46
$\begingroup$

When the USSR broke up into fifteen independent states, it's well known that Russia inherited the nuclear arsenal of the dissolving state. I don't know exactly how this was decided: if it was just "obvious" given Russian dominance in the Soviet Union, or "right of might" since Russia was by far the largest and most powerful of the post-Soviet states, or based on some pre-decided rules or contracts/treaties between the then-SSRs. My question is about a hypothetical parallel scenario with the other global superpower of the Cold War.

If the USA breaks up into multiple independent states, which of the emerging states gets the nuclear arsenal?

Clarifications:

  • The breakup could be in any number of different ways: all fifty states go independent individually; "blue" versus "red" versus "swing" states; east coast versus west coast versus landlocked states; this or this or this; etc. I'm looking for a general answer to cover any breakup scenario, if possible.
  • Ideally I'd also be interested in answers valid for any time period, from the Cold War era up to the present. If that makes the question too broad or not feasibly answerable, then let's restrict the time to now, during the Joe Biden presidency.
  • Let's assume a peaceful breakup: maybe some riots and such, but no outright war between states. Broadly similar scenario to the breakup of the USSR, to the extent that that's possible with two very different nations.
  • Ideally, answers would be based on existing provisions for this scenario in US law. If none such exist, then informed speculation is OK - I've heard that Worldbuilding SE folks are very good at that. Not pure blind speculation, of course: a good answer must be based on some kind of evidence or argumentation.

I've checked the help centre and this meta post, and, as far as I can tell, this question seems to be on-topic. Please let me know if not, or if any further clarifications or scope narrowings are required.

$\endgroup$
12
  • 36
    $\begingroup$ Getting all the nukes wasn't easy for the Russians. Many of them ended up in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazahstan, and the Russians had to sign a treaty guaranteeing these states sovereignty and territorial integrity in exchange for their return. They broke the treaty after 20 years: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – b.Lorenz
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 19:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @b.Lorenz Even if Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan had the physical nukes, only Russia had the codes, right? So those three smaller countries weren't really nuclear capable as such. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:18
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor once you physically own a computer breaking it's code is simply a matter of time, a nuke is no different then a standard laptop to that affect, if the only thing stopping them from having a working nuke is not knowing a code in the span of a few weeks at most (and likely much sooner) they will have the codes. $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:39
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Just to point out, the launch codes may not be so difficult to break, Given that for 15 years of the cold war, the launch code was "00000000". One hopes they're a bit more secure now, but realistically, the point was to prevent accidental launches by adding a step to the process, not to be secure.. There was typically a whole army base sitting on top of the facility for that job. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 10:09
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Considering nukes in particular. Most smaller former USSR states did not want to touch nuclear weapons and production technologies with 10-foot pole as it would necessitate joining a fair bit of agreements, international oversight and generally complicate foreign relations. Nobody wants sudden 10+ new nuclear countries in Eastern Europe and Middle East. $\endgroup$
    – hamilyon
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 10:17

18 Answers 18

41
$\begingroup$

The major difference is that the USA cannot break up without a civil war.

The second major difference is that in the USA there is no clear obvious successor state, as Russia was in the USSR.

The Constitution of the USSR allowed any of the Soviet Socialist Republics to leave the Union if it wanted to:

Article 72. Each Union Republic shall retain the right freely to secede from the USSR.

(That's because the Soviet Union considered itself to be a "voluntary association of equal Soviet Socialist Republics".)

This allowed the dissolution of the Union to be a peaceful process, where diplomatic negotiations were possible; in the end, the Russian Federation got all the nukes, mainly in exchange for taking over the international debt of the former Union. The relations between most¹ of the former SSRs remained good enough for them to form the Commonwealth of Independent States; and Belarus and Russia are very closely associated in the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

¹) The former SSRs which are not members of CIS are the three Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), which went on to join NATO and the European Union; Ukraine, which hoped to hold on to the territorial gains acquired as a SSR (spoiler: Russia took them back); Georgia; and Turkmenistan.

