National Post (Latest Edition)
Two cheers for CANZUK
A new geopolitical order is taking shape. The globe is rapidly realigning under American and Chinese spheres of influence and the pandemic has only raised the stakes. How can Canada finally get serious about its internal stability and external security so it can effectively play a role as a middle power? That is the question this National Post series will answer. Today, Graeme Thompson on how Canada needs to deepen its ties with small- and medium-sized democracies.
The COVID- 19 pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the tectonic shifts underway in international politics. Though American unilateralism, the rise of China and growing authoritarianism around the world predated the pandemic, the global response to COVID-19 has highlighted just how much the world is changing — and not in ways that are favourable to Canada. In the wake of Canada’s failed bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, and with talk of a new Cold War in the air, it’s time for a hard-headed reassessment of how to defend and advance Canada’s interests and values abroad.
In this dangerous and uncertain time, Canada should increase its co- operation with its closest friends and allies, even as it reaches out to new partners around the world. With the international system increasingly shaped by great power competition, small- and medium- sized democracies will need to stick together. In recalibrating its international engagement, Canada should start by deepening its foreign policy collaboration with the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Interest in closer ties between the so-called “CANZUK” countries has been apparent among many conservative- leaning think- tanks and political parties in recent years. The Conservative Party of Canada has endorsed the idea, as has its new leader, Erin O’toole. But it’s also been dismissed by mostly left-leaning critics as a fantasy rooted in wrong-headed nostalgia for the British Empire. As ever, the devil is in the details.
The most radical proponents of CANZUK envision a vaguely defined union of the four countries, which would comprise 135 million people and constitute the world’s fourth- largest economy. Echoing the failed late-19th century idea of an “imperial federation,” they see a global superpower waiting to be revealed.
Here, the critics are right: this is simply a fantasy. Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand, long ago outgrew its old colonial relationship with Britain, and British Brexiteers who imagine that CANZUK can replace the European Union are deluding themselves. Instead of tilting at windmills, they should focus on the immediate priorities of an orderly exit from the EU and preserving the 313-year-old union of England and Scotland.
But the critics doth protest too much. Merely acknowledging that Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand are exceptionally like- minded and share common values, institutions and histories — warts and all — does not betray a reactionary desire to somehow resurrect the Empire or gloss over the sins of colonialism. Nor can reverence for the shared sacrifices symbolized in our cenotaphs and war cemeteries be casually dismissed as imperial nostalgia.
More important are shared geopolitical interests and democratic values. Of course, countries separated by half the globe will not always have the same priorities: Canada’s relationships with its North American neighbours will always be paramount; the U. K. will always be a European power; Australia’s backyard is the Indo- Pacific; and New Zealand will never match its larger neighbour’s international ambitions. But all four countries are committed to, and benefit from, an international order where might does not make right, where democracy, human rights, gender equality and principles of inclusion and tolerance are upheld, and where rules and norms of behaviour govern diplomacy and trade.
These are already countries with whom Canada shares its deepest secrets as members, along with the United States, of the Five Eyes intelligence network. Our militaries are tightly integrated. We trade relatively freely through existing agreements, and Canada’s Liberal government has welcomed a post- Brexit Canada- U. K. trade deal and supports the U. K. joining the Trans- Pacific Partnership, of which Canada, Australia and New Zealand are already members. More ambitious co- operation on defence, diplomacy, trade, development and immigration should follow naturally.
Moreover, in recent months, each country has faced the cold reality of China’s economic blackmail, intimidation and aggressive diplomacy. But there is safety in numbers. In a good example of closer alignment, earlier this year, Foreign Affairs Minister François- Philippe Champagne issued a joint statement with his British and Australian counterparts condemning China’s draconian national security legislation in Hong Kong. All four countries have since suspended their extradition treaties with the formerly autonomous city.
The upcoming U. S. election is another case in point. If President Donald Trump is re- elected, Canada can protect its interests by sticking close to its other Five Eyes partners. Conversely, a Joe Biden administration will seek to restore America’s relationships with its democratic allies. Whether through a summit of democracies, an elevated D10 (the G7 plus Australia, South Korea and perhaps India) or the G20, Canada can increase its leverage by co-ordinating positions with the U. K. and Australia, in particular.
None of this implies that Canada should overlook other important partners. On the contrary, now is time to deepen relations with Indo- Pacific democracies like Japan, South Korea and India, and ASEAN members like Singapore and Vietnam. Canada should also reinvigorate the Commonwealth and the Francophonie, and redouble its commitments to NATO and its long-standing European allies.
But it’s simply foolish to downplay the importance and potential of Canada’s relationships with the U. K., Australia and New Zealand. A hard- headed Canadian foreign policy should give two cheers to CANZUK.
yoke the strength of australia, new zealand and the u.k.