Can the Anglosphere Turn Shared History into a Shared Future?
As competition for world influence grows and America’s economic and military heft are diluted by the progress of others, American hegemonic preponderance becomes unsustainable. The risks of imperial overstretch increase with every passing year. Earlier this semester, I proposed a new American strategy of indirect preponderance incorporating medium-sized powers in a “preponderant core” to preserve the basic benefits of US dominance. Today, I propose another option: formalizing the “anglosphere” into an Anglo Union.
The “preponderant core” created a durable bloc of ideologically, politically, and economically similar American allies through targeted integration. However, the plan is expensive and risky, demanding hard budget decisions and significant changes to the American international order. In lieu of this, America may pursue a narrower policy of indirect preponderance through an “Anglo-Union” based on today’s Anglosphere, replacing breadth of membership with deeper integration. Costs would be high, but likelihood of total failure would be tiny.
What is the Anglosphere?
First, it bears note that “Anglosphere” has nothing to do with intolerant fringe ideologies treating “anglo” as an ethnicity or race. As France has “francophonie,” England has an Anglosphere. I attempt to apply these shared cultural and political heritages to improving the security environment.
Unlike francophonie, the Anglosphere has never been clearly defined. In its loosest form, the Anglosphere is a group states with English as an official language and some shared cultural heritage. The most common definition is more restrictive. Historian Andrew Roberts defines the anglosphere as a group of developed democracies which meet the above criteria and also have a strong history of military alliance: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Though it is important to avoid reductionist tendencies lumping distinct cultures together, these countries certainly enjoy an extremely high degree of mutual cultural intelligibility and trust that is rare among large, geographically diverse populations.
Why an AU?
The Anglosphere is already fundamentally political, entailing alliance and cooperation. It therefore represents an unprecedented opportunity to organize a smooth systemic power shift not unlike the shift from British to American dominance. Though America’s relative power may be declining along with other component members’, together they form a formidable entity of nearly half a billion people which would be difficult to dethrone.
At $21 trillion, the AU economy would account for a third of global output, four of the ten most traded (and reserved) currencies, 172 Fortune 500 companies, 18 of the fifty biggest banks by assets, nearly half of world R&D spending, and nine of the Global Cities Index top 25.
Its military would combine America’s gargantuan force with three more of the top fifteen military spenders for total spending of over $805 billion -- 52% of global military expenditures according to SIPRI.
Politically and culturally, all the AU’s members “punch above their weight.” The AU would possess two permanent seats at the UN Security Council and a quarter of votes at the IMF. AU countries all have specialized influence in dozens of international organizations. Australia, for instance, often exercises more influence over developing agricultural states in the WTO than America. And from Peter Jackson to the BBC they all have significant cultural influence.
What would it look like?
The Anglo Union builds on existing institutions and agreements to create a coherent quasi-confederation using the EU as a template. It would be neither as unified nor as ambitious as the EU, but would benefit from the European experience as it focuses on military, economic, and institutional integration.
Deeper military integration would allow individual states to modestly shrink their generalist militaries while specializing to become functional parts of the larger whole. Over time, bilateral and multilateral military arrangements would be replaced by a single overarching arrangement.
Economic integration will accelerate. The few sets of countries that do not already have them will negotiate FTAs. Existing free trade agreements (FTAs) will be enhanced with an eye towards regulatory standardization. Eventually an AU Free Trade Area (AUFTA) will replace the network of bilateral arrangements.
Three issues will be particularly thorny: agriculture, labor mobility, and Britain’s place in the EU. With price controls, agricultural liberalization may not be too nettlesome given the unique context. Liberalization of labor mobility is implausible, but mobility could be boosted by visa and residency reforms like those in Australia. Finally, until recent uncertainty on Britain and the EU settles, all bets are off.
Next, unlike the Preponderant Core, an Anglo Union strategy requires a dedicated institutional framework as well. To make up for its smaller size the AU must be more integrated, necessitating supranational organization on monetary coordination, fiscal coordination and limited fiscal union, and partial regulatory collectivization.
Monetary union is politically impossible; the dollar is sacred. Absent currency union, a loose version of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism is preferable. This, with a board of central bankers to coordinate monetary policy, will strip out the worst effects of currency market fluctuations and divergent monetary policy.
The EU is also an excellent model for limited fiscal coordination and union. Given limited exchange rate coordination, the Eurozone’s broad regulations on debt and deficits will serve the AU well. As in the EU, the AU budget should reach around 1% of GDP, but revenues should come from dedicated streams. These will fund AU bureaucracy, infrastructure, R&D, and emergency assistance to members.
Lastly, America’s overwhelming power requires a governing regulatory institution modeled after the European Commission: a small group of technocrats, each appointed by one country but (theoretically) obliged to act in the interest of the AU as a whole. Technocracy and equal representation grant legitimacy while small group dynamics allows the US to apply pressure behind the scenes.
The Anglo Union is an ambitious project. In some respects it is even more so than the preponderant core. However, the risks are lower and potential benefits higher. It does not destroy the existing system, but bears long-term potential as a guarantor of peace, stability and Western democratic interests. Shared heritage, language, economic systems, and political values represent an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation and integration. However, the centrifugal force of a rising China weakens America’s attractive power. The opportunity is unique, it is vanishing, and it should not be wasted.