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Approaching the Brink? Nuclear Decision-Making by US President Trump in 2020



 “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind…. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”-Sigmund Freud

“He likes me.” (New Year’s Day, 2020) US President Donald Trump explaining why Americans need no longer worry about North Korea

Though written before the nuclear age, Sigmund Freud’s early warning about non-rational decision-making in world politics remains valid. Indeed, in the midst of a steadily-expanding nuclear weapons and infrastructures, this warning has become even more prescient than before. Moreover, such expanding risks need not be confined to foolishness, delusion, neurosis or lunacy. In part, at least, these risks could rise between perfectly rational and well-intentioned national adversaries, and need to be analyzed, inter alia, within the still-evolving context of “Cold War II.”[1]

Exactly which national security risks confronting the United States are conceivably existential? Most plausible is the stubbornly complex problem of North Korea. Here, everything may first appear simple to US President Donald Trump, but would actually prove bewilderingly complex and daunting. In essence, during any upcoming periods of competitive risk-taking with Kim Jung Un, certain intersecting and reinforcing searches for “escalation dominance” by the two leaders could lead suddenly or incrementally to an inadvertent nuclear war. Most worrisome, in this regard, would be variable underestimations of enemy resolve and unforeseen synergies between US and North Korean policy decisions.

Immediately, Mr.Trump must make himself much better-informed about all pertinent nuclear conflict scenarios. Necessarily, whatever differences or nuances obtain between them, these narratives would develop within our persistently anarchic[2]or “Hobbesian” world system.[3] Correspondingly, both the Congress and the citizenry would need to maintain a close and preferably non-partisan watchover Trump’s discernible willingness to take nuclear war decision-making with seriousness of purpose.[4]In this matter, the American president would need to be reminded that no genuinely scientific estimates of nuclear war are logically possible.[5]The reason?  In science, accurate probability assessments must always be based upon the ascertainable frequency of pertinent past events.

Happily, there has never been an authentic nuclear war.[6]

I have been studying nuclear war and strategy for half a century. Following four years at Princeton in the late 1960s, long an intellectual center of American nuclear history and thought, I began to think about adding a personal contribution to the already-growing literatures of nuclear strategic thought. By the mid- 1970s, I was busily preparing an original manuscript on U.S. nuclear strategy and the corollary risks of nuclear war.[7]

At that time, I also became interested in certain very specific questions of presidential authority to order the use of American nuclear weapons.

I soon learned, among other things, that allegedly reliable technological safeguards had been built into all American nuclear command/control decisions, but that these safeguards could not apply at the presidential level. To an aspiring strategic scholar, this ironic disjunction didn’t make any intellectual sense, especially in a world where national leadership irrationality was not without precedent. For needed clarifications, I reached out to General Maxwell D. Taylor, USA/ret., a distinguished former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In impressively rapid response to my query, General Taylor sent off a detailed handwritten reply. Dated 14 March 1976, the General’s letter concluded soberly: “As to those dangers arising from an irrational American president, the only protection is not to elect one.”

Until now, I had never given any extended thought to this boldly truthful but distressing response. Somehow, I had continuously assumed that “the system” would operate according to plan. Always. Today, as the presidency of Donald Trump coincides with a North Korean nuclear standoff and still-expanding Iranian nuclearization, General Taylor’s 1976 warning takes on much greater meaning. Further complicating matters is Trump’s New Year’s Day 2020 observation about North Korean strategic progress. There was no need to worry, he offered reasuringingly, because Kim Jung Un “likes me.” And as if this might not be a compelling enough explanation, the president added: Kim Jung Un (a dictator who has murdered thousands of North Korean citizen’s) is “a man of his word.”

A primary question should now come immediately to mind. What should be done by the US National Command Authority if it should ever decide to oppose a presumptively inappropriate/irrational presidential order to launch American nuclear weapons? Could the National Command Authority reliably “save the day” by acting in an impromptu or creatively ad hoc fashion? Or should there already be in place various credible and effective statutory measures to (1)assess the ordering president’s reason and judgment; and (2) countermand any determinably wrongful order?

 In law, Article 1 of the US Constitution, Congressional war-declaring expectations of the Constitution notwithstanding, any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, whether issued by an apparently irrational president or by an otherwise incapacitated one, must be obeyed. All things considered, to do otherwise in such dire circumstances would be prima facie illegal; that is, impermissible on its face. And President Trump could sometime order the first use of American nuclear weapons even if the US were not under any specifically nuclear attack, a prerogative that would add yet another problematic layer of presidential nuclear authority.

