A few days ago I wrote about a proposal, by James C Bennett that “security concerns could drive the commonwealth nations toward a unified defense command“ … in effect a combined naval command which he dubbed the “Union Navy.” One of my well informed friends, who uses the online nom de plume of Infanteer said that he discussed it with an Australian colleague and they agreed that “the security concerns and policies of the CANZUK nations were divergent enough that such a union would be unmanageable and silly.” I wholly agree with that assessment. They (one Canadian and one Australian ~ both military men) guessed “that the author was motivated by seeing the common rank insignia in our navies” and assumed that “we must all be inter-operable along the entire spectrum from policy to tactics.” In fact the four CANZUK navies, plus the United States Navy are highly interoperable on the operational and tactical levels; it is when you get above that ~ to the policy and strategic levels ~ that quite fundamental; differences would make a standing (permanent) combined force unworkable.
Canadian Conservative political leader Erin O’Toole, who is a proponet of a CANZUK free trade agreement, also chimed in on social media, saying “Cooperation: Yes. Union: No. I think CANZUK could strengthen security for all partners & improve procurement outcomes.“
I will repeat what I have said before: the CANZUK nations, plus the USA, are already THE global leaders in command, control and communications (C³) interoperability ~ almost always leading, not following, NATO, and while I agree with Mr O’Toole that improved combined procurement policies might be possible, I said that they would be fraught with difficulties and are, for now, very “pie in the sky.” (But there is more coming, day after tomorrow, on that.)
Mr Bennet has, I fear, gone “a bridge to far.” But he has raised what might be some interesting political challenges. Even though a standing combined force is neither necessary, in the current strategic climate, nor easy enough to manage, there is no reason why ~ when their strategic interests converge ~ two or three or more nations cannot create “coalitions of the willing” for a specific purpose. Suppose, just as another pie-in-the-sky example, that Australia …
- agreeing with the USA that asserting freedom of navigation in the South China Seas is a vital interest, and
- wanting to do a share of the “heavy lifting,” but
- not wanting to be seen, by China, as “ganging up” with America against them;
… decided that an annual allied (but not including the USA) freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Seas, separate from but complementary to the US’ current projects, would be a good idea. The Australian chief of the naval staff would, informally, sound out his British, Canadian, Malaysian, New Zealand and Singaporean counterparts. If two or three of them expressed support then the Australian foreign minister might, somewhat less informally, sound out his or her counterparts in, say, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore and, eventually, after one or two formal meetings at ministerial and chiefs of staff level, a combined and joint naval-air tasks group, made up of a few warships and long-range patrol aircraft from three or four nations, might be created, under the command of an Australian admiral, to conduct one freedom of navigation exercise. Six months later one of the partners might suggest a repeat and this time all that might be required would be some exchanges of diplomatic notes and one or two meetings of military planners and a new combined and joint task force, under the command of , say, a Singaporean commodore, would sail.
It would not be a standing force; it would be an ad hoc “coalition of the willing” (and of the interoperable) to conduct a specific combined mission for which there exists broad political support. That is achievable and, possibly, useful; anything more is, in my guesstimation, neither.
While a “Union navy” is and will likely remain out of the question, closer strategic and military cooperation amongst the CANZUK nations and with e.g. India, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa, too, should be on the agenda … after real free trade within the CANZUK nations and free(er) movement of people between them.