New Caledonian Nickel and the Origins of the Axis Alliance, 1931–40

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In a 25 August 1940 telegram, the Vichy colonial ministry ordered New Caledonia to turn over its entire nickel production to Japan. This decision, announced in Nouméa on 3 September 1940, has been interpreted by memoirists and historians alike as a ‘camouflaged’ military invasion and a trigger for the successful bloodless coup that brought New Caledonia to the side of Free France 16 days later. The telegram’s full text, however, suggests an equally important interpretation, one that contributes to recent scholarship arguing for the ‘trans-imperial’ origins of the ‘global axis alliance’ from 1931 to 1940. Drawing on Japanese, Australian, American and French archival sources, this article argues that New Caledonian nickel–a crucial metal in armament production–not only helped Japan’s pursuit of autarkic empire in the 1930s but also served as a Japanese bargaining chip that helped convince the Germans to sign the Tripartite Pact on 27 September 1940.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-460
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Pacific History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 2

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank Yonsei University for providing research funding to travel to New Caledonia in 2010, as well as Ismet Kurtovitch, Max Shekleton, Phillipe Dervieux and the staff of the Archives Territoriales de la Nouvelle Calédonie for their help in locating documents. He is especially grateful to Luke Clossey, Art Petersen and the participants of the Underwood International College Faculty Colloquium for their comments on earlier drafts. This project would have been impossible without the help of Chizuru Araya, who translated documents from the Japanese. All translations from the French, unless otherwise stated, are the author’s own. This work was supported by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives and Yonsei University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 The Journal of Pacific History, Inc.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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