 A further distinction, both strategic and legal, must be made between first use and first strike. There exists an elementary but vitally important difference. This vital difference has to do, in part, with distinguishing permissible self-defense from aggression.[8] The latter is a properly codified crime under international law.[9] It is, therefore, reciprocally prohibited by US law.

Where should American nuclear decision-making policy go from here? To begin, a coherent and comprehensive answer will need to be prepared for the following antecedent question: If faced with any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, and not offered sufficiently appropriate corroborative evidence of any actually impending existential threat, would the National Command Authority: (1)be willing to disobey? and (2)be capable of enforcing such seemingly well-founded expressions of authoritative disobedience?

In any such unprecedented nuclear crisis circumstances, all relevant decisions could have to be made in a compressively time-urgent matter of minutes. Such tight chronological constraints could quickly become pressing and overriding. What then?

More precisely, we must inquire, is the current US president reasonably well-prepared to deal with any such bewildering and consequential eventualities? If not, what shall we do to effectively remediate such an intolerable shortcoming? Significantly, there can be no more urgent strategic query.

. Though almost everyone might feel comforted if the escalating North Korean nuclear crisis were somehow to subside, there will inevitably arise certain other similar or plausibly more portentous atomic emergencies.[10] To respond purposefully, this country will require far more than a purely ad hoc or reactive policy decision from the White House. It will require intersecting foreign policy goals that are expressly identified and based upon calculable considerations of intellect or “mind,” not just on idle or banal political rhetoric.

There is one last but vital observation to be offered here. Whether in reference to some proposed military intervention or some other considered military action, the American president is always bound not only by US law, but by international law. The latter, which is discoverable in various customary norms as well as in bilateral and multilateral treaties, remains an integral part of American law.[11] Such “incorporation” is most prominently expressed at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”), and also at various major US Supreme Court decisions.[12]

Is US President Donald Trump remotely familiar with this or any other section of the Constitution?

The answer is obvious and distressing.

There is more. US President Donald Trump’s policies for dealing with adversarial nuclear threats must remain consistent with presumed American military requirements and with all corollary jurisprudential obligations. Inevitably, striking the necessary and optimal balance between both coinciding national imperatives will confront this president with tangible intellectual and ethical challenges of the very highest order and simultaneously, at the same time. It follows that Americans will soon need to take more seriously (1) Sigmund Freud’s early warning about psychologically compromised or disabled national leaders; and (2) the correlative hazards of an accidental or inadvertent nuclear war.

While all accidental nuclear wars would necessarily be inadvertent, not all inadvertent nuclear wars need be accidental. Indeed, the expectedly greatest dangers regarding Donald Trump decision-making “at the brink” would concern one form or another of miscalculation, a warning that while “ordinary” competitive risk-taking with Pyongyang or Tehran might not easily be avoided, the American search for “escalation dominance” should nonetheless be tempered by presumptively core considerations of national survival.

Going forward, there could be no greater “fool” in the White House than an American president who fancies himself a “very stable genius” but patently lacks all basic elements of needed intellectual preparation. Accordingly, to avoid “havoc” – an indispensable avoidance – the American president should first learn from classic military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s On War concept about “friction.” This oft-quoted concept references the always vital difference between “war on paper” and “war as it actually is.” Although Donald Trump still reveals tangibly little intellectual capacity to understand differences between calculated threats of international violence and US military power, it is a deficit that must first be acknowledged before it can be remedied.

Therein lies the overriding strategic policy challenge to the United States. Unless it can be suitably met and overcome, America’s rapid approach to the “brink” could generate authentically catastrophic nuclear outcomes. Under assorted hard-to-fathom circumstances, for example, there could sometime evolve an insufficient understanding of (or attention to) certain hybridized adversaries by the Trump White House, e.g., Iran and Hezbollah. These plausible kinds of deficit could include, inter alia, various unforeseen synergies between state and sub-state adversaries.

For the moment, at least, America is endangered by a president who is plainly “over his head” in managing his nuclear decision-making authority It also goes without saying that American presidential obligations concerning this fearful authority are of the highest possible national and international urgency. Potentially, after all, these complex and multi-layered obligations are now literally coextensive with civilizational survival.

At no point should we regard any future presidentially-spawned atomic havoc as tolerable or forgivable.

