+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com

What issues, or sorts of issues, would be likeliest to cause a war between the United States and China?

Would mutual abolition of nuclear weapons make war between the United States and China


likely or less likely?

The Washington Post
Monkey Cage
The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize
winner wants to ban nuclear
weapons. Here’s why the U.S.
is opposed.
By Rebecca Davis Gibbons December 11, 2017
On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. ICAN
won the prize “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and
for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of
ICAN, accepted the prize along with anti-nuclear activist Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old survivor of the Hiroshima atomic
But the United States — along the United Kingdom and France — reportedly snubbed the prize winners by sending lowerranked diplomats instead of ambassadors to the ceremony. The United States and its close allies took a strong stance against the
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) that ICAN helped establish. Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on
July 7, the TPNW prohibits its signatories from possessing, threatening the use of, transferring, testing or stationing nuclear
Why the strong opposition from the United States? U.S. officials have lobbed a variety of criticisms against the treaty, claiming
variously that it will have little effect on disarmament, as no states possessing nuclear weapons plan to join; that it will
undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and that nuclear reductions through treaties negotiated among the nuclear
possessor states are the only feasible path toward disarmament.
But there is a more immediate, although rarely stated, concern: This new treaty could undermine the cohesion of NATO, an
explicitly nuclear alliance.
The United States pressured NATO allies to oppose the treaty
In November 2016, before the U.N. General Assembly vote on a resolution to begin negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty, the
United States sent an informal diplomatic paper to its NATO allies outlining the ways in which the proposed treaty would
undermine the stability of the international system, delegitimize nuclear deterrence, and complicate NATO planning and
nuclear burden-sharing. It states, “We strongly encourage you to vote ‘no’ on any vote at the UN First Committee on starting
negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty.”
This pressure was successful; no U.S. allies voted in favor of the U.N. resolution, although the Netherlands abstained. In the
end, the Netherlands was the only U.S. ally to participate in negotiations, as its legislature required it to do so. U.S. pressure on
NATO allies and partners surrounding this treaty continues.
In September, Defense News reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent a letter to Sweden — a NATO partner —
threatening future U.S. military cooperation if Stockholm joins the TPNW.
Should the United States be worried that NATO allies might join the treaty?
Although the United States might still be concerned that its NATO allies might join the treaty in the future, here are three
reasons why current trends appear to work in favor of the U.S. position.
1) Most NATO members are putting the alliance first. First, most NATO member governments have spoken out against
the treaty, claiming it is at odds with their alliance commitments. One country of particular concern for the United States was
Norway. Under its labor coalition government from 2005 to 2013, Norway provided significant funding to ICAN and, in 2013,
held the first of three well-attended international conferences on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons use. When this
government lost the election in 2013 to a conservative coalition, ICAN lost a major source of support. Many in the disarmament
community hoped a return of a labor coalition would lead to Oslo’s support of the new treaty. In elections this September,
however, the conservative coalition retained power. The Netherlands is another government in which there is some domestic
support for the treaty, but its leaders have also declared they would not support it.
2) Russian aggression makes this a tricky time to talk about disarmament. A second factor dampening NATO
enthusiasm for the TPNW is Russian aggression, especially since 2014. Annexing Crimea, destabilizing Ukraine, cheating on an
arms control treaty, conducting provocative military activities near NATO borders and issuing nuclear threats are all behaviors
that have NATO leaders thinking twice about rejecting nuclear weapons.
In interviews I conducted with disarmament advocates at the U.N. negotiations this summer for a forthcoming article, many
indicated that Russia’s resurgence meant the treaty’s timing was less than ideal. Indeed, the change within Europe on this issue
is well illustrated by German behavior. In 2009 and 2010, Germany and a handful of other NATO states wanted to discuss the
removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. Earlier this year, in contrast, Germany revealed that it had conducted a study on
whether it would be legal for the state to fund the British or French deterrent in exchange for protection. Talk of removing U.S.
nuclear weapons from Europe has waned significantly, and in 2014 at the Wales Summit and in 2016 at the Warsaw Summit,
NATO reaffirmed its role as a “nuclear alliance.”
3) Most people just don’t pay much attention to nuclear weapons policy. A final factor working against adoption of
the treaty in NATO states is the continued low salience of nuclear weapons among the general population. The three
humanitarian conferences in 2013 and 2014 brought awareness of nuclear weapons effects to a new generation of diplomats and
advocates, but to the average citizen, nuclear weapons probably remain Cold War relics. For example, a poll of Europeans
younger than 30 published in 2017 concluded that “this generation is not on the verge of mobilization regarding nuclear weapon
issues and does not expect to actively engage in it.” Without significant and widespread domestic pressure to join the treaty, it is
unlikely that leaders would risk disrupting relations with their NATO allies.
Polling conducted on behalf of ICAN suggests that when asked about a nuclear ban treaty, many European populations are in
favor of it, but polls rarely ask if the participants had heard of the treaty before taking the survey or whether they consider the
risk of nuclear weapons in their daily lives. Without some major change or incident putting nuclear weapons at the forefront of
the population’s attention — current tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program do not seem sufficient thus far — this appears
unlikely to change.
ICAN has done important work in bringing global attention to the effects of nuclear weapons. All leaders should have a clear
understanding of the risks involved in maintaining such weapons. It seems doubtful, however, that the new treaty will be
splitting the NATO alliance anytime soon, as geopolitical trends are leading to a greater reliance on nuclear weapons and the
broader public appears to lack interest in this issue.
Rebecca Davis Gibbons is a visiting assistant professor in the Government and Legal Studies Department at Bowdoin College.
Yale University Press
Chapter Title: Assertion and Division: Oregon and the Northern Boundary
Book Title: The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History
Book Subtitle: Volume 2: Continental America, 18001867
Book Author(s): D. W. MEINIG
Published by: Yale University Press . (1993)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hk0p1.12
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Rush that actually broke down the barrier. Squatters swarmed into the area, and
before any further negotiations with the Indians had been undertaken, before any
land was legally open to Whites, Congress took all of the land north of 37°N
between the Missouri and the Continental Divide and created Kansas and Ne^
braska territories. The immediate result was anarchy: a lawless scramble for lands,
bloody competition between organized groups (that between pro-slavery and freesoil settlers being the only part commonly featured in American histories), and
relentless despoliation of Indians and their properties. Amid this disaster, treaties
of removal, drastic reduction, or individual allotment were forced upon every tribe
north of the Neosho. By the time federally surveyed land was actually put on the
market in late 1856 there were tens of thousands of White residents, a dozen
substantial towns, and a major settlement district extending as far west as the new
army post of Fort Riley at the head of navigation on the Kaw.