By contrast, the States of the United States are wholly owned provinces of the American Empire, with no right to secede. (This was very firmly established on the battlefield, and what was once sealed in blood cannot be undone.) Any imaginable breakup of the USA will be a messy affair, where diplomatic negotiations between the breakaway pieces will be complicated, as lacking any legal foundation.

Moreover, any kind of reasonable breakup of the USA will certainly see various breakaway pieces contend for power; it's not like the USSR, where everybody knew that it was just a nice name for the Russian Empire, and where everybody fully expected Russia to remain the largest and most powerful piece. California and Texas will certainly form the cores of different rival successor states, for example.

Overall, in practice this means that:

  • For sure the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets will end up in different successor states; and while the Pacific Fleet may remain a cohesive whole, it is quite likely that the Atlantic Fleet will get divided between New England (or whatever name the north-eastern piece will adopt for itself) and the Unrepentant Confederates (or whatever name the south-eastern piece will take).

  • The Air Force is likely to end up divided into several pieces, with complicated allegiances.

  • The land Army will most likely be divided between the successor states.

  • And honestly I have no workable idea of what will happen with the land-based ICBMs. Their lairs are located in relatively poor and underpopulated states, such as Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana; it is not clear at all who will get to control them.

$\endgroup$
13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "the States are wholly owned provinces of the American Empire, with no right to secede. (This was very firmly established on the battlefield...)" There is no political entity called "The American Empire," and any notion thereof exists in the abstract only. A Federal government and separate State governments comprise the US, and legal cases between the two are common. The US Civil War was not fought over the issue of secession, either- the Confederacy was indeed allowed to secede, and existed as a political entity for five years before tensions escalated to the point of war $\endgroup$
    – automaton
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 21:32
  • 6
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @automaton: Five months, not five years. The first state, South Carolina, seceded on 20 December 1860. The War of Secession began in April 1861. Relevant to the topic of this question, the first battle was specifically over Fort Sumter, a military installation situated in South Carolina; the Union refused to let it go, and the Confederation took it by force. (And what is called the Civil War in the USA is called the War of Secession in Europe, making me believe that the issue of secession was somewhat important.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 21:52
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Correct, five months not five years. My error working from a poor memory, would edit if I could $\endgroup$
    – automaton
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 22:23
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "The US cannot break apart without a civil war..." The US could vote on and ratify laws to break itself apart. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 13:21
32
$\begingroup$

The country who claims the land will claim the nuke on it

Let's not forget that, even though Russia claimed ownership of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, most of the countries that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union agreed on giving up on a large part of their nuclear arsenal mostly because it's quite an economical strain on the system, it wasn't just out of respect, politeness and fear.

As far as impending US breakup is concerned, I reckon all of that 'MURICA attitude would be dialed up to eleven the moment the breakup is initiated. Unless a prominent new country emerges which can force the rest into submission on its own, it seems pretty obvious that the moment the US splits the nukes would end up being claimed by the countries who physically have them within their possession and there's not a doubt in my mind that some of them would pull the nuclear trigger at the first chance they get. The US hadn't had a civil war for quite a while, aggression has been steadily building up to an all-time high so it goes without saying that when the disintegration begins and another civil war breaks out, it's going to be a bloodbath unlike anything ever witnessed before.

It also seems obvious that the codes, wherever they are, would be retained on the spot and most likely won't be shared, so countries who inherited less strategic military complexes than others would be at quite a disadvantage. Some of the countries that don't have the codes for their own nukes would be most likely aggravated far enough to try tampering with them rather than negotiating with their new-found adversaries (or enemies), so I reckon there's an accident or two waiting to happen in that aspect as well.

Nuclear subs? Aircraft Carriers? Oh wow those will be quite a headache to deal with. Those anchored in ports would be undoubtedly claimed by the country who claims the ports, while the ones located at open sea would have a clear-cut choice to make: either return to your main port to be reclaimed by the country claiming the port or sail to whichever other country that has a port and be declared a traitor (which could be quite easily taken as an excuse to declare war).

