Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

What do Pakistan and Mexico have in common? They figure in the nightmares of U.S. military planners trying to peer into the future and identify the next big threats.

The two countries are mentioned in the same breath in a just-published study by the United States Joint Forces Command, whose jobs include providing an annual look into the future to prevent the U.S. military from being caught off guard by unexpected developments.

“In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico,” says the study – Joint Operating Environment 2008 – in a chapter on “weak and failing states.” Such states, it says, usually pose chronic, long-term problems that can be managed over time.

But the little-studied phenomenon of “rapid collapse,” according to the study, “usually comes as a surprise, has a rapid onset, and poses acute problems.” Think Yugoslavia and its 1990 disintegration into a chaotic tangle of warring nationalities and bloodshed on a horrific scale.