CANZUK- A UTOPIAN DEMOCRACY OR AN ‘ABSURD FANTASY? By Anouska Jha
We are now floating in what one may call the unwritten chapter of post-Brexit Britain. Talks of trade deals, diplomatic relations, and wavering economic stability have created a general consensus of opposition and challenge to where Britain now lies on the international spectrum. The policy of CANZUK, which has been sitting in the lurch for the last few decades, is finally emerging into the public sphere. This provision of an almost utopian union consists of the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia forming an international free trade and foreign policy alliance, much like the European Economic Community in the 20th Century. The policy itself advocates free trade between these nations, along with an increased defence commitment, Visa status, and economic dependence comparable to a commonwealth system. But what might seem like an idealistic policy of transnational diplomacy has also been widely contested by people who are sceptical about the limits of democracy; are they correct?
Relations between these four nations will certainly not be a newly batched one; the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all been part of the UN 5 Eyes, remaining intact even when the US made the unilateral decision to withdraw. The 5 Eyes exist because of the close bonds between the western Anglosphere region, based on material, strategic, and cultural commonalities. This created a separate self-sufficient network wherein the nations could combine efforts on decisions that would impact their very similar democratic systems. Historically, Britain has also cooperated and allied with these nations- for example, New Zealand had assisted the UK in the 19th Century Boer War, Canada had fought alongside Britain in WW1 in the defence of what R.Brothwell calls ‘the rule of international law’ and Britain has accommodated for nearly 20% of Australia’s foreign investment. Therefore, CANZUK seems only natural, its policy rooted in this cultural and political stronghold.
Unsurprisingly, politicians of Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have welcomed the idea of CANZUK with open arms. Erin O’Toole, the Canadian Conservative Party leader, placed heavy emphasis on the idea of ‘aspirational multilateralism', in a recent Spectator conference. This phrase used by the politician cements this utopian element of CANZUK as a perpetual force for good, a manifestation of real diplomatic cooperation. Along with Australian Senator James Patterson, they also draw upon the more urgent need of CANZUK in light of what they term ‘the economic coercion of China’, referring to China’s turn towards Debt Trap Diplomacy in which they use the current global economic crisis to exploit the infrastructure and debt of other countries. Patterson argues that the CANZUK policy would be a shielding force aga
inst the CCP’s ‘predatory fashion’ of trade that has caused immense global disruption in 2020- In this way, we can see CANZUK as defiant of China’s aim to isolate countries through disruptive trade policies. Both politicians further refer to the seemingly endless benefits of the policy; free-market movement, cultural collaboration, and the opportunity for international education for the younger generation. In addition, there are also the aims of using CANZUK to resolve problems of unemployment and inflation rates. The ability for citizens of each country being able to move freely would give them the opportunity to secure high chances of employment in other countries, bolstering the economic sector, and thus providing adequate circumstances for free trade agreements. From this, it is clear to see how the policy is one that aims to satisfy a range of needs across the social and economic spectrum, making it one of immense popularity amongst businesses and the working classes.
Opposers of CANZUK are in fact scrutinisingly critical in their approach towards this policy. An article by Aris Roussinos of Unherd Magazine describes CANZUK as an ‘absurd Edwardian fantasy of the globe-spanning Anglosphere’, which only exists to achieve the ends of neoliberal and neoconservative ideologies. Roussos clearly takes an anti-imperial stance here, criticising Britain for trying to fill its post-empire cavity. However, this article, and the reports of other sceptics, do offer an insight into the glorified portrayal of the policy. Firstly, in terms of defence strategy, wherein MP Bob Seeley describes it as one ‘akin to NATO’s Article 5’, one must question its potential. There is very little evidence to suggest that Australia and New Zealand will remodel their defence postures away from the Asia-Pacific towards the Atlantic, and the geographical distance between these four regions will undoubtedly make it difficult to transport defence tools to support a foreign policy crisis. It is strongly argued that this basic orientation will not change and that whilst CANZUK does advocate free movement and diplomatic relations, the actual functions of this Anglospherian machine will remain largely independent. Critics of this policy also expose the weakness of CANZUK against the growth of China, contrary to the beliefs of Erin O’Toole, James Patterson, Alicia Keaney, and other advocates; Roussinos claims that since China has been created in ‘the pursuit of globalisation’, it is almost absurd to think that a widened trajectory of globalisation would decrease Chinese economic threat. This is valid to an extent, as CANZUK’s aim to pacify and resolve the shutdown of fair democratic elections in Hong Kong, for example, would take all four nations away from their main defence priority, the United States, and also their own continental sphere. These practical counterarguments, as well as critics of the notion of fulfilling neoliberal economic goals ‘within the narrative of imperial nostalgia’, shine a less extravagant light on the CANZUK policy.
A new age of diplomacy, a revolution in geopolitical strategy, coordination of the world’s most free-thinking democratic nations; these are all that CANZUK has evoked within 90% of the British population in a recent survey. New Zealand’s recent Labor victory, resulting in the re-administering of PM Jacinda Ardern, former policy advisor to Tony Blair, is also a significant landmark in the progression of CANZUK. Ardern is known for her ‘spirit’ in maintaining ties with the Commonwealth and believes that in a world where left-right distinctions are ambiguous, CANZUK marks a clear post-partisan enterprise of free trade and movement. Whilst harsh critics with scepticism about the rigorous practicalities of the policy regarding CANZUK as a ‘transnational suicide pact’, politicians such as Senator Patterson depict it as not only a bilateral treaty of trade between countries but an amalgamation of ‘like-minded nations..with no supranational bureaucracy’ that is, courts of law and justice will remain largely within the agency of the independent countries, rather than being tied to an international court. In a recent interview, O’Toole drew on the historical notion of this policy, wherein Churchill, in his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, stated that if the UN failed, it would be up to the Anglosphere to be a ‘counterbalance in global affairs’ essentially acting as a manifestation of the utopian ideal of a shared commitment and alignment to the rule of democratic law. It is therefore evident, that a large majority of both the public and governmental sectors in all four nations are geared towards this new policy. However, the question still remains whether CANZUK is, as Rossinos put it, an ‘absurd fantasy’; whilst the transpacific trade agreement between Australia and New Zealand have developed into an almost perfect model of free-trade over the last 30 years, does this truly provide the blueprint for a much larger, more complex and fragile geopolitical treaty such as CANZUK?