[1]In orthodox political science terms, positing the expansion of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of just such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[2] With anarchy, international law remains a “vigilante” system, or, in other words, “Westphalian.” This latter reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War, and created the now still-existing decentralized, or self-help, state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[3] The chaotic condition of Westphalian global anarchy stands in contrast to the classical jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between all states in a presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[4]For the most part, the U.S. has been modernizing its nuclear arsenal primarily by upgrading existing weapon systems, rather than by deploying altogether new types of such weapons. The ICBM force is in a final phase of a decade-long $8 billion modernization program. Beginning in 2017, the U.S. Navy began to deploy a modified version of the trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The U.S. Air Force has already begun Life Extension Programs for its air-launched cruise missile, as well as for the B-2 and B-52 bombers. In any event, prima facie,U.S. nuclear modernization efforts and plans undercut the publicly-stated U.S. goal of achieving “bold reductions” in Russian and U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe.

[5] For an early look at these problematic estimations, see: Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), 323 pp.

[6] US atomic attacks during World War II do not constitute examples of a nuclear war; rather; they “merely” represent two instances of nuclear weapons use during a conventional conflict.

[7] This book was subsequently published in 1980 by the University of Chicago Press: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics.

[8]Punishment of aggression is a firm and longstanding expectation of international criminal law.  The peremptory principle of Nullum Crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.); the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.); the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, presented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah

[9] Since World War II, aggression has typically been defined as a military attack, not justified by international law, when directed against the territory of another state. The question of defining aggression first acquired legal significance with the Draft Treaty of MutualAssistance of 1923. One year later, the Geneva Protocol of 1924 provided that any state that failed to comply with the obligation to employ procedures of peaceful settlement in the Protocol or the Covenant was an aggressor. Much later, an authoritativedefinition of aggression was adopted without vote by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1974.

[10] See, generally, Seneca, 1st Century AD/CE: “We are mad, not only individuals, but nations also. We restrain manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war, and the so-called glory of killing whole peoples? …. Man, the gentlest of animals, is not ashamed to glory in blood-shedding, and to wage war when even the beasts are living in peace together.” (Letters, 95).

[11]  Note further the jus cogens principle that international law is ultimately deducible from natural law. In this connection, according to Blackstone, each state is always expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone for current US national security policies, one need only point out that Commentaries are an original and core foundation of the laws of the United States.

[12] See especially The Paquette Habana, 175 US 677, 700 (1900); and Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726, F. 2d, 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) per curiam.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles: Outcomes in 2022



Image source: U.S. Department of State

The 9th Summit of the Americas—delayed for a year by the pandemic—attracted unprecedented scrutiny of Latin American and global media, already at the stage of preparations. It was not only the matter of Washington’s “invitation campaign” and the (predictable) response of Latin American leaders to it. Rather, the White House had been expected to offer new ideas, showcase new approaches, initiate new proposals, which would make it possible to confirm and solidify U.S. leadership in the Western hemisphere, particularly given the growing competition with China in a region of America’s traditional interests. Joe Biden failed to achieve a breakthrough: the final declaration proved to have a far narrower scope than expected, while Latin Americans demonstrated their agency on the global stage once again. The Summit of the Americas never became Joe Biden’s diplomatic triumph, but it would not do to underestimate Washington’s ability to play “a long game”, achieving the goals set in circuitous ways. Recent history knows a number of such instances.

Record no-shows

The Forum’s main sensation was the pointed refusal of the leaders of five states (Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador) to attend the event in person. Some did not attend due to objective circumstances, but everyone who declined the invitation to appear at the summit had their own reasons, with the main being the White House’s high-profile decision not to invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Traditionally, the hosts of previous summits selected the invitees, and scandals had been known to happen. In 2018, Peru did not invite Nicolas Maduro, and previously, the US traditionally opposed Cuba’s attendance (the country participated in the summit only twice).

Many observers have deemed Joe Biden’s rigid stance on the three states illogical, particularly given Washington’s simultaneous efforts to normalize relations with Havana and Caracas that have recently manifested in the easing of sanctions. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the ideological component has traditionally been of key importance for the U.S. in its relations with the region. Nor could Joe Biden ignore the harsh stance of most American elites; an invitation extended to these three states would have had horrendous domestic political consequences for the current administration. Tellingly, the White House also refused to invite its Venezuelan “protégé” Juan Guaido—Joe Biden only had a telephone conversation with him.

The refusal of several Latin American leaders to attend the Summit in person should be interpreted with care. Frequently, such a decision looked like a desire to trumpet their stance in Washington’s face, creating an opportunity for publicity, especially since most heads of state that ignored the event still sent large delegations, closely following the course of the Summit closely.

