AUKUS’s first project will see Washington negotiate the sale of nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy, making Australia the only country other than Britain with access to such sensitive and powerful American technology.
The announcement was covered in the Canadian press in a manner that I found rather parochial.
The Globe and Mail’s front page read: “Canada left out as U.S., U.K., Australia strike deal to counter China.”
The National Post titled a piece from Reuters: “Canada left out of security deal between U.S., Australia and U.K. Trudeau unconcerned.”
And the Toronto Sun went with: “Trudeau’s Canada left out of new American-led security alliance.”
Fortunately, it did not take long for voices of reason to emerge. On his blog, the dean of Canadian foreign policy academics, Kim Richard Nossal, noted that Canada’s absence from the agreement was hardly news.
For one, the pact is deliberately exclusive. It does not include fellow US Quadrilateral Security Dialogue partners Japan and India, fellow US, UK, and Australia Five Eyes intelligence alliance partner New Zealand, or a long list of NATO partners who share an interest in China’s increasingly aggressive posture in the Indo-Pacific.
Second, Canada has never been a serious Pacific player, so there was no reason to anticipate Ottawa's involvement.
Two of this country’s best national security and intelligence practitioner-turned scholars, Stephanie Carvin and Thomas Juneau, were similarly unsurprised.
They echoed Nossal’s critique of Ottawa’s failure to take international security seriously, and added: “It is not clear that Canada would even want to join a partnership involving nuclear technologies, which has implications for proliferation.”
I am hardly afraid to express my disappointment with successive Canadian governments' approaches to foreign policy and national security (the way I would put it is that Canada is not important enough to be excluded from AUKUS), but given the new details that have emerged about the partnership since the announcement, I am relieved by this country’s absence.
The impetus for the arrangement appears to have been Australian disappointment with a $65 billion - $90 billion agreement to purchase diesel-powered submarines from France.
Apparently, Canberra secretly negotiated a better deal with Washington, and London somehow inserted itself into what has become, at least on paper, a broader arrangement.
Since the announcement, a furious Macron government has recalled its ambassadors from both Australia and the United States for “consultations," and French officials have gone so far as to accuse Canberra of “treason.”
Given the obvious sensitivities surrounding the agreement, it is no wonder that the Canadian government was caught by surprise, and equally obvious why it has been so open about its lack of awareness.
Three of Canada’s Five Eyes allies, two of whom are also NATO members and major trading partners, are now feuding with another NATO ally, significant trading partner, and co-founder (along with the Sûreté du Québec) of Francopol, an organization that promotes cooperation among French-speaking police forces.
Canada relies on collaboration with like-minded countries to survive and prosper; it is particularly exposed when its alliances are under threat.
Ottawa cannot solve this problem (unless it has a spare $60 billion to purchase the French submarines), and it lacks the diplomatic heft it might once have had to mediate.
In this particular case, then, there’s nothing wrong with being left out.
I very much look forward to Carvin and Juneau’s forthcoming book, Intelligence Analysis and Policymaking: The Canadian Experience. It is set for release in December.
On this election day in Canada, let me express my profound gratitude to every Canadian who put their name forward as a federal candidate. Although I might not agree with your politics, I have the highest respect for your willingness to stand up for your beliefs in the face of what has become an increasingly toxic political atmosphere.
An additional shout-out to those candidates who faced inexcusable abuse because of their gender, race, religion, or ethnicity. Your courage matters, as does your commitment to this obviously flawed, but still great country.
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