CANZUK again: a “Union Navy?”

There is a very interesting article in the authoritative Proceedings of the US Naval Institute by James C Bennett who is a fellow of the Economic Policy Centre in London and a research associate of the Space Policy Institute of George Washington University.

James Bennet suggests that “it would be reasonable to assume that security might download (5)become high on the list of immediate concerns of the CANZUK nations. If we posit also that U.S. leadership and security guarantees might waver for a term or two, such pressures could then drive for a rapid union.” Therefore, he says, “Security concerns could drive the commonwealth nations toward a download (4)unified defense command and an all-Union parliament with direct funding and clear oversight of key military forces. The British strategic deterrent would be the first capability to fall under unified command. An effective all-download (6).jpegUnion political authority in which office holders from all four nations had key political and military positions would be central to ensure a credible deterrent. Australians with long memories might not fully believe the validity download (7)of a British deterrent pledge, but if some of the office holders and naval officers in the decision loop were Australians, the deterrent would become more believable.

The political implications of, somehow, placing Britain’s nuclear deterrent under some sort of “union” of four download (2)sovereign nations are staggering in both their complexities and potential ramifications. Woulds the governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand be willing ~ not to mention “able”in the eyes of the Brits ~ to “manage” nuclear weapons?

The deterrent,” Mr Bennet proposes, “would be part of a wider Union Navy, naval strategy, and doctrine. While the armed forces would be placed under unified all-Union command, they would not be merged, nor would the identities of the current existing services be eradicated. Canada’s failed attempt to merge its armed forces has given the world a long and expensive lesson, now finally remediated, on the folly of throwing away the sentiments, loyalties, and bonds collected dearly over time, that are encoded in the name and identity of a service. A small number of all-Union units would be created for specialized functions, and personnel, pay, and pension policies would gradually converge to a Union standard, with some form of regional cost-of-living adjustment.” 

But his primary concern is conventional: The “union” navy’s “primary naval concern, after the maritime defense of its home nations, would be the Atlantic sea lanes 15590789_1168779083235195_1863603951662708969_obetween Britain and Canada and the Pacific sea lanes between western Canada and the ports of New Zealand and Australia. The Union’s forces would consist of a military core force stationed primarily in the United Kingdom and Australia, with rapidly deployable reinforcements held in Canada, ready to be moved quickly to the Atlantic or Pacific as needed … [and] … Guarding the Atlantic sea lanes is one of the oldest and most basic tasks of both the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and is a large part of their NATO responsibilities. The trans-Pacific sea lanes run largely through waters of the Eastern Pacific that are under the secure control of the U.S. Navy and far from any threat. Union war planning should (given recent U.S. political trends) assume possible U.S. neutrality and establish a requirement to independently ensure the integrity of the trans-Pacific sea lanes. Such capabilities also would be very useful in ensuring Australia’s and New Zealand’s maritime access to their non-North American markets. The Union Navy would be the primary means of guarding the extremely extensive offshore economic areas and seabed claims of the four nations combined.

Compared to the old British Empire,” James Bennet says, “the Union also would face the rapidly changing nature of modern war. The World Wars strained British forces because the nature of war then emphasized the ability to assemble, arm, and train enormous forces and then deploy and supply them in multiple areas of the globe simultaneously. Modern war today emphasizes relatively small quantities of extremely well-trained, well-motivated forces using high-technology force multipliers … [and] … The armed forces of the CANZUK nations, despite recent cutbacks resulting from fiscal pressures, continue to maintain their quality, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain and constantly upgrade the high-technology capabilities needed to stay relevant in today’s conflicts. The Union would permit them to develop, acquire, and deploy advanced capabilities second to no nation in quantities sufficient to meet the combined security needs of all member nations. Systems such as radar satellite constellations in low orbit performing high-quality reconnaissance can serve four customers as easily as one; cyber warfare, other intel systems, and special operations forces all can be used in any area of the globe … [additionally, he says] … Union forces probably would want to invest in more submarines and long-range transport and attack air systems than they do today. The under-ice operational capability of nuclear submarines would allow the Union to patrol and maintain sovereignty in Canada’s arctic areas in a manner that Canada simply cannot presently afford. It would also give the Union additional choices for transiting rapidly between the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Similarly, the Union forces would need substantially more long-range air transport than at present and an enhanced capability for long-range air attack, although it is not immediately obvious which kind of systems would be needed. Between the globe-spanning nature of the Union and its deep oceanic island territories, the Union could maintain a global strike capability without the need for foreign bases.” That is all very “pie in the sky” but it might, given the past 150 years of history, make good geo-political and even getter economic sense.

