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Why CANZUK Is The Route To Global Influence

CANZUK International’s lead researcher, Charles Marsh, explains why cooperation between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom is the future of middle-power diplomacy and a catalyst for a single, cohesive foreign policy leading to constructive multilateral relationships.

Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau meet at the ASEAN summit in the Philippines

Written by Charles Marsh

Charles is a lead researcher and writer for CANZUK International based in Oxfordshire, UK.


Reputation is important to many people on a personal level, but it also applies on a geopolitical scale. The “likeability” of an international actor can have huge consequences on how willing other actors are to cooperate with it or even support it.

This likeability is normally defined through an actor’s “soft power”; the degree to which an actor can compel others to align with it voluntarily, rather than having to force them to do so through force.

So, if an actor has a lot of soft power, it will find many others are willing to support it diplomatically, economically and even militarily. Thus, soft power is a vital asset for any international actor to foster. One of the main measures for soft power is collated by the World Economic Forum; the indices it measures for this assessment are shown below:

The Soft Power Indexes, which demonstrate a country’s diplomatic, economic and military influence (photo: World Economic Forum)

The proposed CANZUK states all tend to possess unusually high levels of soft power, with three coming in the top ten highest ranked soft power nations last year, as shown below:

This is an undeniable asset to the foreign policy of any international actor, and if used correctly, can provide significant levels of diplomatic capabilities. The foreign policy method that shall be discussed in this piece, Middle Power Diplomacy, seeks to both enhance soft power where possible, and simultaneously utilise it to achieve the foreign policy objectives of the actor. As the CANZUK states between them possess near unparalleled levels of soft power, this approach to foreign policy serves as their best chance of actualising their common goals in a safe and responsible manner.

Middle power diplomacy follows the tenets of multilateralism, international institutionalism, and a rules-based international order. This means they tend to operate through treaties and international organisations, rather than focusing on unilateralism and hard power. Conventionally, Australia and Canada are the identified practitioners of this strategy, but others include Brazil, India and South Africa. However, all Middle Power Practitioners utilise their international linkages and advanced diplomatic knowledge in international diplomacy, allowing nations that lack conventional hard power capabilities to still play a significant role on the world stage.

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As such, I would suggest that, should CANZUK seek to achieve a single cohesive foreign policy, it would do well to follow the principles of middle power diplomacy. Thus, following the approach so well laid out by Canada and Australia would serve the proposed bloc’s ends better than, for example, Britain’s current approach of trying to maintain a great power approach to diplomacy, even though many would argue that it has over the years evolved to the point that it too can be considered a middle power.

The conventional form of middle power diplomacy has been defined as a tendency to pursue multilateral solutions to international problems, their tendency to embrace compromise positions in international disputes, and their tendency to embrace notions of ‘good international citizenship’ to guide their diplomacy. As such, each of these points shall be assessed as part of CANZUK’s hypothetical joint foreign policy, in terms of what sort of policy objectives they should entail, and how they will then benefit the soft power of the CANZUK bloc.

Good International Citizenship

This aspect can be seen as an actor abiding by the obligations of the international community out of a genuine desire rather than compulsion. It can take many forms, such as an openness to the acceptance of refugees or a commitment to foreign aid and relief programs. In this regard, Middle Power Diplomacy aims to ensure that the international actor is part of the solution to problems at the international level, and trying to find solutions to issues that are perceived as being a “tragedy of the commons”, which few other states actively work to resolve.

This approach thus necessitates an international actor taking steps to resolve issues that many would argue are overwhelming; even if the issue is not resolvable by the effort of the actor alone, it sets a strong example and can serve as a catalyst to foster greater international effort toward resolution of the issue at hand. As a result, the practitioner of middle-power diplomacy manages to effectively work towards solving a major issue, foster strong multi-lateral ties, and bolster its overall geo-political security; more importantly, in doing it in such a manner, it can gain elements of soft power influence at every stage of the process.

Thus, CANZUK needs to practice the sort of good international citizenship currently seen in the burgeoning soft powers. There are many of these, but two shall be highlighted here as admirable examples.

Firstly, I would suggest the CANZUK bloc take in as many refugees as is economically feasible. There are many advantages to this, one of which being the taking in of refugees can give the host nations a global perception of stability and responsibility, which greatly increases its credibility in international diplomacy. An example often cited in such a case is the regional influence Turkey has in part gained through being a host nation to much of its neighbours’ diaspora.

The second example I would put forward is significantly increased investment into green and renewable technologies. Aside from the advantages associated with technological innovation, creating the perception that one is taking a lead role in resolving the “tragedy of the commons” that is climate change has huge soft power dividends. The example we can use to illustrate this point is China, which is managing to dramatically boost its campaign for soft power by taking a leading role in the global “green technology” movement.

To conclude, taking actions normally perceived as “altruistic” in international politics, can in fact prove a remarkably potent source of soft power influence. It should go without saying that the benefits to global human welfare and security also make such moves a vitally important part of any joint CANZUK foreign policy.

Pursuit of Multilateral Solutions

This approach will not just be about CANZUK doing its part to assist the global community, it will also necessitate the cultivation of a deep and diverse range of multilateral political relationships. Rather than trying to resolve every issue that emerges on the world stage, it is far better to find a consensus solution brought about through the input of a range of global actors.

