When the USA breaks up, the West Coast will have to make its own way in a dangerous world.
The hard truth about history is that big countries don’t last forever. Something about the way real human communities form and function fundamentally undermines empires of all stripes sooner or later.
America’s federal government is absolutely broken: the fact that the country came within a week of default thanks to endless partisan warfare is yet another dire warning about this country’s lack of a future.
America’s federal system can no longer reinvent itself as it once did: the thing is too static, dominated by a few powerful special interests who actively pit partisan Americans against each other for profit.
Americans are taught in school to believe that the way things are today is the only possible one, but this mythology ignores the simple fact that the very nature of the federal government has dramatically changed throughout US history.
Change is inevitable — without it, systems crumble.
America’s ongoing collapse is a tale as old as time: one of the most compelling discoveries of my academic career was discovering that the ancients laid out the basic patterns of the world system in what we call mythology.
I published an entire series of novels based on the premise that Ragnarok is not just myth, but actual science: history plays out not as a linear trajectory of progress and is deeply episodic, like the annual cycle of the seasons.
Grasp that, and you can understand the world as it is, not as your teachers wanted you to believe.
Powerful countries die when their leaders become so bound to their narrow world view that they can no longer conceive of life being different. They come to see any change as apocalypse and seek to preserve the way things are forever, even if this is impossible.
It’s a myth of the so-called “Enlightenment,” which was nothing more than a few privileged men rediscovering truths suppressed by religious authorities for centuries. They spun a vision of a world that suited their own interests above all others, sowing the seeds of the destruction of what adherents to the dead faith call Western Civilization.
The thing about the worst kinds of social calamities is that they creep up on everyone: the classic slow-boiling frog metaphor is generally correct. Inflation, climate change, war — once certain trajectories are set they are extremely difficult to alter.
Everyone tends to fall back on their closest social relationships, adopting the ideas and speech patterns of people close to them to create a sense of solidarity that offers the illusion of control. They try to exclude outside ideas and insist that all conflicts are existential, slowly making them so until everything self-destructs.
When systems that go wrong crumble, they often do so in a flash. Watch the Russian Federation: it is an even more perfect example of imperial overstretch and inevitable collapse.
This is why I am convinced that planning for the USA to split into a set of regional successor states, each taking the Constitution and applying it however the majority of its residents prefer, is merely prudence in action.
If you are an investor, the risk of the USA separating ought to factor in to your long term plans, just like you have to consider future climate risks. Risk is risk, whatever the source, even if you pretend it isn’t real.
The simple truth of the USA being a legal federation under the Constitution is that it is always primed to divide.
The USA is an extremely diverse country where the federal system in Washington D.C. holds all Americans back. The thing has been totally colonized by powerful monied interests who will repeat the mistakes of the Gilded Age in a time when large numbers of Americans question the viability of the national experiment altogether.
At a time when US leaders are constantly warning about the dangers of China, to the rest of the world the country looks just as hollow as Putin’s dying Muscovite empire. The harsh reality of our times is that if the US does stumble into a conflict with China, odds are that it will actually lose.
Why? Because even in the world of national defense the partisan rot and lobbyist infestation have colluded to make the Pentagon totally unaccountable.
Americans don’t actually know how their fancy, expensive military will perform in a future high-intensity war. The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan do not bode well, however — nor does the history of an established power going up against a motivated up and coming rival.
And given that any major war between the USA and China likely goes nuclear at the end, West Coast independence could potentially be forced on the people living here after a tragic conflict.
Heck, even a bad enough natural disaster could separate huge portions of California, Cascadia, Alaska, Hawai’i, or the Pacific territories from aid.
In truth, the entire Pacific theater should — as was the case in the Second World War — be managed as its own separate military puzzle. It shouldn’t be tied to US operations elsewhere on the planet because the Pacific is unique, a vast space where the US, Japan, Russian Federation (for as long as it lasts), South Korea, and China all operate in close proximity.
To someone from the South or Northeast the threat posed by Putin’s “Russian World” ideology is mostly abstract, unless they’ve been following the real news coming out of Ukraine. But Alaska was once ruled by Moscow, and the Muscovite empire had outposts stretching into northern California.
Because our economy is intrinsically bound up with that of East Asia, our prosperity underwritten by proximity to these emerging markets, conflict with China poses both military and economic risks to the West Coast going forward. In truth, the turn towards protectionism in the USA by even Democrats who should know better is clearly designed to punish the West Coast for doing so well over the past thirty years while the Rust Belt continued its inevitable decline.