All in all, if the US falls apart it's most likely going to follow the same scenario as Austria-Hungary just far more gruesome, basically when the lines are drawn everything physically held within the lines will be automatically claimed by the newly formed countries of those territories.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ What about Mutually Assured Destruction? Surely that thought would have an even stronger effect for countries right next door to each other. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:46
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Yeah I really don't think the MAD logic would apply when the US breaks apart because the first ones who pull the trigger would be annihilating the other side far faster than it could respond. Keep in mind that the main policy of MAD between the US and the USSR laid in the distance between the two, it takes far longer for a nuke to traverse an ocean rather than half a continent. By the time a country detects a launch (if it inherited the capabilities to do so) its main military complexes might already be hit, crippling it beyond recovery. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:51
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ "In turpi causa, melior est condicio possidentis" - normally translated as "possession is nine points of the law", but this time we should take it literally - "in a disputed case, the position of the possessor is better". $\endgroup$
    – Mawg
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 7:15
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @ArgentHellion: MAD isn’t just a two-player game. Perhaps you could take out your neighbour’s bases before they can retaliate — but then everyone else (not just North America, but the whole rest of the world) will be staring right at you, and won’t have many qualms about shutting your shit down quick. IRL, this is arguably relevant to India–Pakistan: immediate neighbours, very high tensions, often flaring up into bloodshed, both with nuclear capacity; but actual use of nukes stays at least as far off the table as it did between Cold War superpowers. (Generally great answer though!) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 12:17
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ For nuclear ships on the open sea, a third option would exist: sailing to a neutral country. Nuclear submarines, especially the big SSBNs, would also have the option of simply waiting it out at sea (a nuclear boomer can go a looooong time before the food runs out, and the reactor can generate electricity for desalinating water and making air from water for literal decades on end; the limiting factor might well end up being how long the crew can stay cooped up with each other's presence before they start killing each other). $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 0:29
13
$\begingroup$

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, I don't realistically seeing any "new" country giving up it's nukes to another country regardless of what US law states (keep in mind that they created a new country, meaning they are no longer bound by US law unless they decide they want to create a law in the new country saying "we will follow the laws of the previous USA) so whatever country has the arsenal located in the day the "breakup" happens will likely be a nuclear country, depending on how you split up the US map this may or may not mean there are multiple nuclear countries as a result.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Finders keepers. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 3:07
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It would start as a nuclear country. It may, though, choose to negotiate the surrender of its nukes for other advantages -- like the former USSR countries did, with more or less success. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 16:01
9
$\begingroup$

Likely there are four possible solutions to what might happen in this situation.

  1. The nuclear weapons are shared between multiple countries. (Maybe not evenly though.) This could occur in a couple of ways: a.) There is a treaty that is signed between all of the countries to specify where the nukes would end up and what the policy of using them would be. This would likely end up as the nukes split up between multiple countries, as a balance of power. Or, b.) Based on the current geography of the nuclear weapons and the people who know how they work and are used/operated, they are just split based on how the land is split. This might be the simplest scenario, and is similar to what happened in the USSR's case, where the Russian homeland contained most of the nuclear weapons (and the people who knew their codes) so they were able to have the majority of the nuclear weapons at the end of the split.

  2. The nukes end up with either a.) the country which reigns supreme in amount of land or people or b.) the country with the strongest existing government and infrastructure. This would end up being a situation akin to Russia and the USSR, as the dominant force in both land and people, they ended up with most of the nuclear weapons. However, they did not have all of the weapons and had to sign an agreement to obtain the rest... which they broke (relatively) soon afterwards.

2a. Just the ability to threaten war based on having superior land, people, resources, and technology can often be enough to persuade other countries to allow a country like that to obtain and keep the nukes.

2b. A country that is prepared for the breakup of the United States and already has infrastructure, government, and allies in place can use this political clout and reason to help persuade the other countries to hand over the nuclear weapons. This is especially helpful if the other countries all have decent relations (even if they're not exactly allies) with this country.