And so the basic concept of the West as a designated geopolitical territory for
the “Preservation and Civilization of the Indians” was shattered. The Indian titles
to these lands in the West were even less substantial than they had been in the East
because they “had no foundation in antiquity. The Government gave them and,
when it so pleased, defied them. As a consequence, before the primary removals
had all taken place, the secondary had begun, and the land that was to belong to
the Indian in perpetuity was in the white man’s market.” This Indian Territory was
a formal official protectorate (or, more accurately, a set of protectorates), but the
United States refused to uphold its part of the treaty obligations. It was a deliberate
dereliction. When the Indian commissioner and his agents pleaded for help in
stemming the turmoil, the secretary of the Interior (to whose department the
Indian Office had been transferred in 1849) advised President Franklin Pierce that
it was not appropriate to use the military forces at Fort Leavenworth to expel
squatters and trespassers because such action would be “discordant to the feelings of
the people of the United States.”
6. Assertion and Division: Oregon and the
Northern Boundary
In 1830 an eighty-page booklet entitled A Geographical Sketch of that Part of North
America Catted Oregon appeared in Boston bookshops. As the title might suggest, it
dealt with an area uncertain in name or nature to Americans. The booklet was a
propaganda tract by Hall Jackson Kelley, a Massachusetts schoolman who had
become obsessed with the topic of Oregon. Its descriptions were crafted for use in
fervent discussions and agitations, and it helped confirm that name as well as assert
American claims to the Northwest Coast.
The word Oregon was of obscure, apparently Indian, origin. Although it had
appeared occasionally in some form, it had remained unfamiliar to the general
public until it resounded in William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis in 1817 (the
very year Hall Kelley first read Lewis and Clark and underwent a change of life).
Thereafter it began to emerge as the preferred American term for this large,
ambiguous area. Congressman John Floyd’s bill in 1822 had proposed the creation
of a “Territory of Origon.” A few years later William Darby included notice of the
“Basin of Columbia, or Territory of Oregon” in his View of the United States,
Historical Geographical, and Statistical (1828)—but gave it only 4 of his 634 pages
because “that imperfectly explored territory. . . appears at present as if on another
planet.” The name continued to be applied to the river (as in Thanatopsis) as well as
the region, but the American designation “Columbia” was more generally accepted
in Europe and America for the famous River of the’West. However, the main
settlement of that territory asserted, quite by design (and to Kelley’s alarm),
another presence: Fort Vancouver—so named, as the governor of the Hudson’s Bay
Company put it, “to identify our Claim to the Soil and Trade with Lt. Broughton’s
[of Captain George Vancouver’s expedition] discovery and Survey.” In the 1830s
this expanding cluster of facilities and fields overlooking the Columbia (and overlooked from either side by the towering snow-capped peaks bearing other prestigious British names: St. Helens [after the ambassador to Madrid] and Hood [Lord of
the Admiralty]—Kelley tried to get these renamed for American presidents) would
become a major focus of the geopolitical competition implicit in this regional
The founding of Fort Vancouver marked a change in regional strategies. The
initial focus had been upon the obvious: the mouth of*the Columbia River. That
seemed the key point for competitive continental programs, as Astoria—Fort
George and repeated calls in Congress for a military post there attested. But
experience in that locale and expanding knowledge of the Pacific Slope brought a
shift to a site upriver. The important difference was not in the river itself but in
climate and countryside. It was a change from the beclouded, rain-soaked, densely
forested, coastal region (Lewis and Clark had reported at length on their miserable
winter there) to the great lowland in the lee of that rugged margin, a region with
half the rainfall and considerably more sunshine, yet still shielded by the even
greater mountain wall to the east from the drier, hotter, and colder conditions of
the continental interior. This lowland area was part of the remarkably mild maritime zone blessed with “that surprising difference between the climates on the
western and eastern sides of the continent”; this northwest coast, it soon became
common to observe, had “a climate much like England” (two centuries earlier,
Western Europeans had been surprised—shocked—at the harshness of climate
they had found on the eastern side of North America). This moderation of climate
was accompanied by a more attractive landscape, intermediate in kind between the
almost impenetrable rain forests of the coastal margins and the extensive deserts
and grasslands east of the Cascade Range, and best exhibited in the Willamette
Valley (Kelley’s Multnomah valley: the two names, both Indian in origin, were used
interchangeably for several decades), a broad lowland extending 100 miles south
from Fort Vancouver. The mountains bounding the valley were luxuriantly
covered in fir, spruce, and cedar, but its floodplain and valley floor, isolated buttes,
and gentle foothills carried a mixture of oak woodlands and open prairies, laced
with many streams and offering a variety of soils. The Willamette Valley was the
southern section of a great structural trough between the Coast Range and
the Cascade Range. To the north the wetter, more forested and gravelly Cowlitz
Plains led to the deepened and largely drowned glaciated lowlands of Puget Sound,
which was itself the southerly compartment of the spectacular landscapes of
deep water, towering forests, and mountain walls extending northward to Alaska
(%. ID.
Fort Vancouver was located, therefore, at the intersection of the two great
natural axes of the Oregon country: where the mighty Columbia flowing westward
through the mountains to the sea crossed the north-south lowland trough—and,
more exactly, a location almost opposite the junction of the Willamette and
Columbia rivers. By the mid-1830s, a decade after its founding, many of the virtues
of this district were apparent in the considerable complex spread along the north
bank of the Columbia. The main post was a large stockaded rectangle enclosing
offices, stores, workshops, and residences of company officers. Nearby were the
workers* cabins aligned on broad streets (“the whole looks like a very neat and
beautiful village”), more workshops, bams, and a boathouse, and farther out a busy
sawmill (with mainly Hawaiian laborers). About 1,000 acres were under cultivation, yielding grain, peas, potatoes, garden and orchard produce; 2,000 more were
enclosed for livestock. Twenty miles to the south, at the Falls of the Willamette, a
gristmill and sawmill had been set up, and farther on, where the valley suddenly
broadens, was an informal settlement of French Canadians—retired employees of
the Hudson’s Bay Company. In total nearly 1,000 people resided in and around this
primary focus of the Northwest Coast, the center of a geographic system gathering
produce from much of the Pacific Slope, trading with Alaska, California, and
Hawaii, and maintaining annual contact with London, York Factory, and
Montreal (Governor Simpson’s winter residence).