Nonetheless, even many of those presidents or heads of government who chose to travel to Los Angeles openly expressed their disagreement with Washington’s approaches, condemning the non-invitation of the three states. Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez and Belize’s Prime Minister Johnny Briceño were particularly stark in this regard. They were diplomatic, yet open in personally telling Joe Biden their grievances during the first principal session. The two leaders condemned both the sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela and the exclusion of these states from the list of invitees.

In his response, Joe Biden had to make conciliatory statements on the need to search for common language despite existing differences. Many observers viewed Latin Americans’ demarche as a manifestation of the U.S. weakening regional influence and a symbol of new geopolitical realities in the Western hemisphere. In fact, U.S. partners in Latin America traditionally dish direct criticisms or disagreements to U.S. leaders. Suffice it to remember the famous 4th Summit of the Americas in 2005 in Mar del Plata, where three presidents (Lula da Silva, Hugo Chavez, and Nestor Kirchner) “buried” the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA/ALCA) initiative, right in the presence of George W. Bush. Condemnations of anti-Cuban sanctions and of Cuba’s exclusion from forums have also become a tradition with Latin Americans. But when Washington appears to face consolidated Latin American opposition, this has a knack for switching work in many areas into bilateral format where the U.S. has far more opportunities for pushing through its stances and interests. For instance, when the FTAA/ALCA project failed, the U.S. rather focused on bilateral free trade agreements—over the next decade, Washington did conclude them with most of states of the region.

The language of initiatives

Washington’s main drive at the Summit can be defined as an intent to limit the presence of external actors in the traditional area of U.S. interests. China was not in any way involved in the Summit, U.S. officials did not mention Beijing in any of their speeches—yet, it was invisibly present throughout the event. During his main speech at the Forum’s opening on June 6, Joe Biden articulated new suggestions concerning cooperation, stressing that the Western hemisphere has enough resources of its own to handle its principal problems. The U.S. is trying to contain China’s expansion into the LCA, but it has failed to snatch the initiative from China so far. The Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, a new Washington-proposed initiative, can be seen as an attempt to offer an alternative to Chinese proposals for Latin America that include the “New Silk Road” project. Proposing strategic initiatives is a traditional form of communication of the United States with Latin America (whether at the time of John F. Kennedy or George H. Bush). The U.S. lost initiative in the region during Donald Trump’s presidency, with Joe Biden now striving to respond to the principal challenges of development: post-pandemic recovery, migration and security, digitization, rebounding investment, the “green” agenda. Many elements in the new initiative are not yet entirely clear. The White House has noticeably been preparing these proposals “in haste,” without elaborating every item in a careful fashion. It is also obvious that the U.S. intends to retain its leadership in such areas as digitization (as a snub against the Electronic Silk Road), military assistance and cooperation, logistics, green technologies.

However, many experts exhibit understandable skepticism when it comes to Joe Biden’s proposals. What is striking is the openly small financing Washington proposes, particularly if compared to the aid the U.S. is currently extending to Ukraine. Emphasis on the environmental agenda and respect for democratic norms can be seen as an instrument of future restrictions against those who do not comply with these requirements, at least in the eyes of Washington. Such demands are already a standard feature of trade agreements spearheaded by the U.S. (for instance, USMCA).

Each Summit of the Americas traditionally ends with a thematically expansive final declaration to cover all the problems in social, economic and political development. The current Forum’s organizers were expected to produce something of the sort. However, the attendees only adopted the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection at the end of the Summit, a document that boils down to Washington’s desire to “share responsibility” for resolving the migration crisis with all the nations of Latin America, both countries of origin and transit states. Certainly, the issue of Latin American migrants is a burning problem for the U.S., Mexico and states of Central America. The situation may be further complicated by the expected food crisis, which is spurred, in the White House’s opinion, by Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. The declaration includes a large set of measures on ensuring security for migrant flows, on combating the root causes of their exodus, and on bolstering regional coordination and cooperation in this area. The document was signed by 20 states (some abstained), including all the Central American states whose leaders were not present at the Summit.

Recognizing the importance of interactions in the matter of migration, Latin Americans must have been expecting something greater than just a call for “shared responsibility” from the U.S. Initially, the organizers had ambitious plans on a far larger range of issues rather than mere migration. Preliminary discussions focused on environmental issues and environmental protection; however, since Brazil refused to sign such a declaration (under the pretext of Brazil’s relevant legislation being stringent enough already), the document was not submitted for final signing. Washington did preliminary bilateral work with key manufacturers calling upon them to ramp up oil production and exports of agricultural products to counteract the energy and food crisis. In his main speech, Joe Biden said that these crises were mostly caused by the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s actions in particular. Washington possibly planned for the final document to tie condemnation of Russia’s actions with plans for collectively counteracting the mounting crises (if the U.S. had succeeded in getting Latin Americans to support such decisions).