  1. Nobody gets the nukes. (At least none of the Non-United States do.) A giant country like the United States does not just break up overnight into two or possibly more different new countries. There would be conflicts going on for years that would lead up to the breakup. This would allow other countries and organizations, such as the United Nations to be able to step in and mediate the situation. This could be done in a number of ways, including the old government of the United States handing over the access codes for the Nukes (even if they cannot get rid of the physical nukes) to keep the new countries safe for the near future.

  2. Very unlikely... but Washington. Wherever the president and other people in power who can access the nuclear weapons and codes to detonate them will be put in a position of even greater power in a time of conflict and the country breaking up. Depending on the types of people who have this power, whatever country contains Washington (and the people with the power there) might be able to take control of the situation because of the knowledge they have about the nukes and how they work.

How does this relate to the breakup of the USSR?

The USSR was a giant landmass, spread across two continents and bordering more than ten other countries. Russia, which had the most land and power (as well as being the most central nation with a stable government) in the former USSR ended up with the codes for the nukes, as well as the majority of them. Without knowing exactly how the USA would be split up, it is impossible to know who or what geographical areas would retain/obtain the nukes, but the above scenarios are the most likely ones that I can think of considering the question.

$\endgroup$
5
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You've formatted this answer as a set of quote blocks ... are you quoting from somewhere, or are these your own words? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor Sorry, I'll edit it, I'm used to posting answers as spoilers on Puzzling. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Kerr
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:46
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Given US attitudes towards the UN I see zero possibility of that sort of intervention producing any sort of benefit (I could well see it pushing things closer to the brink). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 20:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SoronelHaetir I was using it as an example, if another big country, power, or even a corporation were to intervene, they might be able to affect the outcome of the nuclear weapons. It is also possible in the future for the US to improve relations with the UN or for a future leader to go to them or some other organization seeking help if they see what is happening to their country. (Especially if they feel unsafe about the future of their nukes.) $\endgroup$
    – Joe Kerr
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 21:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Russia had 51.4% of the USSR's population and 76% of its land area. No individual US state is anywhere near that dominant. $\endgroup$
    – dan04
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 18:08
7
$\begingroup$

Russia and China. If the US fell apart foreign states would use the opportunity to attack and stake their own claim to nukes and other resources.

$\endgroup$
7
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I would wager that someone in ex-USAwill fire the nukes before any foreign power is allowed to take them. I would tread lightly on that if I were Russia or China. Once there’s no single President in control with clear monitoring of her/his mental state by Cabinet, those nukes are a lot more loose. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ United Kingdom may also want to reclaim its former colony, but it is arguably too weak against Russia or China. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ @TrangOul Now that really is the worst ever case scenario. :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that's likely. China would immediately pounce on Taiwan, and Russia likely on Ukraine or even the Baltic countries. But neither is strong enough currently to invade a half-continent of 300M peope on the other side of the world. And even the minor and disorganized successor states would be dangerous with their strategic nuclear arsenal. $\endgroup$
    – b.Lorenz
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 21:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @b.Lorenz "But neither is strong enough currently to invade a half-continent..." It won't be an invasion, it will be a peace-keeping operation, with the approval of United Nations ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 2:06
7
$\begingroup$

Who gets the nukes?

Whoever wants them

Nukes are expensive, difficult to maintain and dangerous, both in attracting military attention and in potential contamination. Plenty of states are currently capable of producing nukes for themselves and choose not to. There is a good reason that Russia ended up with all of the USSR's nukes, and not the republics they were deployed in - the republics actively worked to make sure that Russia took responsibility for them.

Who might want them? Nukes are only useful if you have aspirations to be a world power. So the only parts of the US that want nukes are those large enough for that to be realistic. Of individual states only California is anywhere near the size. A grouping like the Eastern Seaboard might be big enough, but it's going to be dependent on a whole load of things, including what the resulting units are.