Fort Vancouver was an impressive, thriving nucleus, the capital of an immense
region, but it is important to understand that it was also something else: it was a
company town, not a rooted colony (fig. 12). It was the creation of private enterprise, its purpose was profit, its people were intended to be sojourners not settlers,
personnel on assignment who were subject to recall and reassignment to other
stations. The thriving farms and mills were a branch of the fur business, designed to
11. Oregon Borderlands.
reduce the costs of the main enterprise. The settlement up the Willamette was a
reluctant answer to a social problem: what to do with retired employees and their
Indian wives and mixed-blood children. Setting them up on farms in the valley was
not calculated to initiate a colony in a strategic area; it was designed to remove
them far enough away so as not to be a nuisance around the main base of operations. That Fort Vancouver and its Willamette outliers might be transformed into
something more permanent, that indeed it was becoming more and more like a
commercial town and colonial nucleus, that, given the quasi-governmental role of
the Hudson’s Bay Company, there was a good deal of the symbol and substance of
12. Fort Vancouver.
About 1845 an unknown artist painted this portrait of the headquarters of the Columbia
Department at the peak of its development. The view is from the higher terrace on the north
(where the U.S. Army would later establish Vancouver Barracks) overlooking the majestic
Columbia. The Willamette, running along the foot of the low mountains in the background,
converges with the main river about four miles downstream to the right. In the foreground are
two common sights of this British North American system: a high-wheeled Red River cart, and
an Indian or metis man on horseback with his woman following on foot. (Courtesy of the
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)
empire about it, that such a British nucleus must have some bearing upon an
eventual partition of Oregon were matters of which the Hudson’s Bay Company
leaders were well aware and increasingly concerned. In 1838 the governor and
committee summoned George Simpson, governor of American operations, and
John McLoughlin, chief factor at Fort Vancouver, to London for consultation on
geopolitical strategies to cope with impending problems in their Columbia Department.
At that time there were probably fewer than forty Americans—men, women,
and children—in all of Oregon, none of whom had been there for more than three
or four years. Out of such a meager presence was an American pressure generated.
Indeed, one might say that American success in the competition for Oregon came
very directly out of apparent American failures—even an interrelated set of failures.
One of these notable and pertinent failures was Hall Jackson Kelley, the man
who worked so relentlessly for an American Oregon. He had prospered enough
from the writing of school textbooks to devote his attention to the cause. He
lobbied in Washington for government aid in establishing a colony, organized the
American Society for Encouraging the Settlement of the Oregon Territory, and
shortly after publication of his Geographical Sketch issued “A General Circular to all
Persons of good character who wish to Emigrate. . . ,” inviting them to join him in
forming a settlement uto be commenced in the Spring of 1832, on the delightful
and fertile banks of the Columbia River.” But no government aid was forthcoming,
and his attempts to form an expedition were unsuccessful; Kelley himself got there
after a dispiriting journey of two years by way of New Orleans, Mexico, and
California, yet he was considered by those in charge at Fort Vancouver to be as sick
in mind as he obviously was in body, and after four strained months they shipped
him back to Boston.
But Kelley had a direct influence upon a fellow Yankee of different talents and
temperament: Nathaniel Wyeth, a prosperous young Cambridge entrepreneur (his
ingenuity had helped “create an extensive export ice business). Wyeth became
interested in Oregon through Kelley but soon gave up on him as an expedition
leader, organized his own company, raised capital, and set out in 1832 to engage in
the fur business. He joined the annual caravan to the Rocky Mountain rendezvous,
and with the help of some experienced trappers, he and a few companions eventually arrived at Fort Vancouver, only to find that the supply ship he had sent out
from Boston had been lost. Wyeth spent several months in Oregon and saw enough
to induce him to return to Boston, reorganize, and set out again in 1834 with a
larger company that included two eminent scientists (a botanist and an ornithologist) and five Methodist missionaries. Unable to sell a load of trade goods to the
American company at the rendezvous, as he had expected, Wyeth built his own
post, Fort Hall, on the upper Snake River, Moving on to the Columbia, he
constructed Fort William on an island at the mouth of the Willamette (six miles
from Fort Vancouver) and set about developing a salmon fishery and a sawmill.
Wyeth soon found that although he was hospitably received and given some
assistance by the chief factor, he was dogged with difficulties (seventeen of his men
died from disease or accidents) and quite unable to compete in the fur trade or
sustain his other enterprises, and in 1836 he gave up, sold out to the British
company, and returned home. As a commercial challenge, Wyeth’s adventure had
been no more effective than other occasional American interlopers1 forays into
Hudson’s Bay Company territories.
The Rev. Jason Lee and his Methodist brethren who attached themselves to the
Wyeth expedition were intending to establish a mission in the upper Columbia
country. They were responding to what had been interpreted and widely publicized
as a call from some Flathead Indians for Christian teachers, but after a stay at Fort
Vancouver they decided for various reasons to begin their work in the Willamette
Valley near a small Calapooya Indian village on the edge of French Prairie, the
Canadian retiree settlement. There were in fact few Indians left in the valley or
lower Columbia following devastating epidemics in 1829-32 (McLoughlin estimated that nine out of ten had died); and in terms of Christianizing the native
population, this Methodist effort, as well as that of several other Protestant missions soon initiated east of the Cascades, was a failure. But these mission stations
were intended to support the missionaries as well as to teach the arts of Christian
civilization to the Indians, and as agricultural settlements those in the Willamette
Valley were not only successful, they were soon famous as such.
Despite its failures, the second Wyeth expedition may be seen as a telling display
of the range of American interests in Oregon: fur trade, salmon fishery, lumbering,
Pacific commerce, farming, science, Christian philanthropy, and all of this in some
degree suffused with an American national purpose so shrilly proclaimed by Hall
Keliey and other expansionists. Because of the national attention they attracted,
these unsuccessful private initiatives helped mightily to impel the kind of American reach for Oregon that Congress had so far failed to undertake. Wyeth’s testimony as to the character of Oregon was drawn upon by various congressional
committees, and it was more reliable than most. He offered a reasonable appraisal
of its regional qualities, emphasized the power of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and
stated bluntly that insofar as relations with the Indians were concerned, “the
Americans are unknown as a nation, and, as individuals, their power is despised by
the natives of the land.” In late 1835 President Jackson, responding in part to the
returned Keliey’s cries about British tyrannical domination, commissioned
William Slacum as his personal agent to inquire about the settlements on the
“Oregon or Columbia river.” Slacum arrived there by ship in December 1836 and
stayed just three weeks, but he was thereby able to testify about the “extraordinary
mildness of the climate” and richness of the pastures even in winter, as well as the
thriving activities in and around Fort Vancouver. The missionaries wrote many
letters and reports that were widely reprinted in eastern papers and thereby greatly
magnified public interest in, and information about, Oregon. In 1838 Jason Lee
returned East for an extensive lecture tour and lured reinforcements for the Methodist program as well as a small party of settlers from Illinois. By then it was
becoming clear that the Oregon mission had evolved into an American agricultural colony. The settlers themselves had no doubt about what they were
creating; as their petition to Congress seeking the extension of American laws and
courts phrased it: “We flatter ourselves that we are the germe of a great State.”
