorce a bit more complicated than just breaking up the states.

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Thirty-five percent of Texas Republicans want to secede from the United States. After November's election, eight red states filed petitions on the White House's YouGov Web site calling for a split, and judging from the popularity of Chuck Thompson's Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (which calls for an “amicable divorce” from the former states of the Confederacy) a fair number of progressives would be happy to let them go.

Talk of secession is, of course, pretty silly. But national boundaries have historically been impermanent, and it does lead to an interesting thought experiment: just how would one approach the task of dividing up the world's leading superpower? It's easy to write a screed about how out of touch with Real America those socialist coastal elites are, or how backward the South's cousin-marrying bumpkins can be, but I'm not sure either side of that squabble has paused to consider the details.

Making it a truly amicable divorce would have to be the primary goal. A scenario in which two powerful new states with a shared border and a degree of mutual animosity might end up at war would be the last thing anyone would want. This also isn't the 19th century – like it or not, we live in an interconnected world, and we'd still share 200-plus years of common history.

An amicable separation would require creating something like a North American Union, with each country maintaining sovereignty over domestic policy while establishing some cooperation through binding treaties. Let's consider some of the sticky points.

Where Do You Draw the Borders?

Texas could just secede, or the United States could disaggregate into regional blocs with similar political cultures. You might have the Pacific States of America, the Southwestern States of America, the Northeastern States, etc. But most Americans like living in a large, powerful state, and size – market size and military might – matters on the international stage.

If one were to divide the country in two, a quick glance at a map reveals that there's no clean way to sever the “red” and “blue” states into two contiguous territories. North Dakota went for Romney by 20 points, but it would have to be part of the “Northern States of America.” New Mexico, which Obama won by 10 points, would end up being one of the more liberal states in the “Southern States of America.”

It gets trickier when you consider the political and cultural differences within states. A farmer in Southern Illinois once told me, “We consider this area to be Northern Kentucky.” You could hold a county-by-county referendum to determine exactly where to draw the line, which would be great for the folks in Northern New Mexico, as this county-by-county electoral map suggests.

Something to think about.

The Military

This gets sticky. How do you split up the most powerful military on the planet? Ideally, you wouldn't; you'd create a NATO-style common defense force, with a central chain of command, and it would be dedicated to protecting the territory formerly known as the United States. This would avoid a situation in which the world's leading military powers shared a common border – a scenario that could lead to all sorts of ugliness.

But here's the problem: the two new countries would want the ability to set their own foreign policies and determine their own levels of military spending. Presumably, the “blue” states would want to spend a little less on guns and a little more on butter (or a lot less on guns and a lot more on butter).

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