It's much more likely that rather than squabbling over who gets the nukes, states will be worried about how to deal with nukes on their territory that they don't want.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Most of the "currently-capable-but-choosing-not-to" is because most of the world signed a treaty agreeing not to and nobody wants to be the first to go back on that. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 0:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The treaty is still there. And it was signed at least in part because people didn't want nukes. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 3:18
7
$\begingroup$

No US nukes anymore.

As US gets weaker and weaker on the road to break up (it is not possible overnight), maybe even after a nuke-related incident, other more powerful "world powers" (EU, China, etc...) together persuade the not-so United States to de-militarize. At least in regard to nukes.

For everyone's good.

The general US population half-hearthedly supports the idea (not that anyone asks them at that point).

The bomb cores get recast into MOX fuel rods that are used up in the flourishing and fuel-hungry nuclear power industry.

edit: It is not necessary for the country to break up. It is enough to sink its economy (and whatever form of "law and/or order" it has, as a consequence).


USSR/Russia almost did it in early '90s - all the way to western countries paying for the safe disposal off of the part of the Russian deprecated nukes and some of these money really used for guarding the non-deprecated ones.

Russia later recovered, but the next one in the same situation may have less luck.


Nukes are a high ball.

They require a small army just to keep the control of them in the hands of the government. They need even more to guard the industry that makes them and things related to them. They need able, clever and loyal (it sums to expensive) people to create, maintain and operate them. They need an economy to back all these things. The list goes on and on.

$\endgroup$
7
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Plausible, but a flourishing civilian nuclear power industry would allow the re-introduction of nukes once the dust had settled down. See the international concerns about uranium enrichment in Iran for one example. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 16:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SeanCondon not necessarily. Atomic bombs require MUCH bigger economy in order to be sustainable. USSR learned this the hard way $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 17:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fraxinus Much bigger than what? Considering that CIA factbook called USSR "2nd largest world economy" not so long before dissolution. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 15:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @fraxinus Not sure if the breakup of the USSR is a good example here. Despite the domestic chaos it caused, Russia remains among the biggest in the world for both civilian and military nuclear ownership. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @OlegV.Volkov much bigger than simply run nuclear energy business. $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 16:00
3
$\begingroup$

(below scenario is without foreign intervention)

Lack of maintenance will result in a bunch of nuclear waste

The Federal government weakens drastically, because a large number of states leaves the Union. The Federal state itself will soon not exist anymore. There are guards and nuclear experts, but there will be no central organization to pay them, the knowledge about the nukes gets lost, or fragmented.

Nuclear arms stationed on land and on submarines are owned by the Federal state. All local guards and experts are employee of the Federal state, they would need to be employed - voluntarily or involuntarily - by e.g. the state of Texas, when some of the nukes are on Texas territory. But Texas cannot force contracts upon other experts, who reside outside the state. They won't be able to complete the team.

Nukes will become useless soon after that point. Nukes are complicated technical equipment that needs to be maintained, they would become unsafe, or simply won't respond. On the mid-term, all nuclear warheads will need revision and replacement. Instead states will probably seal off the locations.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

The answer doesn't come down to what the new states themselves are, but how how things fall out with the other world superpowers. Russia and China don't attack, they ally with some of the US fragments. Politics shift as rapidly as the US changes. A regional "state" getting some nuclear weapons doesn't do much if other "states" have international superpowers behind them aiming from afar... not so much mutually assured destruction as assured destruction of any US fragment that independently becomes aggressive.

