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The UK’s Exclusion From Galileo Presents An Exciting Opportunity For CANZUK

CANZUK International’s independent researcher, George Colvin-Slee, examines why the UK’s exclusion from the European Union’s Galileo project presents a bold new opportunity of space and defence collaboration within CANZUK.

The UK Space Agency would likely take the lead role in developing a new CANZUK space defence strategy (photo: UKSA)

Written by George Colvin-Slee

George is a UK based independent researcher specialising in Diplomatic History


The recent announcement by the European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barmier, that the UK would not be permitted to retain full access to the development of the Galileo satellite project has, unsurprisingly, been met with widespread anger in London.

The effective loss of £1bn, the sum of the UK’s contributions to date, is of course never something to be cheered. However the opportunities which this could bring for CANZUK should not be overlooked.

The UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has previously suggested that in the absence of an agreement with the EU, the UK could seek non-European partners for an alternative project, with Australia mooted as one of the most likely options. The benefits for both countries are clear; sharing a common heritage and language, but also shared international commitments such as the Five Powers Deference Arrangement (FPDA) and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance (FVEY).

Given that a primary goal of this alternative to the United States’ GPS system is for use in the field of defence, this could then serve as a key first step in Australia-UK integration.

However, it is clear that such a scheme could have wider benefits for both Canada and New Zealand as well. With the relationship between Mr Trudeau and Donald Trump strained, and the American President’s increasing focus on America First, the necessity of perusing an independent path from the US seems clearer than ever.

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With both the UK and Canada already joined by NATO in a defence alliance, a joint satellite program would surely make logical sense in furthering such co-operation, sending a clear statement of intent regarding the shared interests of both countries. The fact that CGI UK, the Canadian IT firm’s British arm, has also recently had its contract for Galileo cancelled by the EU, might also provide a further incentive for Canadian involvement.

For New Zealand – another party to the FPDA and FVEY – such an arrangement could also bring significant benefits. With Canada’s intelligence agency warning of China’s growing influence in numerous political and economic spheres in Australasia, ensuring that the country retains autonomous defence and intelligence capabilities is arguably more important than ever.

Cause for optimism regarding New Zealand’s interest was also clear from the recent CHOGM summit, with Jacinda Ardern re-affirming the country’s commitment to CANZUK’s security relationship. While New Zealand’s financial contribution will need to be significantly lower than that of the other 3 CANZUK countries, her potential impact in terms of technological expertise and the use of the Waihopai communications station should not be underestimated.

The inclusion of Japan has also been mooted in such an arrangement, and while this would of course bring much needed capital and technical expertise, such an approach arguably comes with significant drawbacks. For one thing – recent improvements in relations aside – the country is still struggling with the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, and given the specific nature of that threat, it can easily be imagined how a satellite navigation and tracking system would quickly become a key strategic target.

An important question for CANZUK countries then, will be the extent to which they are willing to be drawn into a potential field of conflict which they have generally avoided since the end of the Korean War. Costs for such a project do remain high, and like funding for EU projects, would need to be apportioned by factors such as population, GDP etc.

With the Galileo Project budgeted at around £9bn, any alternative will therefore represent a significant investment for all parties involved. Given the close ties between the CANZUK countries, however, and the comparative ease with which agreements between them could be reached, it does not seem unreasonable to hope that this could, in turn, reduce various costs both in real terms and time efficiency savings. CGI UK’s preliminary work on Galileo could also be put to good use in the initial stages of the project, though this would have to be subject to any confidentiality agreements which had already been signed during the tender process with the EU.

The UK has indicated that, should it be conclusively excluded from Galileo, it will look to move ahead in finding an alternative. We must therefore hope that rather than exhausting valuable time in trying to negotiate inferior access to the European system, the British government will move decisively and seek a bold new relationship with their CANZUK partners.

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