Edoardo Campanella and Marta Dassù, two Italians associated with the Aspen Institute, writing in Foreign Affairs, suggest that “nostalgic nationalism,” which is how some people describe most notions about the Anglosphere, including CANZUK, can succeed, might even prosper, and could be good for global peace and stability because “there is room for new forms of cooperation to flourish,” in this changing, 21st-century socio-political environment.
“The Anglosphere,” they say, “is unlikely to become a traditional alliance (in defense, for instance, NATO will remain the alliance of choice for the United States and the United Kingdom). Rather, it would be a community of states with preferential relations in a variety of fields who would work to set the global agenda.“
I am on record as opposing another formal military alliance … NATO has many strengths but the “formal” structure of the alliance also creates some weaknesses: it can be very slow to react and in some important allied areas, like the standardization of weapons and communications protocols, fuels and radio frequency bands, and so on, it is, most often too slow and ends up following the various, existing, and less formal* Anglosphere groups like ABCA, AUSCANZUKUS and CCEB.
I am also on record as supporting Erin O’Toole’s proposal, which is explicitly mentioned in the Campanella and Dassù article, of pursuing at least some of the goals of the CANZUK proposal because I suspect that a four-way trade and defence coordination association might, in the 2020s, serve as a useful, global, counterbalance to “Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” … and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Great rejuvenation of the Chinese people,”” which, the authors say, are also examples of “nostalgic nationalism.”
(I still believe that trying to coordinate defence procurement on any sort of multi-national basis is usually a mug’s game because when it comes to actual procurement military standards and requirements are often (usually?) the last things to be considered, but … it should be possible for CANZUK planners to set broad, militarily sensible, performance and even technical standards that national Naval, General and Air Staff Chiefs can incorporate into their national military requirements thus, perhaps, guaranteeing that some, important, standardization and harmonization measures ~ using identical equipment is not always as good as using equipment sets that complement each other’s capabilities and limitations while remaining interoperable ~ are common to all forces.)
Mr Campanella and Ms Dassù suggest that “the dream of creating an Anglosphere has stimulated the imaginations of non-Brits too. Despite their growing activism in the Indo-Pacific region, both Australia and New Zealand have always been attached to the Anglo-Saxon world. In his 2009 memoir, Battlelines, Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister, enthusiastically praised Canberra’s alliance with Washington and its ties with London. Canada, given its French cultural heritage, has been more ambivalent about its commitment to the Anglosphere. But Erin O’Toole, a candidate for the Canadian Conservative Party leadership, has made one of the key planks of his campaign his determination to “pursue a Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand trade and security pact” … [therefore, they say] … In short, the Anglosphere’s time may have arrived” … [because] … This political community represents six percent of the world’s population, a quarter of global GDP, and 40 percent of total military spending. It boasts some of the highest GDP per capita in the world … [and] … Legal systems of Common Law, a relentless defense of democratic principles, English as first language, common business practices, and traditional support for free trade are the glue that holds together countries that are geographically so distant. Cultural ties lower transaction costs between countries and foster trust. No wonder that, in making foreign direct investments, the United States shows a strong preference for Anglo-Saxon countries, with about 23 percent of total American foreign direct investment going to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom … [and, further] … In finance, technology, science, and trade, the Anglosphere already plays a dominant role, albeit in an informal way. But there are also formal means of cooperation, including the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group; the Air and Space Interoperability Council, which aims to make members’ defense systems interoperable; and the Rhodes Scholarship, which brings students from around the world to study at Oxford University. More recently, New Zealand has offered to send London its top trade negotiators to augment the British civil service as it prepares to renegotiate hundreds of trade agreements with the rest of the world. And a recent poll found overwhelming support within Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom for granting nationals reciprocal rights to live and work freely among the four countries.“
“Besides the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States,” the two Italian authors note, “within the whole Anglosphere there is momentum behind reinforcing bilateral relationships. In his recent trip to Washington, even Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, whose political style is very different from Trump’s, declared, “No neighbors in the entire world are as fundamentally linked as we are.” Both Canberra and Wellington are working hard to forge a strong relationship with a post-Brexit London. And despite a less-than-amicable first call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the White House emphasized “the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship” … [and] … Eventually, the sum of these stronger bilateral diplomatic ties might lead to a more cohesive and united Anglo-Saxon community. Bilateral deals and partnerships could expand to involve all the members of the group. Repeated and frequent interactions on specific issues could eventually give rise to formal institutions with responsibility in those fields. Global problems would be approached and framed from the perspective of the Anglosphere world, which would push for solutions that are in its collective interest. At the same time, of course, each country would continue to retain its voice and independence.“
But there is a fly in the ointment, the article suggests: Donald Trump. Mr Campanella and Ms Dassù give three reasons, all involving President Trump, for us to doubt the utility or even desirability of any sort of enhanced Anglosphere:
- First, “the Anglosphere rests on fragile foundations …[because] … there is a problem of leadership. Washington would be the most obvious leader, but the other members of the Anglosphere would risk being swallowed up by a nation representing 70 percent of the population and economy of the new political community. Not surprisingly, some prominent Brexiteers such as the writer James Bennet and Andrew Roberts, a visiting professor at King’s College, favor CANZUK, which brings together Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, as the first post-Brexit option. However, given its small proportion of the Anglosphere population, this association of states would be globally irrelevant;
- Second, it will be hard to agree on a common strategy when it comes to China. Washington will play tough with Beijing, while London, which joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, will presumably be softer. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand will follow suit. Although the rationale of the Anglosphere is to preserve national sovereignty, China is too big a challenge for the members to act in an uncoordinated manner; and
- Third, the United Kingdom will oppose Washington’s potentially accommodating stance toward Russia. And finally, Trump himself represents a mixed blessing for such a project. Without the United States, the Anglosphere loses meaning, but should Trump antagonize allies in Europe and Asia with overly aggressive policies, he would become a burden.“
But, they say, “If the Anglosphere comes together as a political project, it could signal the emergence of a new model of globalization, centered on cultural homogeneity, with regional clusters converging around common cultural factors, and without a rigid underlying institutional structure like the European Union. Even now, according to the Economist, two countries that share a common language trade 42 percent more with each other than those that don’t. Meanwhile, two countries that once shared imperial ties trade a massive 188 percent more. Gone would be the idea of a flat world. Goods, knowledge, and people would move smoothly within culturally similar areas. Outside of them, a variety of barriers, from walls to suffocating regulations, would inhibit the flow. With fewer trade exchanges and less specialization in production, productivity would further slow down and innovation would stagnate. But governments would enjoy more freedom to protect the weak within their borders from external forces.“
On balance, I think that Erin O’Toole is on the right track and Canada should be pushing for CANZUK, as a four-way free(er) trade project, and for strengthening and even (very slightly**) expanding the existing five-nation (CANZUK + USA) military coordination groups.
* These groups are “less formal” because they are authorized at Chief of the Defence Staff level rather than by ministers and cabinets. That gives them considerable latitude to pursue purely military projects without having to worry about e.g. trade or fiscal policies. Of course, that means that while they can (and do) excel at setting standards they cannot push any given project through to fruition … but then NATO rarely manages that, either.
** Maybe by adding India and Singapore.