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Bennett: All the Queen's Ships

This article appears in the January 2017 issue of Proceedings Magazine, published by the U.S. Naval Institute, and appears here with permission of the author

The prospect of a unified European military, only recently seen by many as an inevitable step, recently received a rather important message from the voters of Britain: “Count us out.” The British vote, while closing a door on the old dream of Britain in a united Europe, opened a new one, with its own prospects and challenges. A union or confederation of the four main Westminster democracies—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—is being discussed under the name of Commonwealth Union, Realm Union, or, from the acronym of its four main members, CANZUK Union.

The question remains, why would four nations, each of which currently enjoys prosperity and security, consider such a radical change in their status? In the past, English-speaking polities were motivated to voluntarily form larger Unions by the prospects of greater prosperity, security, and identity. Of these, typically the most pressing, and most promptly convincing, is security. To borrow terminology from the 19th century German unification debate, it all comes down to whether it is to be primarily a Handelsverein or a Kriegsverein—a union for trade or a union for war. Without attempting specific prophecies for the coming two decades, it would be reasonable to assume that security might become high on the list of immediate concerns of the CANZUK nations. If we posit also that U.S. leadership and security guarantees might waver for a term or two, such pressures could then drive for a rapid union.

A Credible Deterrent

Security concerns could drive the commonwealth nations toward a unified defense command and an all-Union parliament with direct funding and clear oversight of key military forces. The British strategic deterrent would be the first capability to fall under unified command. An effective all-Union political authority in which office holders from all four nations had key political and military positions would be central to ensure a credible deterrent. Australians with long memories might not fully believe the validity of a British deterrent pledge, but if some of the office holders and naval officers in the decision loop were Australians, the deterrent would become more believable.

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