Senator Lewis Linn of Missouri had already begun a major push in Congress to
assure them of that, with a bill calling for the formal establishment of Oregon
Territory, a port of entry, and military occupation.
The Hudson’s Bay Company thus had good reason to reassess its position on th
Northwest Coast. The fur resources of the Columbia country were no longer of
great value (and changes in fashion were depressing the market for beaver), but the
Columbia River remained the trunk line of operations on the Pacific Slope, Fort
Vancouver the key location (and a major investment), and the sustained British
presence a powerful claim to territory. If there was no way the company could stem
the influx of emigrants from the United States who were responding to “the
overcharged pictures of [Oregon’s] fertility and commercial importance,” there was
a reasonable hope of holding the Americans south of the Columbia. To do so the
British position north of the river would need to be substantially augmented.
Accordingly, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company was organized as a subsidiary
to develop a large livestock operation at Nisqually (an earlier outpost near the
southern end of the sound) and a colony of farmer-settlers in the lowland corridor
at Cowlitz. There was a new economic rationale for this program, for the Hudson’s
Bay Company had signed a contract with the Russian American Company to
provide subsistence for the latter’s Alaskan operations. But the main concern was
geopolitical, as the directors reaffirmed in a letter to McLoughlin: “We consider it
of the utmost importance for various reasons, but especially in a political point of
view to form a large settlement at the Cowlitz portage as early as possible, as the fact
of a numerous British agricultural population being actually in possession there
would operate strongly in favor of our claims to the territory on the Northern bank
of the Columbia River.” Their first thought was to bring in colonists from Scotland
and England, but they soon turned to a more ready source of experienced North
American farmers: the Red River Settlement. The first contingent (21 families,
116 persons) arrived overland from Assiniboia in 1841 and was apportioned between Nisqually and Cowlitz. At the same time, two Roman Catholic priests sent
out earlier from Red River were called upon to help induce the retired employees in
the Willamette Valley to move north to the Cowlitz colony.
Thus, thirty years after the brief encounter between the Astorians and
Nor’westers a new confrontation in the Columbia country was apparent. The
ventures of a miscellany of Americans in the British company’s monopoly territory
had turned into competitive colonizations—and Christianizations, for the Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries had a keen competitive, national, geostrategic view of their tasks. Rather suddenly, momentarily, there seemed to be a
balance of forces and an obvious basis for geographical partition (fig. 13). Two
notable visitors to Oregon in that year, 1841, were important representatives of
these contending powers. Sir George Simpson arrived overland from Montreal and
paused to assess the state of affairs in the Columbia Department en route to inspect
new company trading posts in Alaska and California (San Francisco Bay). At Fort
Vancouver he encountered Lieutenant Charles Wilkes and various members of the
United States Exploring Expedition. Wiikes was the naval commander of this
American undertaking modeled on the great geographic expeditions of James
Cook and the comte de La Perouse. Carrying an impressive array of natural scientists, topographers, and artists, it was a conscious assertion of national power and
pride. Authorized by President Jackson in 1836, the fleet of six ships had sailed
from Norfolk in 1838, made extensive surveys of Antarctica, the South Pacific,
and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and was now carrying out its orders “to direct
your course to the Northwest Coast of America” and make a careful examination of
“the territory of the United States on the seaboard, and of the Columbia River.”
Simpson and Wilkes were both strong, assertive personalities, and they had little
time for each other, but they exchanged some views, and the very presence of such
an official American party making an extensive reconnaissance of Oregon (several
detachments ranged into the interior east of the mountains), together with the
growing American presence in the Willamette, had an effect upon Simpson. He
was not ready to yield on the Columbia as the appropriate boundary between the
two sovereignties, but he was now less confident, and as a precautionary measure,
he urged that an alternative base be set up on Vancouver Island. That idea had
been proposed as early as 1839 when it became apparent that “the influx of
strangers to the Columbia” might endanger the company’s operations even if the
river did become the boundary. Wilkes, on the other hand, while not a forceful
advocate for the American colonists (having received the hospitality and assistance of the British company at every post, he thought the settlers’ complaints
were petty or unfounded), was outspoken in his view that the United States must
never give up Puget Sound, an opinion based on the expedition’s confirmation of
its magnificent harbors and the experience of losing a ship trying to enter the
Columbia (“mere description can give little idea of the terrors of the bar of the
Columbia”). Thus the British expert turned to a strategy of retreat from positions
long held, while the American Official asserted the national necessity of lands
never occupied by its citizens.
From this point, developments in Oregon, in national politics, and in diplomatic relations between the two powers rapidly brought the issue to a decision. The
trickle of American farmer-emigrants became a flood. A party of a hundred or so
arrived in 1842, getting wagons as far as Fort Hall. Some were dissatisfied with what
they found and left for California, but that fall the St. Louis newspapers reported
that much larger emigrations “to that celebrated region” were being organized, and
throughout the western states “the Oregon fever” was raging. In 1843 the first
“great migration”—nearly 1,000 people—took place (getting their wagons, for
the first time, as far as The Dalles, from where they were floated downriver), in the
following year 1,000 more arrived, and in the next, perhaps 3,000 (by several
routes, and getting at least some of their wagons across the Cascades). By 1845
American settlers occupied attractive sites for sixty miles above the Falls of the
Willamette. The original Methodist mission had been relocated and redirected
entirely to serve the American settlement: “there was no mission in Oregon at all;
there was only a replica of frontier Methodism complete with itinerants and a
church”—and, it may be added, with a gristmill, sawmill, school, and plans for a
town. Furthermore, the attractions of the Willamette Valley lured more than
Americans; they completely subverted the Hudson’s Bay Company’s “countering
migration” north of the Columbia, for the Red River emigrants, dissatisfied with
their lands and chafing under the company’s restrictions (leaseholds and rents),
soon packed up and moved south to join their compatriots in and around French
Prairie (none of whom had been induced by the company to resettle in the
The Americans had also taken the lead in forming a government. When the
13. The Lower Columbia River.
Those “beautifully conspicuous” volcanic cones towering over the lower Columbia are cartographically conspicuous on this map of the great artery downriver from Walla Walla (at the
top of the map—the view is straight east) that was included as an inset on the “Map of Oregon
Territory,” in volume 4 of Lieutenant Wilkes’s Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition.
