Britain’s departure from the EU presents it with global opportunities, but also the inherent geopolitical challenges thereof. While the Ministry of Defence is right to assert the need to expand Britain’s global defence capabilities, it needs to be aware that shrinking budgets restrict the scope of possibility dramatically, making the aforementioned claim more optimistic than realistic.
The solution therefore lies in a pooling of resources with the states we most closely match in terms of geopolitical priorities, military structures, and socio-political norms. Military integration of the CANZUK states would provide a reliable means of substantially increasing the geopolitical and defence capabilities of member states, without necessitating dramatic financial investments.
This section shall assess how, by integrating its military assets with those of Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Britain can begin to meet the geopolitical and defence requirements of its new global role.
Firstly, it is important to state that there will be benefits of integration that span all branches of the military. Foremost among these will be in the development and acquisition of new military resources. International cooperation in this sector has proven benefits, ranging from cost efficiency to greater interoperability.
Integration among the proposed CANZUK states would lead to significant, cost-effective benefits while increasing joint operational capabilities. Such a program could be modelled off the EU’s ongoing Permanent Structured Cooperation Treaty (PESCO), to which Britain no longer has access.
Another key benefit would be to greatly improve the operational range of the British military; Britain lacks useful military footholds in two of the major emergent geopolitical flashpoints, the Far East and the Arctic. Having a military structure integrated with the CANZUK countries would provide guaranteed military access to these regions, significantly increasing Britain’s military reach. This shall be expanded upon in section two. The benefits to each wing of the military shall now be briefly assessed.
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As Britain withdraws from the EU, it should look to diversify its global trade connections. However, to do so it would rely upon free access to global shipping routes, which currently are largely secured by the USA.
The USA has however begun to seemingly withdraw from its international commitments , of which mutual defence is one; it can therefore not currently be relied upon to continue to ensure freedom of navigation in maritime routes , should conflict break out.
In short, to continue to rely upon America for maritime freedom of navigation could prove a vulnerability to Britain’s geopolitical security. As such, it would be in Britain’s best interests to attain the ability to secure these routes in its own way.
To do so, however, it would need much greater naval assets that it currently possesses.
Britain’s naval capabilities are at an all-time low and will only get weaker in the face of increasing budgetary constraints. Indeed, one of its greater problems is a lack of sailors to crew the ships Britain does possess.
By dramatically increasing the proportion of CANZUK sailors on British vessels, the navy could fully utilise its existing assets. Canada lacks ships , so if Canadian sailors were used to supplement undermanned British ships, the composite crews could then be used to meet mutual threats, such as a growing Russian military presence in the Arctic.
Likewise, access to Australian naval bases and supply lines would facilitate longer and more secure deployment of naval assets to the South East Asia region, allowing Britain and its allies the long-term option of securing maritime freedom of navigation.
Britain has one base in the Asia-Pacific region, and only at the behest of Brunei; this would be inadequate to serve as a reliable staging post for military action in the region.
Thus, while Britain has begun to pivot more towards the region, it still lacks the infrastructure to use its army there, making it nearly impossible to take or hold territory.
An integrated military structure with Australia and New Zealand could provide deeper and more reliable supply lines in the region than the current ad-hoc system of alliances and treaties and bases from which to operate, allowing for Britain to back up its commitments in the region.
Similarly, it would be beneficial to have the ability to station troops in Canada’s Arctic region, to avoid the region becoming dominated by rival geopolitical actors. Britain lacks a military presence in the region, so not gaining a foothold in a region increasingly open to exploitation would leave it severely disadvantaged.
Military integration could give Britain access to infrastructure, expertise and resources that would allow it to maintain a strong presence in the region, and secure the increasingly vulnerable regions to its north.
Thus, Britain lacks the ability to conduct extended land-based campaigns in major geopolitical flashpoints; by integrating with the militaries of the other CANZUK states, it can gain the ability to effectively and reliably operate in these regions.
3. Air Force
The proposed CANZUK states would benefit from joint development of air force assets, with interoperability again allowing for much wider geographic deployment of aircraft; basing aircraft at CFS Alert, for example, would put a majority of the Arctic Circle within the RAF’s operational range.
While aircraft can be deployed to flashpoint regions on a case-by-case basis through agreements such as the Five Power Defence Agreement, to have permanently established bases of operation there would provide far more reliable security assurances.
The proposed CANZUK states all suffer the same issues; declining defence budgets leading to less operational capacity, but a growing amount of potentially destabilising flashpoints jeopardising foreign policy interests.
Thus, if Britain is to meet the needs of its new global position, it would need increased operational ability through sharing of military assets and joint development projects, and the ability to base military assets in key geopolitical flashpoints; this could be brought about through a CANZUK military policy.
Otherwise, Britain risks being restricted by shrinking budgets, lack of deeply integrated alliance structures, and significantly limited operational range, making its armed forces effectively irrelevant in coming geopolitical developments.
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