We have become like cousins – “strategic cousins” in the words of your military historian John Blaxland. - Prime Minister Harper addressing Australia's Parliament, Sep 2007
So the Manley Report calls for Canada to team up with a strategic partner in Afghanistan. Good idea. I can think of no more strategic partner than our historical strategic cousin from Down Under.
If there is any country capable of stepping up to the plate to supply another battle group into the theatre of operations in south Afstan (the Manley panel has recommended that if NATO does not pony up another 1,000 soldiers to shore up operations in the south, Canada should pull out when its mission ends in Feb 2009), it would likely be the French. Given that the Europeans must be looking to create more synergies and interoperablility for EU defence purposes, France and the Netherlands should team up, allowing us to work closely with the Australians.
I know the Dutch will not like this suggestion. The Netherland's ambassador to Canada admitted a preference for working with Anglosphere partners, rather than European ones for language and cultural reasons. We must also take into account that it would probably be in France's linguistic and cultural interests to work with Canadians, particularly French Canadians, rather than the Dutch. But if France and the Netherlands are committed to continental union, it would be in their national interests to partner and develop their capabilities in joint operations at every opportunity.
Just as there are good reasons for Canada to cooperate with Australia in joint operations at every opportunity. The Australian military historian, Lieutenant Colonel John C. Blaxland, in a condensed version of his book "Strategic Cousins" writes:
Both Canada and Australia have similarly sized armed forces and spend virtually the same amount of their gross domestic product (1.9 per cent) on defence. Both countries also possess military cultures that have been shaped by the experience of the British Empire and by the experience of Anglo-American coalition warfare. Yet Australia and Canada are rarely compared in contemporary military literature.Neil James agrees in his review of Lt.Col. Blaxland's work:
The differences between Canada (with its North American location and its membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)) and Australia (with its Asia-Pacific position and its membership of ANZUS) seem to suggest that strategic differences far outweigh strategic similarities.
Despite these perceptions, this article argues that, in military terms, Australia and Canada continue to be ‘strategic cousins’. There are persistent similarities in military heritage, force development programs and operational methods between the Australian and Canadian militaries. When these similarities are combined, they provide a lasting basis for increased cooperation in the 21st century.
Australia shares many similarities and indeed common cultural sources with Canada but also some intriguing differences in the practice of international relations and consequently military strategy. Based on his PhD thesis, John Blaxland’s Strategic Cousins is a masterful drawing out of the common experiences and nuanced differences faced by Canada and Australia in their strategic relations with the United Kingdom and the United States since the late nineteenth century.Hat tip: James Bennett.
One of Blaxland’s overall themes is that Australia and Canada could have achieved more together in influencing their senior strategic partners, both in the imperial defence and US alliance contexts (and in the UN), if they had effectively pooled their efforts more often. This argument is persuasive in itself but as he concedes, was often hamstrung by Canada’s traditional pre-occupation with Atlantic rather than Pacific issues, and by the neurotically-introverted, isolationist, Quebecois millstone perpetually limiting Canadian freedom of action in strategic affairs.
But, he observes, in the so-called ‘global war on terrorism’ Canada and Australia again have much in common in terms of strategic priorities and operational postures. Probably more so than at any time since the early days of the British Empire. As a result, Blaxland argues quite compellingly that the two defence forces have much to gain from working more closely together.