The West Coast is already basically its own country — it’s worth nothing that nearly all of Joe Biden’s popular vote margin in the 2020 elections came from here. Without us, the USA would be a staunchly conservative country — if and when the Republicans take full control of the federal government again some might actually want to let us go to protect their Florida-Texas style conservative paradise.
Again, for as long as that lasts. Climate change is coming for the Gulf Coast in a big way.
As an independent country, the West Coast would boast the world’s third largest economy, beating out Germany and Japan — both considered major world powers, if not superpowers.
We already contribute a fifth of the US GDP despite having less than a sixth of the population.
And a fifth of US military spending will amount to a full $180 billion by 2025, when the impending Trump-Biden rematch will very likely rip the country apart.
Even after massively increasing its military spending to cope with the strain Putin’s war on Ukraine, Moscow can’t match the West Coast.
China’s budget is probably twice ours and will grow, but given that Beijing is working with a population almost eight times the size of Moscow’s and is surrounded by countries that are suspicious of it, the West Coast will be just fine.
We’ve got allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia. None are shy of fighting if they have to.
The West Coast Defense Force will be a successor to the US military as it is presently organized, dispensing with branch differences to create a unified military command. It’s primary mission will be simple: to protect the residents of the West Coast from all hazards, human and natural.
This broader conception of national security is appropriate and necessary given what climate change is set to do to the world in the coming years. Quick response times in disasters save lives, and the military toolkit is the only one available with a complete set of capabilities sufficient to physically sustain displaced populations for a long period of time.
Fortunately, most military training and gear is dual-purpose, and the West Coast can afford a lot of it.
It is difficult to conceptualize what a $180 billion defense budget can do, especially when in the contemporary US all anyone talks about in the media or halls of Congress is how much more money the Pentagon needs.
However, limited budgets tend to breed innovation, focusing efforts on coming up with the most efficient means of achieving a given end.
$180 billion comes to just about 60% of the Navy Department’s budget if you include the shared infrastructure costs the Navy, Army, and Air Force all pay.
At present, around half of the United States Navy and two thirds of the Marine Corps are deployed in the Pacific.
This is in fact more than sufficient to deter China from attacking Taiwan, the main security concern in the Pacific right now — if it weren’t, the US would have far more forces in place.
The Air Force and Army are dramatically less important in the Pacific theater for the simple reason that there aren’t enough bases for them to operate from close enough to Taiwan to be of real use in a conflict. Truth be told, even the Marines are largely obsolete in their current form: Pentagon planners of today pretend that the US will be able to maintain anything but recon teams within 1,000 km of the Chinese coast, but this is a deeply dangerous play that risks lives for no good reason.
In any future Pacific War, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and other democratic allies will be the ones who provide the bulk of the land and air forces required. The role of the West Coast, Australia, New Zealand, and other allies will be to control the seas, ensuring a steady flow of supplies across the Pacific.
The USA knows this, which is why it stations relatively few ground and air units in the Pacific that aren’t under Navy command. Since before World War Two the West Coast has been a giant military colony in the eyes of people back east, a place to settle veterans like my grandparents away from the overcrowded cities of the north.
Five aircraft carrier battle groups, half of the main striking force of the United States Navy, are always in port or sailing across the Pacific. When the West Coast Defense Force takes over all US military responsibilities in the Pacific, we’ll have more than enough budget to keep them all operating as they are now.
Working out just how big of a defense force the West Coast can field is tricky because the Pentagon is a gigantic and practically un-auditable black box where the stated costs of things are always subject to a degree of uncertainty.
You can’t easily put a clear price tag on an aircraft carrier or fighter jet because a huge component of the costs is variable — how hard they are used alters the equation. There are thousands of moving parts in the procurement system, and costs can change year to year.
The most reliable way to connect spending to actual capabilities is to look at the entire force and divide it into even chunks. For example, the US Navy operates ten aircraft carrier battle groups at any given time — an eleventh carrier is on the books, but one is always in deep maintenance and not technically available.
Though not all ships in the fleet are attached to a carrier group, you can still pretend like each carrier is accompanied by 1/10th of the Navy’s total assets for the purposes of cost estimation. That includes aircraft and Marine Corps detachments along with the ships that carry them.
Following this method, each carrier group boasts approximately:
1 Marine carrier
5 Attack submarines
2 Missile submarine
2 Landing ships
4–5 Combat jet squadrons
4–5 Support and helicopter squadrons
1 Marine battalion
Naturally there are also patrol ships, Coast Guard cutters, and other smaller vessels in the inventory, but these are the big-ticket items that make the headlines and give potential adversaries pause.