What is curiously missing is the name Fort Vancouver, even though it is prominent on the main
map and its location is clearly shown here in the set of squares just above the mouth of the
Willamette. By this time a number of other settlements have appeared, including three Methodist missions, a Catholic mission (at French Prairie), and the HBC Cowlitz Farm. Note the
absence of Indian villages below the Cascades (“Head of Navigation”) and the cluster of them
around prime salmon fishing sites upriver, especially at The Dalles. (Courtesy of the George
Arents Research Library, Syracuse University)
Linn bill to establish an Oregon Territory failed in Congress, the settlers, concerned about law and order and especially about titles to their lands, held a mass
meeting at Champoeg (“Champooing” on the Wilkes map), the river landing at
French Prairie, which led to the drawing up of a constitution and legal code, and to
the delimitation of a set of counties for “Oregon Territory” to be in force until the
U.S. government extended jurisdiction. The French metis and Hudson’s Bay
Company officials were wary but did not dare ignore completely or resist directly for
fear of endangering their rights and properties. In response to these obvious differences in allegiance, the agreement was carefully worded so that participation
would be construed as being consistent with the duties of a citizen of the United
States or of a subject of Great Britain. In 1845 this compact was further elaborated
with the creation of the office of governor and designation of Oregon City (at the
falls) as the capital.
By 1844 Oregon had become a major issue in American national politics.
Extreme expansionists called for the annexation of all of Oregon and Texas.
President James Polk, in his inaugural address, declared that the American title to
“the country [he didn’t say the ‘whole’] of the Oregon is clear and unquestionable.”
Such, of course, was not at all the case. The British were adamant that the United
States had no claim at all on a large part of Oregon. Actually each country had
strong claims only to part of the region, and the expectation of a division of the
whole had been present from the earliest discussions of the matter. The issue,
therefore, was where to draw the line: the United States insisted on an extension of
the Forty-ninth parallel boundary from the Rocky Mountains to the sea; Great
Britain insisted on the lower Columbia River as the appropriate division. The
territorial dispute therefore was centered on the 200-mile strip between those
lines, which included the whole of Puget Sound.
The United States advanced the idea of the Forty-ninth parallel without any
extensive rationale. Some Americans evidently believed that such a boundary was
implicit in early spheres of influence; it had actually appeared on some United
States maps as early as 1806; John Melish imprinted it on his first map of 1816 as the
presumed ultimate arrangement even though “towards the Pacific Ocean, we have
no very correct data for forming an opinion as to the boundaries.” But there was no
historical precedent nor American activity on which to base a strong claim, and
the American case rested on simple concepts of “extension,” “contiguity,” or the
old colonial precedent of latitudinal sea-to-sea charters. In the 1820s some Americans began to specify the hazards of the Columbia Bar as a reason why that river was
unacceptable as a boundary. But that was a controversial topic even among Americans who knew something about it. The Columbia entrance could be dangerous,
but it could also be managed at other times without problem, and the possibilities
for improvement through lighthouses, dredging, and breakwaters were argued.
Those who emphasized the inadequacies pointed to the need for harbors on the
Strait of Juan de Fuca (and thus the Forty-ninth parallel boundary). In an extensive
series of articles, a knowledgeable Bostonian strongly recommended Port Discovery as the best place for a naval station. This concern for American harbors was
argued not on the need for an alternative entrance into, nor colonization of, the
Oregon country, but on the need to provide a haven for American whaling and
shipping in the Pacific and, in some accounts, to keep the Russians and the British
from closing the Americans out of the Northwest Coast. At the time such views
were not incongruent with the conviction of many persons (and especially New
Englanders) that this remote Pacific seaboard could never become an integral part
of the American nation.
In 1826 the British offered the United States just what such American spokesmen had called for: Port Discovery with a five-mile radius of territory. When that
was summarily rejected, they offered the whole of the Olympic Peninsula, giving
the Americans the southern shore of Juan de Fuca and the western harbors of Puget
Sound. But the United States refused to consider any such enclave and became
increasingly insistent on the entire contiguous block of territory. In 1837 Slacum
declared Puget Sound to be “of the highest importance to the United States” from
“a military point of view,” and Wilkes obviously concurred, declaring that “the
entrance to the Columbia is impracticable for two-thirds of the year.”
Great Britain never pressed for any territory south of the lower Columbia. In
1823-24 it explicitly offered a boundary along 49°N from the Rocky Mountains to
the Columbia and down that river to the sea. In the next year George Simpson was
in London, following his first assessment of the Columbia Department as part of the
company’s strategic system, and British diplomats were urged to reopen negotiations in order to obtain a boundary drawn from the Continental Divide at the point
of Lewis and Clark’s crossing (thought to be 46°20’N) west to the Snake River (at
the junction with the Clearwater River) and downriver to the sea. Such a line
would preserve the Flathead and Spokane countries (where the British had outposts before the Astorians) and, more important, would preserve (with slight
adjustment) the overland trail between Fort Nez Perces (which could be shifted to
the north bank) and Fort Colvile on the upper Columbia. Inbound brigades used
that trail, and the procurement of hundreds of horses annually from the Cayuse and
Nez Perces Indians in the Walla Walla and lower Snake areas was fundamental to
the operation of the whole interior system. In the very last stages of boundary
negotiations, when the company was asked for a list of alternatives, Simpson again
nominated this line as the first choice. But having already offered the 49°NColumbia line, British negotiators were in no position to insist on a boundary less
favorable to the Americans, and so an argument based on routine British occupation and use of this large block of territory was foreclosed.
During these recurrent deadlocked negotiations the United States offered two
modest concessions: freedom of navigation on the Columbia, and the termination
of the Forty-ninth parallel line at the Strait of Georgia and extension of the
boundary through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The original American insistence on
49°N to “the sea” could be interpreted to mean extending that line across Vancouver Island to the open ocean. This modification would leave that island entirely
to the British and Juan de Fuca open to both parties. Other alternatives were
discussed privately. In 1842 Daniel Webster, then the principal American negotiator, was of the opinion that a boundary drawn east through Juan de Fuca, south
through Puget Sound, and on to the lower Columbia would adequately serve
American interests (close to the British proposal of 1826), but he made no such
official offer (turning instead toward trying to gain British help in securing San
Francisco Bay from Mexico) and it is unlikely he could have gained approval to do
so (he was in disfavor with expansionists for having “given away” part of Maine).
By 1844 the British government, for a variety of reasons having little to do with
Oregon directly, was ready to settle this festering dispute. The great domestic issue
was free trade (repeal of the Com Laws); new economic theories were being
intensely debated, and an important faction of leaders was persuaded that Britain
would be better served by a widening of trade and a contraction of empire; over the
ensuing months there were fears of rebellion in famished Ireland and memories of
rebellions in the troublesome Canadas; the Americans would go to war with
Mexico and become alarmingly bellicose over Oregon (loud cries of “Fifty-four
forty or fight!”); war with France was a chronic concern. The British public had
slight interest in this distant affair, and the particular British diplomats then in
charge of the matter had no great sympathy for the monopolistic privileges of the
Hudson’s Bay Company; at the same time, the company’s directors, while clearly
preferring a Columbia boundary, no longer argued that the Forty-ninth parallel
would be disastrous to its operations or its profits. Thus, a partition along 49°N to
the Strait of Georgia and the mid-channel of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (a dispute
over the connecting line through the maze of islands separating these points would
flare up later), together with specification of navigation privileges on the Columbia
for the Hudson’s Bay Company (but not British subjects in general) and protection
of its “possessory rights” within the territory awarded to the United States, was
offered by the British, quickly accepted by the American administration, and
ratified by a generous margin in the Senate in June 1846.
As a large body of historical studies makes clear, settlement of the Oregon
dispute was more the result of particular persons and parties working within the
context of other national and international issues than of the actual historical
geography of exploration, exploitation, and occupation of that vast territory by the
contending nations. It is true that the basic geographic character of Oregon was
much better known in the 1840s than when the agitations began in the 1820s, and
such knowledge was drawn upon in every debate, discussion, and oration. The
particular natural features most pertinent to the boundary question were the Columbia River, the bar at its mouth, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound,
together with various harbors therein. As for the human geography, Fort Vancouver and Astoria were central, but other British posts and the overall system
were rarely brought into focus, and references to them were usually incomplete and
inaccurate. The Willamette Valley and its settlements were usually mentioned,
often at length, but since these did not He within the primary disputed territory,
they were directly pertinent only in terms of a perceived threat to Fort Vancouver
and British use of the Columbia. As for more general regional qualities, extensive
accounts were often given, but opinions differed sharply, and most of the descriptions and assessments in the American literature were polemical. One must conclude that momentous geopolitical decisions on Oregon, as with so many other
parts of North America, were made with limited understanding of, and even
limited concern about, its geography.
It is common—and surely appropriate—to commend the peaceful resolution of
this dispute during a very bellicose time; it is also common for American historians
to suggest, sometimes explicitly, that in the end it was an almost matter-of-fact,
obvious, and equitable compromise in which each side got approximately half of
the whole. Frederick Merk, one of the most distinguished American specialists on
the matter, concluded that the Forty-ninth parallel was the most reasonable basis
of settlement; indeed, that line, he said forthrightly, “was the boundary that the
finger of nature and the finger of history pointed out for the partition of the Oregon
area.” As for the first, it is difficult for a geographer to discern “the finger of nature”
(Merk took the term from John Quincy Adams) in a geometric line drawn straight
across great mountains and rivers and across the human systems adapted to those
gross lineaments of nature. As for “the finger of history,” it is true that the United
States kept its “finger” pointed firmly along the Forty-ninth parallel, but it must
also be concluded that it thereby achieved a geopolitical victory that its historical
geographical position could hardly justify; this “compromise” resulted in Great
Britain losing the entire area in serious dispute. Perhaps we should interpret “the
finger of history” as pointing to the basic difference in character of the British and
American positions in the human geography of Oregon: the one created and
maintained by a commercial company, the other by a spontaneous folk movement;
the one a network of widely dispersed stations staffed by assigned agents, the other
an organic colony of settlers. That is a telling difference in kind but has little to do
with the line of partition, for there were not two dozen Americans north of the
Columbia River in 1845-46. We should recognize that the Hudson’s Bay Company
regarded colonization within its own territories as being a costly complication and
infringement upon the fur business, and only reluctantly undertook it as an implied
obligation to win renewal of its charter from politicians with larger British interests
in Oregon. In retrospect, the 1841 counterimmigration appears to have been
fatally handicapped from its inception. But lest we slip into the easy assumption
that there could have been no hope that British colonization could have competed
with American colonization in Oregon, it might be interesting to reflect on the
fact that at the very time Hall Jackson Kelley was whipping up attention with his
Geographical Sketch and schemes for the colonization of Oregon, Edward Gibbon
Wakefield (a man at least as obsessed, capricious, vain, and difficult as Kelley) was
avidly promoting his National Colonization Society in London. Suppose that in
his search for a distant place to try out his theories Wakefield had fixed his eye on
the northwest coast of North America instead of the southern coasts of
Australasia—and suppose the Evangelicals in England had done the same. The
idea is not wildly implausible. While Kelley was trying to organize his Oregon
expedition, Wakefield and associates had formed the South Australian Association; and just as Nathaniel Wyeth was reluctantly allowing Jason Lee and his fellow
Methodists to tag along, George Fife Angas was paving the way for Wesleyans and
other dissenters to stamp their imprint on the only nonpenal colony in Australia.
The pertinent point is that overseas emigration, the results of recent colonizations,
and how to improve on them were lively topics in England all through the 1830s.
Wakefield’s theories were controversial and, insofar as they were tested, not wholly
practical; nevertheless he had a major influence on several successful undertakings.
If we are going to refer to “the finger of history” we might think about the one that
pointed him first to Australia and New Zealand rather than to North America (to
which he in fact did come, to the Canadas as an associate of Lord Durham, for
whom he composed the appendix on Crown Lands and Emigration for the famous
The purpose of this digression from what did happen is to help us guard against
simple assumptions that colonization had become a peculiarly American talent
and American expansion inevitable and irresistible. Ultimately it seems most
reasonable, perhaps, simply to conclude that the United States gained a major
geopolitical victory because Oregon became a more important issue in its national
politics and it gave the impression that it was willing to risk more in support of its
demands than was the case with Great Britain.
The boundary settlement produced no immediate American expansion or British withdrawal. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s properties and operations were
ostensibly protected by the treaty, and American emigrants continued to choose
the Willamette Valley. Two dramatic events, however, one within the region and
one nearby, impelled important changes. The first was the massacre at the Whitman mission in the Walla Walla Valley in late 1847. An explosion from long-
smoldering grievances, it was not an uncommon type of event in American history.
The Oregon Trail led directly across the territory of the Cayuse Indians; tensions
grew with the annually increasing traffic and erupted in the aftermath of scarlet
fever and measles epidemics that devastated the Cayuse; the retaliation was directed at the missionary who had ministered as a physician to Indians and Whites
alike for many years. There were important repercussions: Indian-White relations
were endangered throughout the interior country, the Protestant mission system
was dissolved, American army units were sent to Fort Vancouver and The Dalles,
and the Hudson’s Bay Company diverted its interior brigades away from the Columbia Plain to the lower Eraser.
The California Gold Rush reverberated around the world, and its impact upon
adjacent Oregon was immediate. Large numbers left the Willamette for the goldfields, and most of the overland emigrants from the East now diverged toward the
Sacramento Valley. But the impact was not all negative. More than fifty vessels
came up the Columbia in 1849 seeking Oregon produce for this sudden new
market. The Donation Land Act of 1850 provided unusually liberal allotments
(640 acres to a husband and wife), and a good many among the now much larger
numbers of American emigrants decided that an Oregon farm was a better way to
wealth than the frenzied scramble in Sierra Nevada streambeds. The census of
1850 recorded nearly 12,000 persons (excluding Indians) in the Territory of Oregon (created in 1849). Oregon City, the capital and milling center at the falls, and
Portland, the largest among several rival ports, had become thriving intermediaries
between the Willamette Valley and Pacific commerce.
North of the Columbia, activity was less intense and less focused. Fort Vancouver was included within a U.S. military reserve; squatters encroached on the
Hudson’s Bay Company’s various lands; American customs stations, Indian agents,
and territorial officials impinged on the company’s operations; and the company
held on south of the border only in the hope of some reasonable liquidation of its
assets (a process that took more than twenty years). A sprinkling of land claims
were filed along the road leading north to Puget Sound, but it was not very
attractive country to farmer-colonists. The main lure of this newly acquired area
was the towering forests rising above deepwater anchorages on Puget Sound.
California provided a market, Yankee ships a link with New England lumbermen,
and in the early 1850s a scattering of sawmill hamlets—Port Townsend, Port
Gamble, Port Madison, Seattle, Bellingham Bay—began to appear. In 1853 the
Territory of Washington was created, with its capital at Olympia, the customs
station at the head of Puget Sound and terminus of the Cowlitz corridor road from
the Columbia River. The original petition from local settlers had called for a
Territory of Columbia, embracing all the area north and west of that river. Congress, playing its own geopolitical games, decided to extend the lower Columbia
line eastward along the Forty-sixth parallel to provide an approximate halving of
Oregon and, to avoid confusion with the District of Columbia, decided to call it
Washington instead. The territorial census of 1853 recorded just under 4,000
North of the new international boundary, the British government decided that a
colony of British subjects should be established on Vancouver Island to help deter
“the encroaching spirit of the U.S.,” but the political climate of the day warned
that it must be done without cost to the taxpayer, and so the Hudson’s Bay
Company was again pressured to undertake the task. Accordingly, the colony of
Vancouver Island was formalized with a governor seated at Fort Victoria, but after
the first year the governor and the chief factor were the same man; and because the
company wished to forestall any really substantial colonization, the results were
meager. A considerable portion of the people shipped in, and especially the miners
sent to work the Nanaimo coalfield, deserted to California. By 1855 a semblance of
a settlement in a small block of surveyed lands, with roads, mills, schools, and a
church, was apparent, but there were only a few hundred settlers. As a colony the
formal undertaking anchored on Fort Victoria was as yet less substantial than the
informal developments it had been designed to replace in and around Fort Vancouver.
Tensions among the Hudson’s Bay Company, the British government, and settlers
arising from uneasiness over American pressures along the international boundary
were not confined to the Northwest Coast. In the Red River Basin, American
traders became much more aggressive in luring trade from Assiniboia to markets
south of the border. By the early 1840s rival American and Hudson’s Bay Company
posts were spaced along the boundary from Grand Portage to Turtle Mountain.
Pembina, the old metis cluster on Red River just south of the line, was the main
focus of tensions (fig. 14). The Hudson’s Bay Company attempted to enforce its
monopoly over all fur trade within its territories, but American traders paid two to
four times the price for furs and robes and the metis had no strong allegiance to the
company. As hunters, traders, and settlers, they were indifferent to invisible
boundaries drawn across the uniformities of nature, and they were very difficult to
police. In 1843 the first in what soon became a rapidly expanding line of Red River
carts carried a load of furs and robes from Pembina to Mendota, a hamlet in the
shadow of Fort Snelling, the American military post on the upper Mississippi. A
loose cluster of settlements had grown up here around the mouth of the Minnesota
River and the Falls of St. Anthony in the Big Woods (mixed hardwood forest) just
beyond the edge of the prairies. The first settlers here were in fact Selkirk Colony
refugees: metis, and Swiss and other soldier-colonists who had left during various
Democracy Dies in Darkness
Donald Trump thinks more countries should have
nuclear weapons. Here’s what the research says.
By Gene Gerzhoy and Nicholas Miller
April 6, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. EDT
According to Donald Trump, the United States should not try so hard to stop nuclear proliferation. On Sunday night,
during a Republican town hall hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Trump declared that proliferation is “going to
happen anyway.” And just a week earlier, Trump told the New York Times, “If Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not
sure that would be a bad thing for us.” Nor would it be so bad, he’s said, if South Korea and Saudi Arabia had nuclear
weapons, too.
We can break down Trump’s assertions into two ideas: Proliferation is inevitable, and it is good for the United States —
at least when its allies are the ones going nuclear. What can political science tell us about each of these beliefs?
It turns out that both propositions fly in the face of a wide range of recent scholarship.
Is nuclear proliferation inevitable?
Trump’s logic for this idea is based on his belief that the United States is weak and that past proliferation ensures
future proliferation. Here’s what Trump told the Times about Japan: “If the United States keeps on … its current path
of weakness, [Japan is] going to want to have [nuclear weapons] anyway with or without me discussing it.”
Trump also implied that South Korea and Japan would inexorably seek nuclear weapons — regardless of what the
United States does — because so many countries have already gone nuclear. As he said to Anderson Cooper: “It’s only a
question of time. … You have so many [nuclear] countries already.”
But as we show in a number of research articles, those assumptions don’t match the historical record. For the past 70
years, through mutually reinforcing policies — including security guarantees, troop deployments, arms sales, nuclear
umbrellas and sanctions threats — U.S. administrations from both parties have inhibited nuclear proliferation.
When another country built nuclear weapons, the United States limited the repercussions by discouraging that country
from conducting nuclear tests.
What about Trump’s belief that U.S. allies will inevitably seek nuclear weapons because the United States is
economically and militarily weak? That doesn’t match the facts, either. The United States remains the world’s
dominant military power — it spends three to four times as much on its military than China does, and it has the world’s
most advanced nuclear arsenal. The United States also has a dynamic and growing economy, while its rivals’
economies are slowing or even declining.
But even when the U.S. economy was flagging, the government successfully prevented other countries from acquiring /
nuclear arms. The 1970s were a period of high inflation and low economic growth in the United States. Yet that’s when
Washington launched some of its most determined and successful nonproliferation efforts, including founding the
Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, a global body that restricts the spread of sensitive nuclear technology, and passing laws that
imposed mandatory nonproliferation sanctions, which have successfully deterred other countries from embarking on
nuclear weapons programs.
Trump’s foreign policies would make his predictions come true
Although history suggests that proliferation is not inevitable, recent research on nonproliferation suggests that
Trump’s proposed foreign policy might make it so.
Trump says he would scale back or entirely end U.S. alliance commitments unless our allies made major financial
concessions. In his interview with the Times, Trump said that the United States “take[s] tremendous monetary hits on
protecting countries” such as Japan, South Korea, Germany and Saudi Arabia. He also denounced the U.S.-Japan
Mutual Security Treaty as “one-sided,” said that the United States doesn’t need to maintain forces in South Korea and
described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “obsolete.”
But if those security institutions and military deployments disappeared, U.S. allies — including Japan and South Korea
— might well pursue nuclear weapons of their own. Recent research shows that alliances are a powerful tool for
preventing proliferation, both because they reassure states that their security will be protected in case of attack and
because they give senior partners the leverage to restrain their allies’ nuclear ambitions. Research also demonstrates
that the type of U.S. troop withdrawals Trump envisions have a history of prompting allies to consider developing their
own nuclear weapons.
Consider the last time the United States had a president who was skeptical about nonproliferation and who tried to
reduce U.S. commitments to its allies in Asia. As part of his Guam Doctrine — a plan to increase Asian allies’ military
self-reliance — President Nixon withdrew 20,000 troops from South Korea. Famously, he also traveled to China to
improve Sino-American relations. As a result, South Korea launched a covert nuclear weapons program, and Taiwan
ramped up its own nuclear ambitions. So why didn’t they end up with nuclear weapons? The administrations that
followed Nixon’s redoubled efforts to stop them.
Research does not support the idea that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable. But isolationist “America First”
policies could prompt that spread. Defining U.S. strategic interests primarily in terms of monetary gain, and curtailing
U.S. global engagement toward that end, would boost the probability that our allies would respond by going nuclear.
Would nuclear proliferation be good for U.S. interests?
What about Trump’s second proposition: that proliferation by our allies would be good for U.S. interests? This
argument is based on the idea that nuclear-armed allies could help contain U.S. adversaries and enable the United
States to save money. As Trump told Cooper, “I would rather see Japan having some form of defense, and maybe even
offense, against North Korea.” And as he suggested, the United States can’t afford to protect Japan and South Korea —
and therefore, “they have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves.”
Reducing military commitments and letting allies build their own nuclear weapons might save money for the United
States. But international relations scholarship suggests that allied proliferation would have broader negative
repercussions. Among these would be declining U.S. influence. When nations gain their own military capabilities, they
rely less on their allies and become less subject to their sway. And that can undermine a senior partner’s ability to hold
its junior allies back from risky military actions.
In other words, allowing or encouraging proliferation would worsen the “American weakness” that Trump decries.
Recent nonproliferation research underscores this proposition. Mark Bell shows that nuclear allies are likely to become
more independent of their patrons and in some cases can develop more assertive foreign policies. And Francis Gavin
and Matthew Kroenig show that the fear of declining influence was one reason why most American administrations
vigorously opposed the spread of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear allies can also become security risks. Vipin Narang demonstrates that when weaker states gain nuclear
weapons, they often seek to coerce their senior partners into intervening on their behalf by threatening to use nuclear
weapons. That’s what Israel did at the height of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. That’s what South Africa did during its 1988
confrontation with Cuban forces in Angola. And that’s what Pakistan did in the midst of its 1990 military crisis with
Instead of relieving the United States of a military burden, as Donald Trump suggests, having more nuclear allies could
increase the risk that the United States would get involved in conflicts that might turn nuclear.
Furthermore, were South Korea or Japan to begin developing nuclear weapons, their rivals might be tempted to launch
preventive military strikes, which research suggests has been frequently considered in the past. The road to nuclear
acquisition is often rocky and increases the likelihood of militarized conflict. For example, Soviet worries that West
Germany would acquire nuclear weapons helped trigger the Berlin Crisis.
And if Japan or South Korea actually acquired nuclear weapons, we could possibly see a nuclear arms race in Asia.
Japan’s neighbors, including South Korea, would fear resurgent Japanese militarism. North Korea would expand its
nuclear capabilities. China would continue to expand its own nuclear arsenal.
Why haven’t we seen nuclear arms races before?
Nuclear “domino effects” have not been common historically. But that’s largely because of determined U.S. efforts to
stop them.
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States has pursued nonproliferation as a top policy priority. That
includes sponsoring and enforcing the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Research suggests the NPT has been
instrumental in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, in part by coordinating states’ beliefs about one another’s
nonproliferation commitments. To develop nuclear weapons, Japan and South Korea would need to violate or
withdraw from the NPT. That could prompt U.S. allies and adversaries in other regions — including Saudi Arabia,
Germany and Iran — to question the treaty’s viability and consider seeking their own nuclear arsenals.
Would this be so bad? After all, no two nuclear armed states have fought a major war with each other, and nuclear
weapons have not been used in conflict since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
But the conclusion that nuclear weapons produce peace is subject to debate. It’s true that there has been no war
between major powers since 1945. But that may be due to other factors. The quantitative evidence linking nuclear
weapons to a reduced risk of conflict is limited at best.
Further, theoretical and historical evidence suggests that nuclear accidents and miscalculations are likely. More
countries with nuclear weapons would mean more opportunities for catastrophic nuclear mistakes.
So what’s the takeaway?
A look at history shows us that nuclear proliferation is anything but inevitable. U.S. nonproliferation efforts have been
surprisingly successful, even when the United States was weaker than it is today.
Without firm U.S. opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons — a policy implemented through “carrots” like alliances
and “sticks” like sanctions — the world would probably have far more than nine countries with nuclear
weapons. What’s more, research suggests that nuclear proliferation would reduce U.S. world influence, undermine
global stability and increase the risk of nuclear war.
Gene Gerzhoy is a congressional fellow with the American Political Science Association.
Nick Miller is an assistant professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University.

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