From Insularity to Exteriority: How the Anglosphere is Shaping Global Governance

From Insularity to Exteriority: How the Anglosphere is Shaping Global Governance

Since the beginning of this century, the governments of the five Anglosphere countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), have steadily deepened their domestic policy collaboration. 


Using exclusive and insular transgovernmental networks made up of the most senior levels of decision-making – usually self-titled as a ‘Five countries group,’ a ‘Quintet,’  or some quintuple variation – senior officials have established regularised channels of policy learning, coordination and collaboration. 

To date, this has largely been an inward-facing alliance predicated on intersecting visions of national identity and interest. There are nearly forty networks (see Legrand, 2019) spanning the gamut of (domestic) public policy: matters of law, immigration, policing, economic policy and COVID-19, and many more (See also Legrand, 2015 and 2020 forthcoming. Yet as the success of the Anglosphere’s transgovernmental networks has become apparent, so too has an emerging appetite for consolidating their collective capacities to externalize  their association to influence global governance. 

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Set out in this paper is the two-level strategy that mobilizes  a concerted Anglosphere axis of global action for economic or political gain. The first level is consolidated action within established multilateral international organizations, such as the UN or WTO. The second is operating as an autonomous body: a polylateral international organization to develop regulatory standards and conditions for finance and technology firms, and exert global pressure independent of the diplomatic horse-trading and stalemates found in IOs. 

A Consolidated Anglosphere within established multilateral international organizations

At this first level, there are clear signals that the Anglosphere states have cohered, or are at least seeking a collective strategy, within established international organizations. In immigration governance, for example, the ‘5 Nations’ network (now styled as the Migration 5 and Border 5) has for several years worked collaboratively to agree ‘a common approach to current topics in international forums,’  specifically International Civil Aviation Organization’s international travel standards, including identity and passport authentication standards. 


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In a similar vein, in 2018, the five states worked collaboratively to combat global human trafficking. At a UN General Assembly Side Event in 2018, the US State Department announced this shared strategy: “Principles To Guide Government Action To Combat Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains”, signalling their willingness to act collectively: 

Similar initiatives to act in concert are apparent elsewhere. The Anglosphere’s ‘Quintet of Attorneys General’ in 2019 announced a common position of support for the Budapest Convention and the United Nations Open-Ended Intergovernmental Expert Group on Cybercrime, as well as earlier G20 and FAFT initiatives on illicit finance. With the UK’s impending departure from  EU trade mechanisms, their partnership with Anglosphere states in the WTO seems certain to figure. Indeed, the then UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has already entered talks with ‘close multilateral partners’ – the WTO ambassadors from Anglosphere states.

As a group of countries with a combined central government spending of more than USD 600bn in 2017, we recognize that we have significant financial leverage and policy options at our disposal that can help to prevent human trafficking in global supply chains.

US Department of State, 2018

The Anglosphere as autonomous axis 

A second level of action signals the Anglosphere states are testing out concerted efforts to, first, effect political pressure on antagonist states – prominently China and Russia – outside of the political stalemates in traditional IO forums, and second to produce autonomous trade regulation. 

In August this year, after China passed a new and controversial security law for Hong Kong, the Foreign Ministers of the five states released a joint statement, expressing ‘deep concern at Beijing’s imposition of the new National Security Law, which is eroding the Hong Kong people’s fundamental rights and liberties’. Similarly, in June 2020 on International Pride day, the five Ambassadors and Chargés d’Affaires to Russia of the Anglosphere states issued a joint statement  to declaim Russia’s stance on LGBTI rights.

Action to exert pressure on antagonist states as a Anglosphere autonomous group looks certain to continue, with the five countries set to reinvigorate another transgovernmental body, the ‘Critical Five’ – which was initially established to promote cooperation on communications and energy policy – as a counter to China’s growing influence in telecommunication technology via Huawei and potentially their dominance in energy too.

The Five Eyes are united that tech firms should not develop their systems and services, including end-to-end encryption, in ways that empower criminals or put vulnerable people at risk.

As a second dimension of its autonomous global action, the Anglosphere states have also undertaken action in the regulation of large multinational firms, specifically with respect to global technology firms management of digital media and encryption. With issues such as online child abuse and terrorist use of encryption technologies at the heart of a deepening schism between governments and technology firms, the five countries have agreed two sets of principles for digital firms operating in the Anglosphere jurisdictions, concerning online child exploitation and access to data under evidence and encryption

The Five Eyes are united that tech firms should not develop their systems and services, including end-to-end encryption, in ways that empower criminals or put vulnerable people at risk.

This has not been the first attempt to engage with large multinationals as an Anglosphere axis: in 2016, a five countries group – the Anglosphere’s ‘International Supervisors Forum’ entered talks with the global money service firms Western Union, MoneyGram and RIA Money Transfer to coordinate initiatives on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism. And just this week, in a move that looks calculated to exert control over global commercial giants such as Apple, Google and Amazon, the competition regulators of the Anglosphere states announced their own ‘Multilateral Mutual Assistance and Cooperation Framework for Competition Authorities’ to seek out and disrupt anti-competitive practices. 

Towards an externalised Anglosphere

Together, the developments described above suggest that we are witnessing the beginning of a strategic shift by the Anglosphere governments. The Anglosphere’s collaborative relationship is becoming increasingly externalized in attempting to set the terms of global trade, security and governance. Though these trends are developing, they augur an Anglosphere axis set on international consensus where the group of five can achieve it  and contestation where it cannot. 


*This research was funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung Foundation Special Programme on Security, Society and the State, 2018–2020 (AZ 09/KF/18) for the project ‘Tackling Transnational Threats: The Architecture of Anglosphere Security Collaboration’


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Take a sneek peak out the next blog in this series: Why Does the US Trust Australia With its Secrets? The Five Eyes Alliance, Race, and Loyalty By Brendon O’Connor (University of Sydney)
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