Many observers interpret problems with attendance as well as the openly limited final decisions and documents as Joe Biden’s unequivocal diplomatic defeat and proof of Washington’s weakening stance in Latin America. However, the Summit of the Americas is only the “tip of the iceberg” of the multitude of America’s extremely complicated and multilayered relations with the region. The U.S. remains Latin America’s principal trade and economic partner and a crucial source of technologies and investment. Indeed, there was a certain dip in trading in the 2000s. Recently, however, Washington succeeded at largely regaining its standing despite China’s active expansion into the region. The U.S. is the integral security factor in Latin America, the main recipient of migrants, and it would not do to underestimate the U.S. influence on most regional governments in spite of their growing agency.

Having drawn its conclusions from the Summit’s failures, the White House will continue to “push its agenda through” in bilateral formats as it keeps all of its influence resources. At the final press conference, a journalist asked Antony Blinken on the issue, and the Secretary of State’s response encapsulates this approach. Commenting on the refusal of some to sign the Los Angeles migration declaration, he was confident that all countries will accede to it sooner or later, pursuant to targeted work with each state. Washington has “strategic patience” in spades.

From our partner RIAC

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The Canal System and the Development of the Early American Economy




The prosperity and development of the United States that it enjoys today did not come out of thin air. This is especially true in its early days of economic development which has a lot to do with the construction of the transportation system. In the beginning, it was the development of water transportation, then the railway, next followed by the highways. The construction of these major transportation systems supported the early development, prosperity, and rise of the U.S., laying the foundation for it to become a major world power.

The early water transport in the U.S. is rather interesting, and it mainly aimed to connect more places in the country by excavating and expanding the canal system. According to incomplete statistics, the total length of canals in the U.S. is 18,000 km. This 18,000 km long canal was of great significance to the early economic development of the country. This well-connected water transportation system has greatly enriched the exchange of commodities, promoted trade, and enabled the convenient transportation of raw materials, salt, whisky, energy coal, and many other products within the country. The domestic market of the U.S. had also expanded, and its national economy transformed from weak to strong.

The longest and the most well-known canal in the U.S. is the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal is named after the lake and starts from the Niagara River which originates from Lake Erie. It spans upstate New York and joins the Hudson River in Albany, the capital city of New York State, with a total length of 574 km. It is not only the longest canal in the U.S. but also the sixth-longest in the world. Back in the early 19th century, before the automobile existed, there was an urgent need for a transportation route from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian region. A canal was proposed to run from Buffalo on the east shore of Lake Erie through the canyons of the Mohawk Valley to Albany on the upper Hudson River.

In 1817, the New York State Legislature approved the construction of the Erie Canal. After much arduous work, the canal was finally opened on October 25, 1825. Its total length is 584 km (363 miles), The channel was cut 12 m (40 feet) wide and 1.2 m (4 feet) deep. In order to solve the problem of water level drop, a total of 83 locks have been built in the canal, each lock is 27 m by 4.5 m, allowing the navigation of flat-bottomed barges with a maximum displacement of 75 tons (68 tonnes).

The Erie Canal was the first express transportation to provide the east coast and west interior of the U.S. much faster than the animal-pulled carts most commonly used at the time. Not only did it speed up transportation, but it also cut transportation costs along the coast and inland by 95%. Fast canal traffic made western New York more accessible, resulting in rapid population growth in the Midwest. The canal had as much impact on the development of the upper Midwest as it did on the development of New York City. Many pioneers flocked west through the canal, into Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, Indiana, from where they shipped agricultural products through the canal to be marketed in New York, and the return journey was loaded with industrial goods and supplies to the west. Manufacturing industries emerged on both sides of the canal, supplying a steady stream of products to New York City. From Buffalo to New York, land freight once reached $100 per ton, and it was only $10 by the canal. In nine years, tolls had paid back the cost of the construction of the canal. By the time the toll was abolished in 1882, the revenue from the canal had been used to pay for the construction of several canal spurs, and there was substantial tax payment as well.