On the technical-fiscal level, Mr Better posits that “At present, the aggregate ship total of the CANZUK navies is 161 vessels, of which 7 are destroyers, 38 are frigates, 4 are nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, 7 are nuclear-powered fleet attack hms-queen-elizabeth-5120x2880-lead-ship-aircraft-carrier-royal-navy-3636.jpgsubmarines, 10 are conventional submarines, and 6 are amphibious assault/aviation vessels. The bulk of the remainder are smaller patrol and mine warfare craft. Two large aircraft carriers also are under construction, which when placed in service (2020 or beyond) will carry a complement of up to 36 F-35B attack aircraft each … [and] … By current global standards, this is a signifiant naval force, although its operational responsibilities are particularly broad compared to other navies. It is difficult to say, prior to a strategic defense review, to what extent the current mix of ships and capabilities could fulfill the naval requirements of the Union. The greater resources of a Union, however, certainly would make an augmentation and/or a realignment of forces more feasible than if the services were to rely on their national resources alone … [further] … Combining the four navies may allow policy makers to reconsider various defense decisions made for budgetary reasons. The Queen Elizabeth–class carriers, for example, might be fitted with catapults, making it feasible to use the F-35C or other catapult-launched aircraft instead of the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant. In any event, recasting the Union navies into an integrated globe-spanning force with internally compatible systems—fully capable of interoperating with the U.S. Navy and other allied naval forces—would be the work of decades, given present-day procurement practices … [and, finally] …  A Union naval capability could take advantage of the already unusual degree of commonality in standards and practices among these navies. The three dominions formed their navies in the mold of the Royal Navy, and each inherited much of its corporate culture. Terminology remains the same in many instances. NATO and other allied functions have created common standards to which the RN and RCN Introduction of MH60R Seahawk to Australian Publichave adhered, and to which the Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy are frequently aligned. The Union would benefit from the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States (AUSCANNZUKUS) “five-eyes” arrangement for shared information, communications, and systems interoperability that connects all four navies and the U.S. Navy, as part of a web of organizations coordinating standards and capabilities among all AUSCANNZUKUS services.” I can vouch, from extensive personal experience that the standards and interoperability levels of the five nations (CANZUK + USA) far exceeds anything that exists in NATO and, in many, many cases, almost always in command, control and communications, the five nations drive NATO standardization.

There would have to be a central, combined naval staff that was obedient to a common, combined, set of political imperatives … possibly calling for something like an allied “war cabinet” committee that exists in peacetime. Mr Bennet says that “A bottom-up strategic download (1)defense review could be held on an all-Union basis. This would begin the long process of reshaping the overall force structures to meet the needs of the new Union and gradually change internal systems to adapt to new demands. Procurement processes would be examined, and no doubt some would be continued and others canceled. Procurement of major items gradually would transition to an all-Union system to take advantage of the better negotiating position of a larger buyer. It would be reasonable to assume that the Union Parliament would in normal times support a defense commitment in the range of 2 percent of gross Union product (GUP), the NATO target, as both the United Kingdom and Australia have tended to stay near that target over past decades.” That’s fine, in so far as it goes, but he ignores the need ~ I think and absolute requirement ~ for a combined, nearly common approach to many (indeed most) strategic situations. I can imagine regular meetings of foreign and defence ministers, regular conference calls and annual head of government meetings just to keep the “management:” of a combined naval force on the level.

It’s an intriguing thesis, one in which many will find good reason for hope … but it is fraught with difficulties and, I’m afraid, it doesn’t go quite far enough. The author downloadmentions in Indian Navy but any project of this magnitude should “go big or not go at all” and that means including India, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa from the very start. They are also part of the Commonwealth and they share the same concerns about freedom of the seas and global peace and security as do the “old dominions.”


4 thoughts on “CANZUK again: a “Union Navy?””

  1. I read this article in print when it came out in print in Proceedings and, after a quick check with my Aussie colleague, relegated it to the trash bin. We both concluded that the security concerns and policies of the CANZUK nations were divergent enough that such a union would be unmanageable and silly. We estimated that the author was motivated by seeing the common rank insignia in our navies, meaning we must all be inter-operable along the entire spectrum from policy to tactics.

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