Farewell, Pax Americana
To its adversaries’ delight, the US’s global standing is crumbling away. Its two-decade-long intervention in Afghanistan has ended in total defeat. America has lost thousands of troops, equipment and of course, it has lost its reputation as a successful military power.
Importantly, it has also lost its allies. Once seen as a reliable partner, its decision to effectively abandon the Afghan people without consulting its international partners has struck a stunning blow to the perceived ‘special relationship’ with the UK. Even the relevance of the NATO alliance has been called into question. As a result, the EU has begun to look for other options. Its high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, declared in a statement last week that the Afghanistan debacle will push the bloc into establishing its permanent military force.
With America’s power dimming, the UK must face the harsh reality that we can no longer rely on Washington for protection. Britain must forge a new path.
CANZUK as a priority
If Afghanistan has taught us anything, it is that multilateral decision-making is a fundamental component of modern geopolitics. As such, for the US to have taken such a deeply unilateral decision is catastrophic – both at the local and global levels.
For Britain to have relied so heavily on the whim of one country was foolish. This stance must end now. With America effectively pulling up the drawbridge, Britain now has the opportunity to rise to the task of defending multilateralism, liberty, human rights and democracy – though it needn’t feel alone in doing so. As strong, like-minded liberal democracies, Britain can count Canada, Australia and New Zealand among its closest strategic and diplomatic partners in achieving this.
By pursuing a CANZUK partnership, these four countries could combine their military, diplomatic and economic strength to become a vastly powerful force on the world stage.
A multilateral powerhouse
Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK all retain similar favourable positions on multilateralism and are deeply active diplomatic powers. All play key roles in upholding human rights and democratic values. Moreover, each of these possesses largely non-aggressive and cooperative stances and do not seek confrontation.
This, therefore, already points to an evident diplomatic and multilateral alignment of the four countries, suggesting that the alliance’s cohesion would be strong. Overall, the diplomatic weight of CANZUK would be difficult to ignore. Each of its members already possesses a formidable role in the world’s most pre-eminent international organisations. With Canada, Australia and New all members of the CPTPP – and Britain set to join – CANZUK would be represented within one of the world’s largest trade agreements and have access to the riches of the Pacific’s trade.
Moreover, the UK’s position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council would give the CANZUK alliance international recognition as a top-tier, veto-holding power and give the three other member states greater representation at the UN. Rather than diving into costly and time-consuming full-scale military campaigns that the US has pursued, CANZUK would stay true to its multilateral foundations and instead seek to foster a more cooperative approach to managing the international system.
Opportunities for military cooperation
Yet, whilst finding diplomatic solutions to crises would be at the core of CANZUK, this would by no means rule out the possibility of the alliance taking on an international military role as well. On the contrary, a defence agreement between these four already closely militarily-aligned countries would undoubtedly heighten the influence and potential of the alliance. Additionally, the bonus of the alliance stretching across three continents would give CANZUK an advantage in military deployment over others such as the EU, which is somewhat limited to Europe.
Lastly, CANZUK would be greatly welcomed internationally for its ability to protect vital global trade routes, sea lanes and off-shore territories in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Its military budget would also be the third-largest in the world at $110 billion – greater even than Russia’s. Nor must we forget that the UK’s Trident Programme would give the alliance access to its own nuclear deterrent.
Shared interests and security threats
Crucially, the CANZUK nations all have similar geopolitical interests as well as sharing the same security threats. Rogue states, but particularly the indiscreet attempts made by certain states to disrupt the global liberal order favouring authoritarianism, represent immediate security challenges that all four nations must face.
Acting as one, CANZUK would grant its members a much greater defensive position against such threats than if they were to do so alone. Additionally, a CANZUK pivot towards India may also be wise, as it could counter the rising sway of authoritarianism across Asia. Canada and the UK have already expressed interest in aligning with India for political and economic reasons, so a similar approach for Australia and New Zealand would not be too much of a stretch.
The global order is shifting fast. The power of the US has peaked, and thus, like every hegemon before it, Washington must accept and manage its gradual decline as a superpower. For its allies, this period is of vital importance, as they will now have to prepare for their new geopolitical reality.
Afghanistan has proven once and for all that total reliance on America is not an effective strategy. CANZUK would therefore be an opportunity for the UK and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to end their dependence on Washington and instead forge a new independent economic, diplomatic and military bloc for themselves. We can expect similar discussions to be held in Brussels, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. More than ever, Britain needs a stable future in which to re-position itself in the world, it must not allow itself to fall behind whilst others sense what is underway and take the initiative. Already, much of the resources, infrastructure and support for CANZUK already exist. All that is left now is the will to see it realised.
Photo by Brodie Vissers from Burst