The canal has been expanded several times. After its reconstruction in 1909, it has become 544 km long, 45 m wide, and 3.6 m deep. By the 20th century, New York had developed a network of canals connecting Lakes Champlain, Ontario, and Finger, and the Erie Canal remained the central route, capable of navigating barges with a capacity of 2,200 tons. The establishment of the Erie Canal connected the water transport of the Great Lakes with New York Harbor and became the main waterway of the navigable canal system in New York State. The freight from Lake Erie to New York only required the cost of one-tenth of the former, making the city, much smaller than Philadelphia and Boston at that time, rapidly developed into the largest port and city in the country. The construction of the Erie Canal played a major role in promoting the economic development of the eastern United States and New York. The population of New York in 1820 was 123,700, and the population of Philadelphia was 112,000. By 1860, the numbers rose to 1.08 million and 566,000 respectively. Consequently, New York thrived as a port city. In 1800, only about 9% of all foreign goods in the United States entered the United States through New York Harbor, yet by 1860, that percentage jumped to 62%. The strengthening of New York’s status too indirectly led to the gradual establishment of Wall Street’s status. In this regard, the Erie Canal contributed greatly to such progress.

In addition to changing urban patterns and the rise of industry, the Erie Canal had a far-reaching impact on the U.S. economy, gradually transforming it into a consumer-led economy that determined the subsequent U.S. economic landscape. Culturally, the opening of the Erie Canal also boosted the Protestant revival movement known as the Second Awakening. Western New York was one of the main areas of this movement, and a crucial reason for this was the opening of the Erie Canal. In the small towns emerging on both sides of the canal, various sects began to proselyte in places where their churches had yet to be common, and some emerging religious groups took root there and rapidly developed, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.

Other than the evangelization along the Erie Canal, many new trends of thought also made their appearance there, such as the early feminist movement, the abolition movement, and utopianism, which all found their initial supporters in the emerging towns in that region. Hence, the construction of the Erie Canal played a driving role in the changes of the American cultural pattern.

From the day the Erie Canal was built, the vast area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, especially the Midwest around the Great Lakes, was no longer the frontier of the United States, but was connected to the east coast and became the heartland of the country. The economic and social changes it brought about had put the U.S. on the first step toward becoming a great power. The central and western regions could industrialize swiftly, forming the Great Lakes industrial areas, mining areas, and urban belt. All of these were inseparable from the Erie Canal, therefore it is not unreasonable for many to consider the opening of the Erie Canal as the official beginning of the first industrial revolution in the U.S.

There are numerous canals within the U.S. According to incomplete statistics, the country has built a total of 18,000 km of canals. The entire country has also become an organic whole because of these canals, which not only effectively enhanced the ability to resist droughts and floods, but also greatly developed the American economy and market.

Final analysis conclusion:

The construction of the canal system played an important role in the early transportation improvement, trade flow, market expansion, cultural dissemination, and urban development of the United States. This, in turn, has greatly promoted the development of the American economy and played an important role for it to become a major power.

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Aligning values into an interest-based Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy



Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an explicit challenge to the post-WW 2 order. This order has brought peace and stability and created the conditions for economic growth in the global north and Global South. It has also brought relative peace and economic integration in the Europe and in the Indo-Pacific.

Today, this order is now being challenged by Russia today but also by China. The consequences could mean that a might-is-right approach and Machiavellian approach to foreign policy will become the new normal for countries like Canada, a self-described middle power.

A Machiavellian order is an order in which larger countries can bully, cajole and pressure, mid and small size countries to do what they are demanded is an explicit challenge to Canadian interests, as well as the interests of like-minded countries such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, European countries and countries in the Global South.

The Trudeau Government has clearly and explicitly criticized the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Ottawa has coordinated with other middle powers and as we speak through the G-7 Summit in Germany on how to handle Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

Unity will be important, especially as energy security becomes more and more critical of an issue for Central and Eastern European countries. The growing food crisis that has manifested as a result of the Russian invasion is also an area that the G-7 will need to coordinate to provide relief to many countries in the Global South.

This message will be further discussed at the NATO summit in Spain. Here, Japan, South Korea, Australia New Zealand will join the NATO members to demonstrate their shared commitment to a rules-based order to pushing back against aggression to change the current order and to find ways to work together to support the Ukraine and resist Russian aggression. Here, Canada has an important role in terms of energy security and food security.

With ample access to energy and food resources, there is a possibility for Canada and other partners such as the U.S. to divert some of its significant grain and energy resources to the Europe to help alleviate some of the stress associated with the invasion of Ukraine.

Coordinated military support as well will be important to ensure that the Ukrainians can resist and eventually take back territory that was taken by force by Russia.

There is an interesting paradox in Canada’s approach. While explicitly criticizing Russia’s might-is-right approach to foreign relations in Eastern Europe and particularly with Ukraine, Canada continues to waver in using the same language in the Indo-Pacific.