The total annual cost of this armada: right around $30 billion.
Next time someone starts whining about deficits or the national debt, have them look at just how much it costs to maintain the biggest military in the world.
The West Coast could technically afford six carrier groups, but five or even four is probably ideal to leave budget room for air and ground forces focused on territorial defense and disaster relief.
China, for comparison, now fields two carrier groups of its own, with a full six likely in the water by the late 2030s. They are and will remain smaller than US models, though, and will have a very different role in Chinese doctrine. Russia has a single carrier and the equivalent of a battle group to go along with it, but Moscow also has four separate coasts to defend and has not properly funded its own navy for a long time — hence the pathetic loss of Moskva to Ukrainian anti-ship missiles in 2022.
Simply put: the West Coast can handle China, North Korea, and Putin — all at once if necessary. We would also be a better and infinitely more reliable ally to our democratic partners than the ever-distracted USA is right now.
In addition, more than half of the US Navy’s share of the nuclear deterrent is stationed just outside of Seattle. Eight Ohio-class nuclear-powered missile submarines are housed on the West Coast, no fewer than 3–4 at sea at any given time carrying 20 ballistic missiles and up to 240 nuclear warheads.
Mess with the West Coast, everyone dies. Food for thought, Putin ;)
Personally, I think that 4 carrier groups will be sufficient, and in the future the Marine component will be radically reduced while air wings will incorporate more drones to cut costs.
This will leave a full third of the West Coast Defense Forces budget for dedicated air and ground components, equivalent to the present-day National Guard.
Carrying the simplified budget logic from the Navy to the Army and Air Force, 10% of the budget allocated for each translates to:
1 Heavy active-duty brigade
1 Stryker-based active-duty brigade
1 Light/airmobile active-duty brigade
1 Aviation brigade (helicopters, drones, light aircraft)
3–4 National Guard and Reserve brigades
2 5th generation fighter squadrons (F-22/F-35)
4 4th generation fighter squadrons (F-15/F-16)
1 Ground attack jet squadron (A-10/F-15E)
1 Bomber squadron (B-2/B-1/B-52)
1 Drone attack squadron (MQ-9)
1 Heavy airlift squadron (C-5/C-141/C-17)
2 Medium airlift squadrons (C-130)
1 Surveillance/electronic warfare squadron (E-3/E-8)
1 Maritime patrol squadron (P-8)
2 Refueling squadrons (KC-10/KC-135)
Up to half of these squadrons are Air Guard units, which have about 1/3 the standard combat strength unless mobilized in exchange for costing 1/2 as much to operate. National Guard units are advantageous in that they keep some capabilities at the ready and can ramp up activities in an emergency — sadly, it’s harder to do Navy stuff part-time because of ships’ unique maintenance requirements.
Again, that’s a lot of hardware. Assuming that the West Coast takes 10% of the Air Force and Army, it puts us on par with pretty much any country except China — which we’ll always face alongside allies who can make up the difference.
The real risk of a war in the Pacific stems not from an invasion of Taiwan, but an attempted blockade. China is unlikely to succeed with an amphibious assault across the Taiwan Strait unless the island is first cut off from aid.
So it is the question of whether a Chinese blockade could succeed that determines Taiwan’s fate — not the ability of US forces to bomb Chinese missile launchers deep inside the mainland. Fortunately, with proper planning and the correct defense posture, it will remain possible to make an attempted blockade so risky as to be as bad of an idea as an invasion.
This will represent a core mission of the West Coast Defense Forces, and success will depend on pushing combat units into the waters off Taiwan’s east coast and keeping them there no matter what China might try to do to displace them. Marine detachments, stealth bombers, and cruise missiles will do far less good than submarines and drones while doing less to provoke China into thinking it has no option but an all-out preemptive strike.
Frankly, within five years of independence the West Coast Defense Forces will have to have completed a substantial reboot of their doctrine and training and begin incorporating a new generation of equipment.
But it is enough for now to make the case that the West Coast is more than capable of working as an independent country.
Folks living out here should not fear the collapse of the US federal government — we stand the most to gain of anyone in the fading USA.
Democracies across the Pacific would be better off, too. Food for thought if you happen to live in Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, or even Singapore.
Unlike east coast Americans, we know you are our neighbors and true friends. We stand or fall together whatever happens east of the Rocky Mountains in the coming years.
This is why I do not fear the apocalypse of America — I embrace it.
For the West Coast, everything gets better on the other side.
West Coast = Best Coast, forever :D