The world superpowers don't just ignore the US fractions... they're too significant in terms of not only the nuclear weapons, but the other technology and resources. Europe, Russia, China, Japan, the Koreas, etc go through a lot of shifting and adjusting in their position with the evolving US body and each other. If the international community sees the significant US fragments as too unstable, they likely unite more among themselves, and the US pieces then have to tread carefully to fight amongst themselves in a way that doesn't attract international involvement... perhaps the states even give up their nuclear weapons under the weight of the world against them. Or maybe the states that hold some decent might in terms of economies, resources, and perhaps nuclear power are shrewd enough to enter the global political complex themselves, and international alliances start to form. It could be a dangerous environment having internationally supported enemies neighboring... as the Cuban Missile Crisis and even world wars showed. Would cooler heads prevail? It depends how the world's other current powers and the stronger US factions act, but the Europes and Chinas and Russias of the world may be all that could prevent human catastrophe if the US factions were as ugly as some of our political fighting has gotten, and you threw in actual acts of aggression to spur each other on.

But which US fragments would hold the nukes? As others mention, if the country is dissolving, it's unlikely that there'd be much focus on current laws and such. Strategically, I think Washington DC would have a tough time... they may have the codes, but unless they activated them quickly, they'd face the challenges of holding the weapons themselves in remote, likely enemy territory. Cut any physical lines and jam radio frequencies, and suddenly those codes don't do much. Could the new countries get full control of the weapons themselves? Seems reasonable some could in time, as nuclear scientists and engineers and such are by no means uniquely concentrated in the DC area. The area around Colorado would seem to have the nuclear armament, economy, and higher knowledge institutions to stand strong (especially when you throw in Cheyenne Mountain), though they'd likely need sea access to be too viable longrun ecnomically (if the region included Texas it'd seem quite strong)? Georgia and Washington state could also reasonably end up in states with enough of everything to do well. Places like Montana and the the Dakotas might end up a little more challenged given the landlocked state and limited economies. Perhaps those areas or others even join like Canada. And economic hubs of the northeast and California are more removed and so may wind up without any weapon support or in alliance with some of the military strengths.

If it were based upon recent US political divisions, it'd seem most of the weapons would end up with the right-leaning power(s)... unless Washington DC acted very quickly to use\take them out? But I would think the weapons go to the locations they are at initially, and they only hold them long-run if the new nation(s) garner enough of the resources and international support to remain on the world stage and suggest enough stability to prevent other nations from uniting against them. It definitely could be a complicated evolution, as most international revolutions in the past century have... as even limited places like Korea and Vietnam have led to complex evolving politics, and any US breakup would be more complicated and naunced than anything we've seen since the heart of the Cold War.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ And it's unlikely that any new country would be comparable to Russia in nuclear weapon scale after a breakup. Though maybe that doesn't necessarily mean too much... it might spur other countries to increase their stockpile if Russia didn't decrease. And to those saying the fractured states couldn't support/figure out how to rearm them... remember that North Korea, Pakistan, and India have nuclear weapons, none of which were known as particularly military juggernauts. And there would be a wealth of nuclear scientists left in the US with loyalty to some states you'd reasonably think. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 12:02
2
$\begingroup$

The basic assumption of a peaceful breakup seems very difficult, but not impossible. Sharing the nukes could even be possible simply because the evolution in the world politics and in the military technologies made them less useful, they'll probably want to use them as fuel for the nuclear power plants.

With the above assumption sharing them could be done in the very american way of doing everythings, money talks. Each nuke will be assigned a value, each state or superstate breaking up will be assigned a fund calculated on the amount of money contributed to the federal taxes in the past 100 years, and all federal properties will be acquired making symbolic payments from that fund.

What I see a lot more difficult would be how to share the network of military satellites (actually also civilian ones have a military value) in space. That could be a lot more valuable, but dependent on few control stations.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

One important note about the US nuclear stock pile is that the operational capability of nuclear weapons is centralized.

