Should the Five Eyes Alliance be Expanded?

Should the Five Eyes Alliance be Expanded?

The Five Eyes alliance has served the current partners well by giving them an expanded intelligence base. This benefit is enhanced by the opportunity for professional discussions amongst intelligence partner agencies.  


All five nations maintain bilateral intelligence relationships with other allies. Is there a case for expanding the Five Eyes itself to include some of these allies? 

The coherence of the Five eyes relationship rests on interwoven national histories, usually compatible approaches to international issues, similar human and legal values, and a common language. US security standards apply to all partners. Even without the same historical bonds, bringing additional partners into the alliance in some form would produce greater benefits than merely maintaining a network of bilateral relationships 

Expanding the Five Eyes partnership to include other close allies could bring two gains. First, more high-value  intelligence could be shared with a broader  group of partners, and there would be a greater variety in available assessment perspectives. Information-sharing would be faster and more systematic than through multiple bilateral arrangements. Second, there would be an opportunity for more inclusive discussions on collection priorities, which could build a greater consensus on what was known and what was unknown as allies developed specific foreign policy directions. 

Because the Five Eyes partnership is primarily an intelligence-sharing partnership, it has in place the institutional and technical structures for distributinglarge amounts of information. Databases  exist for giving access to operational personnel and analysts. 

Cooperation in collecting intelligence does not always translate into an agreement on specific foreign policy directions. However, intelligence cooperation can help clarify the options for respective national policy officials by building a comprehensive picture of threats  and by identifying critical unknowns on the goals, capabilities, and openness to negotiations of rival powers. 


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Terrorism and future pandemics are both intelligence preoccupations for current and potential partners. Many different national entities hold critical information needed for insightful warning and analysis. The more widely and quickly it can be distributed to partners, the  more effective warnings will become. 

The same potential benefit exists for more complex geopolitical threats. Many countries are concerned about the implications of the possible emergence of two rival global blocks, one anchored by China and Russia, and the other by the Five Eyes partners and allies. The two blocks are separating over trade rules, technology, territorial claims, armed interventions in conflict zones, and the proper boundaries for state-sponsored espionage and interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Adding the intelligence perspective of countries such as Germany, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and many others, could generate more information on national strategies to reinforce the rules-based international order. This might cause create possibilities for creative statesmanship that would avoid the creation of a dangerous and unstable bipolar global order. 


Terrorism and future pandemics are both intelligence preoccupations for current and potential partners.

There are obstacles to widening the alliance. As an alliance grows, so do the difficulties of protecting highly sensitive intelligence, sources and methods. The greater variety of perspectives in a broader coalition is potentially divisive as well as constructive. More contributions in different languages mean added processing costs. 

The ideal initial arrangement would be associate membership for selected new partners. Materials would be circulated at a lower classification level from and to associate partners. Invitations to meetings would be on a discretionary basis. NATO provides a precedent for the asymmetrical sharing of intelligence and assessments. 

The language of the Five Eyes is English, and this would govern material submitted for distribution, whatever the country of origin. In return, participating states would gain material they might otherwise not see in a timely way. 

GCHQ (Wikipedia)

Associating other countries more regularly with the Five Eyes partners can be done through an infinite range of gradual steps, from inviting specific countries to Five Eyes discussions  to facilitating the distribution of a limited range of intelligence reports or assessments. Expansion can take place in stages. If problems outweigh benefits, the Five Eyes partners can return to an emphasis on bilateral relations. 

There are many advantages to  an expanded Five Eyes sharing arrangement for all participants, and this is undoubtedly  true for Canada. Our intelligence needs are beyond our capacity to finance if we do not have strong partnerships. We have benefitted from belonging to the Five Eyes alliance, and through our close intelligence cooperation with the United States. 

We have every reason to expand our intelligence relationships, and it would be easiest to pursue if it were a common Five Eyes strategy. The current US president  has shown that there is a current of US political opinion that is not enthusiastic about alliances or policy-neutral  intelligence. A broader coalition  might preserve and enhance the value of the Five Eyes to Canada, even if its lustre in the US dims from time to time. 


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Read another great blog in this series: Five Eyes Minus One: Thinking the Unthinkable by Bill Robinson (Citizen Lab, University of Toronto)
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