Considering Australia-Canada security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (parts 2 & 3)
27 Sep 2013|

The Pacific washes up on Canada's shores at Vancouver Island, British Columbia.Back in August, ASPI’s Tanya Olgivie-White commented on James Manicom’s analysis on Canada’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific. This was the first in a three-part collaborative effort on Australia–Canada security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific undertaken between ASPI and CIGI. In the first report James Manicom made a convincing case for closer cooperation with Australia.

Recently, Sarah Norgrove and John Blaxland completed the second and third pieces in the three-part report. Sarah’s paper, ‘Transnational challenges and future security cooperation’, claims that the possibilities for future Asia–Pacific security cooperation between Australia and Canada are promising. She presents a compelling argument that economic development and population growth mean that security challenges present themselves as opportunities. She argues that Australia and Canada are well positioned  to influence regional approaches to transnational challenges such as crime, terrorism, piracy and environmental degradation, and to contribute to food-, energy- and cyber-security.

John Blaxland’s paper, ‘Closer Australia–Canada defence cooperation?’, takes this one step further, examining the prospect and utility of closer defence cooperation for both Canada and Australia. His paper reflects on commonalities and like-mindedness, particularly as they concern regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific stretching back more than half a century. From those commonalities, Blaxland offers Canadian and Australian defence policymakers some policy suggestions to capitalise on each other’s strengths and similarities. For that to be effective, an understanding of the two countries’ shared heritage and common interests is needed. For many years, policymakers in Ottawa and Canberra, like a moose or a kangaroo, have been caught in the headlights of Washington policy centrality on security affairs, showing little consciousness or understanding of the common interests and concerns of their like-minded, multicultural, post-British-Empire fellow travellers.

To be fair, when it comes to Asia-Pacific security matters, Australian policymakers have had cause for some scepticism of Canada’s determination to remain engaged. But Canada appears to have had an epiphany, and is starting to demonstrate some resolve about engagement in the region. Sceptics in Australia might remain unconvinced at the utility of Australia investing more in the bilateral security relationship, noting that Canada has considerable security interests to its east and south, in NATO and with the United States respectively. But with growing trade ties across the Pacific and calls for more collaborative work between the various ‘spokes’ of the US hub and spoke alliance network, the Canadians find themselves drawn to the Pacific more than has been the case for generations.

Closer collaboration between such like-minded countries is affected considerably by the political cycle in both countries. When Gough Whitlam and Pierre Trudeau were in office as Prime Ministers, Canada and Australia found a range of areas where they could work closely together. Similarly, when John Howard was still Prime Minister and Stephen Harper was first elected, there was a spike in collaborative endeavours between officials on either side of the Pacific. Today the political sine waves are in sync once again and the prospect for enhanced and effective collaboration has never been greater. When addressing the joint session of Australian parliament in November 2007, Stephen Harper referred to Australia and Canada as strategic cousins, citing the book by the same name. The renewed political alignment augurs well for the prospects of innovative and constructive sharing of engagement opportunities in the Indo-Pacific.

Both Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott are expected at the APEC Summit in Bali in the coming days. Both countries have a vested interest in fostering trade and economic ties that are dependent on security and stability across the Indo-Pacific. Both have a track record as constructive and engaged middle powers eager to see the United States continue to play an active and leading role in security affairs, while also eager to see China’s peaceful rise continue to the benefit of us all. The Harper Government appears more attuned now than ever to the centrality of ASEAN-related mechanisms as well.

Blaxland puts forward three ideas for closer bilateral engagement: bolstering regional engagement, cost-saving measures and enhanced engagement with great powers. There are some remarkable parallels in defence capability requirements, including in the training and materiel domains (not least the requirement for long range conventional submarines) that  are worth exploring further.

Image courtesy of Flickr user justthisguyyouknow.