Even though Naval Sub Base Bangor and Kings bay each have fairly large stockpiles of nukes, without input from DC, those warheads are effectively useless without significant reengineering to allow for outside input.

like other answers mention, a US breakup would be very messy. Who ever would be in the Pentagon or White House would not willingly launch codes and computer systems to active them to Bangor or kings Bay or where ever these mobile platforms decide to pull into to hand their favorite new nation their arsenal.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I see several options:

  • No-one gets the nukes, if the US splits up into small enough blocs none of them will have the population to support the technology needed to maintain the arsenal; they sit rusting and forgotten like many of the Soviet Union's old biowarfare stockpiles in ex-soviet states.
  • The vultures get the nukes, again if the US breaks up small its successor states will have trouble defending their pieces of the old arsenal and it gets bought up or stolen by outsiders.
  • There are no nukes left to get, the US breaks up in a spectacularly NOT peaceable way; the arsenal either gets used or destroyed in the process.
  • There is no-one to inherit, the US goes down with a whimper not a roar; a massive percentage of the world population is killed by the accidental release of weaponised smallpox, or similar, and there are no cohesive successor states big enough to claim ownership.
  • There are no nukes and there is no-one to inherit them anyway, the US breaks up in a spectacularly NOT peaceable way, and pulls the rest of the world down with it.
  • The nukes are given to a third party, the US breaks up in a peaceful fashion but its successors realise they're too small to hold on to and/or maintain the arsenal. The nukes are transferred to a semi-independent, apolitical, body specifically created to inherit the arsenal and use it on behalf of the successor states as a whole if ever that becomes necessary.
  • The nukes get split, the US breaks into two or three large successor states that manage to agree some equally unsatisfactory division of the arsenal that they all think they can live with.
  • The Icelanders, the Swiss, and/or possibly the Japanese, get the nukes, the US successor states realise they can't hold onto the arsenal and trying to do so is an invitation to worldwide MAD so they hand them off to a state known for its lack of recent attempts at worldwide domination. (The Japanese only possibly make the list because they have imposed a policy of non-interference on themselves)
  • The nukes are deliberately destroyed/put beyond reach in a hostile environment that will destroy them to take them off the playing board.

Note: In any case where there is a division, hand-off, removal or similar of the arsenal I fully expect that there will be some serious cheating.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Care to name at least one of "many of the Soviet Union's old biowarfare stockpiles in ex-soviet states"? That should be easy, considering how "many" of them are there. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @OlegV.Volkov The UN had two in the Ukraine, one in Azerbaijan and three in Kazakhstan on their watch list of vulnerable WMD storage sites in the early 2000s, don't know if they're still though. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 4:51
2
$\begingroup$

I'm suprised no one has mentioned this:

The Federal Government

When the Southern States seceded, the United States did not declare war on them. Although there is nothing saying that states could secede, there wasn't anything saying they couldn't either. The war started when South Carolina attacked a United States military fort.

Although states seceded, the United States government kept control of its property in its former states. The Federal Government actually owns quite a bit of land (see this video) and I don't imagine them giving this up just because e.g. Alaska decided to secede.

The United States government is one of the largest and most powerful organizations in the world and I doubt that even all states seceding from the union would make the federal government cease to exist. In other words, if all 50 states + DC seceded, I would think that there would be 52 countries: all 50 states, DC, and The United States of America (which would no longer be a collection of united States).

If this was the case, the Federal Government would still have control of a large amount of land, the world's largest military, and a lot of nukes. If a state wanted the nuclear weapons in their borders, they'd have to fight the United States (which would probably turn out worse for the state than it did for the Confederacy in the Civil War since (1) the US's military is much larger now and (2) a single state would have much less resources than the confederacy).

It's possible that the Federal Government would dissolve over time due to lack of funding, but that'd probably be a slow bureaucratic process where the allocation of nukes would be decided on a case-by-case basis. It's also possible that states do attack and take the nukes (especially if the US military gets divided over the secession), but you said a peaceful secession, so that's off the table.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What makes you think that the military would keep allegiance to Federal Government and not it's "home" State as it most often happens IRL? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @OlegV.Volkov It's hard to say what the military would do, but I think it's likely that it would split between factions. There would certainly be a faction loyal to the Federal Government, especially if they are still getting paid by said government. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the manner of the split. In a peaceful split, as the question states to assume, there would be no federal sovereignty remaining within the state(s) that left and members of the armed forces from those states would either need to move to a state that remained under federal control or join the armed forces of the newly-formed country/countries. The latter would be the most likely outcome for most, just as also happened during the Civil War. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ As far as the case of Ft. Sumter, that fort was in South Carolina. It was one of a handful of military facilities in the South that didn't join the local state and, subsequently, the confederacy on its own. By the time of the attack on Ft. Sumter, war was pretty much assumed to be inevitable by both sides. South Carolina knew that its primary port would be unusable with a big federal fort in the middle of it when war broke out, so it was attacked after refusing to surrender before reinforcements could arrive. Also, the Confederacy asked for a peace treaty prior to this, which was refused. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 3:37
1
$\begingroup$