Furthermore, where a middle power is trying to forge its own viewpoint that may not coincide with those of the established great powers, its only stable recourse is to find a wide basis of support from nations sympathetic to its position. Should the CANZUK states find their international positions to be in conflict with an established major power, be it Russia, China or America, their surest hope lies in forging multilateral diplomatic linkages.

This necessitates acting through international institutions such as the UN, using diplomatic negotiations in the place of force. With adequate soft power, a middle power may be able to leverage its multilateral linkages to apply sufficient political force to achieve its foreign policy objectives without necessitating any use of force.

A good example of this being used to great effect is the case of Australia, who managed to be an effective regional player for much of the 20th century, despite rarely resorting to hard power measures. Their multilateral efforts, which ranged from Chemical and Biological Weapons Control to Agricultural Export Deals, managed to earn Australia a reputation as a competent, creative and above all, active member of the international community. There are clear benefits in being such an influential regional actor, at such low costs.

In this regard, one of the strongest assets a Middle Power Practitioner can have is to be seen as an impartial mediator; this is complex in regions where said actor has geopolitical concerns, but if utilised correctly in other scenarios, it may lead to a more beneficial soft power standing.

This method is difficult, as it requires one to avoid being too heavily perceived as part of one geopolitical camp – for example, neither Britain nor Canada would be trusted as an impartial mediator in disputes involving the USA. However, in matters where CANZUK can avoid being seen to have vested regional interests, it would do well to serve as an impartial mediator and fair arbitrator.

An example of a state that has gained significant levels of soft power from this approach is Switzerland, who’s reputation for neutrality provided it enough soft power to be effectively protected from two world wars that raged around its borders.

Therefore, though hard to achieve, a key part of middle power diplomacy should be to remain neutral and impartial where possible; a reputation for fairness will make said actor an attractive diplomatic partner.

Thus, in finding the best possible solution for the widest range of actors, the intention is to find a diplomatic solution to any emergent international tensions and, should this not prove possible, to have as many allies as possible if tensions do boil over into unavoidable conflict. Following this element of Middle Power Diplomacy should therefore minimise risk of military confrontation for the bloc, whilst again fostering strong international ties that will benefit trade and security relations.

Compromise Where Feasible

The previous tenets of Middle Power Diplomacy show that the solutions to any geopolitical tension is trying to find a solution where every actor can at least feel like they have won. This minimises risk of conflict breaking out, or future conflicts emerging from tensions left in any peace settlement.

However, this also means that, whether negotiating from a position of strength or weakness, a Middle Power Practitioner must be prepared to offer something to its rival. To seek outright victory and total humiliation of the opponent will only breed resentment, which in turn, leads to future destabilisation, as seen by the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles. Therefore, a Middle Power Practitioner should seek finding compromise in any confrontation so they might not only avoid conflict, but also create a strong lasting peace, rather than a flawed peace founded upon a sense of retribution and resentment for one party.

To this end, research has shown that in civil wars, the strongest form of lasting peace is a negotiated settlement where both sides sacrifice some element of the legitimacy of their casus belli in return for an end to hostilities. Indeed, it was the willingness of the USA and USSR to reach mutually adverse compromises on nuclear weapons development that likely avoided the Cold War escalating into outright nuclear war. In this way, it is better to accept that the continued existence of a rival under somewhat agreeable terms than risk all out war.

In practice, this is hard to achieve in the complex moral quagmires of international politics. Any attempts at negotiation with a rival may be dismissed by allies as “appeasement”, and it may behove an international actor to simply use force. However, the complexities of any such scenario are better resolved with a scalpel than with a hammer, and so it serves better to understand the true intentions of your rival, and then if possible meet them half way with a compromise. It may inure one’s pride, but it is better to injure one’s pride in diplomacy than injure one’s nation in war.

The Potential Benefits of this Approach

There is a clear drive for soft power among many of the strongest global actors. Even though America is seemingly withdrawing from its soft power assets, China is attempting to expand their own, while the EU’s strongest geopolitical assets still lie in its soft power capabilities.

In an increasingly interconnected world, international actors benefit more from nurturing their connections than from attempting to assert their dominance regionally and globally. As such, pursuing a policy of Middle Power Diplomacy offers an international actor the means to affirm and secure their position on the world stage, through the creation of mutually beneficial relationships and the reinforcement of international institutions.

This is especially applicable in the case of CANZUK, which as an organisation could be reputationally tainted by the legacy of British Imperialism; to try and pursue a domineering foreign policy would only increase this trait, particularly in nations that suffered at the hands of British Imperialism, such as India and China.

To maintain credibility as a legitimate global actor, CANZUK must do everything it can to makes its identity clear and distinct from that of the British Empire. Where the Empire sought to dominate through hard power, the CANZUK bloc must focus on the utilisation of legitimately earned soft power to find mutually beneficial solutions that serve the best interests of the international community. In this way, it may form for itself a reputation as a modern international actor, one that is distinct in identity from that of Britain’s Imperial past.

Through good international citizenship, CANZUK can find its place in the global order, a place rightly earned through a genuine contribution to the global community. In developing a foreign policy that seeks mutual gain and constructive multilateral relationships, CANZUK can form a liberal pillar of the international political order, one that will provide it immeasurably beneficial stability and influence.

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