The Indo-Pacific region is also facing a might-is-right approach to reshaping the Indo-Pacific order. The use of lawfare, gray-zone operations, military force and belligerent threats all are aimed at reshaping the Indo-Pacific order in such a way that creates a Chinese centric regional order in which China’s neighbors as well as stakeholders that engage in the region will think about China’s interests before their own interests and their interest with Washington.

Canada needs to continue to invest in the Indo-Pacific. A good place to start will be to explicitly state Canada’s concerns about that Machiavellian approach to foreign policy in the region and the efforts by China to reshape the region such that states lose aspects of their autonomy. This will require an Indo-Pacific strategy to be built on a clear objective of how Canada sees the Indo-Pacific Region evolving forward and how Canada would like to contribute to that broader vision of the Indo-Pacific.

Japan, Australia, the United States, Germany, Denmark, and the E.U. have laid out their own Indo-Pacific strategies. They focus on maritime security, a rules-based order, transparency, development and importantly, good governance. We see little rhetoric concerning progressive issues as well as little mention of the core values such as democracy, human rights and freedom of press. This is intentional. These countries and associations understand the heterogeneity within the region.

The-Indo Pacific region is home to soft authoritarian regimes, socialist regimes, democracies and monarchies. Unfortunately, each has very different views about democracy, human rights and progressive issues.  

Where they are aligned is in their interests. Their interests are focused on trade, economic integration development, the digital economy, resolving territorial issues through dialogue and consensus-based decision making and not excluding any country region or political entity from the region’s political economy.

Simply, associations and regions like ASEAN, South Asia and the E.U.  see inclusivity as a key criterion to the Indo-Pacific peaceful evolution This means any Indo-Pacific strategy that emerges out of these countries does not exclude China or strive to eject non-democratic states.

Rather, their Indo-Pacific strategies focus on inculcating peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region through development, trade, infrastructure and connectivity, institution building, good governance and deterrence.

In the Canadian case, the broader vision for the Indo-Pacific should echo but not necessarily replicate the Indo-Pacific Visions of the country’s mentioned above. Canada’s priority should be peace, stability, open access, a transparent, rules-based order that ensures Canada can have free access to economies and societies throughout the region.

At the same time, Canada’s interests in the Indo-Pacific should include shaping the region such that traditional security issues such as territory issues in the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and the Himalayan plateau do not devolve into kinetic conflict that fundamentally disrupts the region’s development and stability.

Traditional security issues are not the only issue that can affect Canada’s interests in the region. Non-traditional security issues such as climate change, terrorism, transnational diseases, extremism are all potential concerns for Canada as it could create instability in the region, disrupt their economies, destabilize supply chains as well as create problems for trading partners.

As Canada celebrates another Canada Day, it should reflect upon what are the key elements of an Indo-Pacific strategy.

Here a six-fold approach may be a useful approach to creating an Indo-Pacific strategy that helps achieve Canada’s national interests in the Indo-Pacific region. A first pillar of an Indo Pacific strategy should be one of Inclusive Development.

Here, Canada can help build stability, improve governance and contribute to broad inclusive development in the region. Through support for NGOs, investment in infrastructure and connectivity, coordinating with regional stakeholders and ensuring that inclusive development results in sustainable and replicable development in the region. Importantly, inclusive development in the region should de-emphasize the progressive character of inclusivity found in the domestic context of Canada as it is less prioritized in the region. This does not mean that a progressive approach is absent but it is sensitive to the local cultures and societies.  

A second pillar should focus on Canada’s comparative advantages, Energy and critical mineral security. Based on improvements in environmental technology and technologies that are used to exploit both energy resources and critical minerals, Canada should make this the second pillar of their Indo-Pacific strategy as an open, reliable source of energy and critical minerals.

Canada could carve a position within the Indo-Pacific region in which it is the key provider of energy and critical minerals to industries that use both products. We’ve seen in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, that energy security has become timely and we expect that energy security and critical minerals to be subject to weaponization in the future in the build-up to or in a conflict.

Consequently, Canada can contribute energy and critical mineral significantly by making this a key pillar in their strategy.

A third pillar should focus on coordinating and investing in Middle Power Diplomacy. In short, Canada needs to coordinate with other middle powers such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand European powers to ensure that the US China Strategic competition does not shape them. Rather, coordination shapes the dynamics of the US China Strategic competition in such a way that it decreases and or attenuates the negative effects on countries we’ve already seen Canada engage in middle power diplomacy with some success.

The 2020 Agreement, in which Canada marshaled middle powers and other countries to join a Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations following the arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China is a good example. We also saw Canada bring together middle powers and the United States to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in January 2018.

 More coordination of middle powers in the areas of good governance, transparency, energy cooperation and financial cooperation would be a unique but also important contribution by Canada in the Indo-Pacific.

Here, one could easily imagine Canada working with the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) to provide energy security, health infrastructure, good governance to the Pacific Island nations.

We could also see Canada contribute to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework by marshalling middle powers to support this standard setting agreement that will shape how we think about trade. The standards that we use to negotiate new technologies ,the internet, cyber as well as AI.

A fourth pillar should be supporting Economic security, infrastructure and connectivity. Here Canada needs to find ways to consolidate its own economic security so that is more resilient against economic shocls, outside Canada, as well as inside Canada.

The COVID 19 pandemic is a good example of an external shock to the Canadian economy. We had challenges in terms of acquiring personal protective equipment and other goods as China shut down their country to manage the initial Covid-19 outbreak.

The current COVID-19 policies in Shanghai and Beijing further consolidates the logic that Canada needs to build resilience into its economy, to invest and protect its own economic security.

Internally, the floods in the fall of 2021 in British Colombia also disrupted Canadian exports abroad.

Economic security, resilience and infrastructure and connectivity can help ensure that Canada’s economy remains online and integrated into the global economy and resilient against external and internal shocks. This will require bolstering infrastructure and connectivity at home so that we have world class infrastructure that is resilient against internal shocks.

Also, Canada has a role in contributing to infrastructure and connect to the within the Indo-Pacific region. While we have limited capacities, we have capabilities that can piggyback onto existing infrastructure connectivity programs that are associated with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The Japan-India-Australia resilient supply chain initiative and bilateral and other multilateral infrastructure and connectivity initiatives that have come online over the past three or four years. All of this will be important for Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy in ensuring that Canada’s economic security is based on a resilient economy that is bolstered by infrastructure connectivity at home and abroad.

A fifth pillar for Canada will continue to be focused on security and in particular, Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific region. With sea lines of communication in the Indo-Pacific responsible for about $5.5 trillion in trade every year and energy resources being transported through the key arteries located in the Indian Ocean, Malacca Straits South China Sea, Taiwan Straits as well as East China Sea, Canada has an interest in ensuring that the sea lines of communication remain open, governed by international law and free from coercion.

Cooperation in sea lines of communication will need to take place within existing frameworks or new frameworks. Quad plus arrangements have already taken place in January 2021 Canada participated in the Sea Dragon 21 exercises to provide an opportunity for Canada to monitor and observe Quad exercises.

We also see Canada engage in sanctions monitoring in the East China Sea in an effort to prevent sanctions invasions by North Korea. These activities continue to need to be expanded by working with like-minded countries within the region focused on maritime domain awareness search and rescue, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance and dealing with non-traditional security challenges such as illegal fishing, piracy and others.

While this is not an easy task, this pillar of a Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy is important to contributing to the region’s peace and stability as well it is important for protecting Canadian imports and exports to the region. In 2021, more than $21 billion of Canadian goods went through the region this sum continues to increase as Indo-Pacific nations look to Canada to secure energy as well as agricultural products. Ensuring that sea lines of communication remain open, stable and peaceful will continue to be a critical part of any Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy.

Lastly, a sixth pillar of a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy should focus on Climate Change.

The Indo-Pacific region is hosts the three most populated countries, Indonesia, India and China. It is also home to ASEAN. Collectively, the population of the Indo-Pacific region is at least 3.5 billion and the current development patterns suggest that they will have severe water and food security issues as their environment degrades do to climate change and global warming.

More extreme weather systems, the salination of the Mekong and Bangladeshi delta’s as sea levels rise will change the ecology of these critical production areas that that will create social instability, economic stress and likely political instability associated with economic refugees moving to find safer, more predictable geographic locations to leave and work.

We will also see tropical diseases and insects push north and southward disrupting agricultural and social systems.

Canada has a clear interest in investing in climate change mitigation, promoting environmentally friendly governance and business systems and technology transfer that lessen the negative impact of climate change. The scale of the problem will require Canada to pursue this sixth pillar through regional and global coordination.

With a pragmatic and realistic approach that is based on understanding the heterogeneity of the Indo-Pacific region, a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy should include but not be exclusive to: Inclusive development, Trade and Economic Residence, Climate Change, Maritime Security, Energy and Critical Mineral Security, and Middle Power Diplomacy.

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