DC

As others have pointed out, there is no laws by Congress dictating a peaceful separation from Federalism.

However, the civil war provided a good example of how this happens in the absence of such law : military installations were staffed at the time of the nation’s dissolution by federal soldiers who swore an oath to obey the orders of a Federal chain of command, ultimately headquartered in the joint chiefs in D.C. and the President in D.C.

At the time of dissolution of the states, these Federal institutions continued to see themselves as Federal institutions- a claim that they pressed when local and state governments approached them to stand down and turn over those facilities.

Adding to this precedent is an additional wrinkle that many U.S. nuclear sites are secret. Only D.C. knows where the are.

For those two reasons, I would propose absent some debt-for-arms swap, that by default the U.S. nuclear cache will go wherever the District of Columbia goes in a split.

$\endgroup$
6
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ US nuclear designated sites are pretty well known. A simple Google search can net you a good list of where these weapons can be stored. however, there is the "cannot confirm nor deny" part that they cannot definitively say if there is actual warheads at those locations or not, but you can logically assume that info. The bigger part is these weapons are in the most part useless without the safety activation codes that DC controls. $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Sonvar Not really. The codes are mostly just to prevent accidental activation or some rouge individual doing something on the spur of the moment. They would be quite easy for a state-level actor with physical possession to bypass. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab actually they are not. Codes are generated based an a specific cypher the warhead and control computer are synced to, which is designed to be uncrackable. This control computers actual location is undisclosed, possibly in the Pentagon, but without the computer and code, guidance and trigger are useless. Without high level engineering these nukes are just fancy paper weights $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Sonvar Nation-state actors are generally capable of high-level engineering. Particularly when they employ a good number of the people who designed the systems in the first place, as would likely be the case to any U.S. successor state(s). $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab if georgia were to become independent and claim ownership over the stockpile in Kings Bay, they would not have the facilities nor the personnel with the expertise to reengineer an ICBM to disable DC's control over them. They are specifically designed for such a scenario and the reason the manufacture, design and programing is scattered to just about ever state. If engineering of a nuke was easy, nuclear proliferation would be far more prevalent than it is. $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 14:33
0
$\begingroup$

It could go South Africa where the ruling powers decide that letting the nukes deteriorate or be used in war is not a risk worth taking and decide that dismantling them would be safer.

NOTE: that this would only occur if the ruling powers had some lead time for the breakup as the revolution had not yet happened yet.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

I suppose it wil be transported and utilized in china or russia like it was with post ussr states in exchange for friendship and guarantees of non-aggression and maybe guarantees of not to place military bases near borders of this post usa states

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ "here is a knife I found at home, please don't stab me". How do you envision this to work? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ like you give the knife you have found to your opponent under the guranties not to be attacked by him. Sounds crazy but it is very likey what would happend in such situation $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 7:44
0
$\begingroup$

The West, and Georgia

This is the current map of nuclear stockpiles in the United States:

enter image description here

The other posters explain the extreme problems of a break-up of the United States. But, presuming this is successful, Washington, New Mexico, and Georgia would each have nuclear stockpiles greater than any other country in the world except Russia or China.

$\endgroup$
-1
$\begingroup$

Neither half of the country will voluntarily give up its nuclear deterrent. Ukraine and Libya both did, in exchange for peace agreement, and then a bigger country broke it and invaded them.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .