Australian-Canadian Strategic Alignment May Extend to Defense Procurement

By Collins, Jeffrey F.; Pickford, Andrew | Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Australian-Canadian Strategic Alignment May Extend to Defense Procurement


Collins, Jeffrey F., Pickford, Andrew, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy


THE UNTRUMPETED, BUT SIGNIFICANT, Western alliance which has been gathering steam in recent years has been between Canada and Australia. For the moment, however, a slight pause, or slowdown, in the dynamic may have become evident because of internal political preoccupations in both the Commonwealth countries.

The retirement on February 2, 2015, of Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (and his replacement by former International Trade Minister Edward Fast) coincided with leadership tensions within Australia's governing Liberal Party. That process in Australia, ongoing in early February 2015, followed the replacement of Australian Defence Minister Sen. David Johnston by Kevin Andrews. Significantly, security policy coordination between these two countries had been orchestrated largely by their foreign and defense ministers.

So the process had, in the early days of 2015, slowed, but not halted.

Initiated by close ideological affiliation between then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (and followed by current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's closeness with Mr Harper), circumstance may move Canadian-Australian relations beyond philosophical alignment, to a bipartisan framework. Weak commodity prices, deteriorating federal budgets, and escalating defense procurement costs are all drivers of this shift.

Australia and Canada share a common history and have strong security relationships with the US, after initially falling under the British security umbrella. Defense and security relations with the US have been largely defined by the experience and drivers of World War II and then the Cold War. The resulting structures and arrangements - including North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) - defense procurement and joint expeditionary deployments have meant that Canada and Australia are tightly bound into US strategic priorities.

The defense industrial base which Canada and Australia built up during the World Wars, and then the early post-World War II period was actively unwound and integrated into larger US-based programs. The demise in 1959 of the technologically advanced and innovative Canadian Avro CF-105 Arrow aircraft forms a part of this pattern. The debate over whether this cancellation was self-inflicted or the result of pressure from Washington is largely redundant.

While the US held a powerful lead in global affairs, the "hub-andspoke" alliance and defense procurement was a relatively positive experience for Canada and Australia, although this in many respects destroyed or constrained the development of an independent military industrial base (a capacity to act as prime contractor or design lead in major platforms and programs, a capacity which existed before this in both countries). As the relative decline of the US strategic authority accelerated under Pres. Barack Obama, the logic of this de facto exclusive security and defense arrangement also diminished.

Given that Australia and Canada have similar defense needs with comparable defense forces, momentum is building within strategic policy communities for these two countries to work closer on security issues, defense procurement, and even energy policy. Moreover, both countries - participants in the most significant strategic alliance, the UKUSA Accords linking the intelligence flows of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - have shared geostrategic interests in polar issues and the Pacific.

Submarine capability is one area suggested for potential collaboration between Canada and Australia, given the escalating costs and critical rôle of these platforms during a period of substantial change and competition.

In Canada and Australia, defense procurement is defined as much by past mistakes as it is by future needs. If meaningful collaboration was to occur, the context of the past submarine platforms and procurement experiences needs to be understood. …

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