By: Aishwarya Dutta and Chaitanya Deshpande
History of Five Eyes
Recent events in Canada which led to the straining of bilateral relations between India and Canada have sparked a controversy in the international political scenario. The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistani terrorist on June 18, 2023 has caused major disruptions. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is allegedly suspecting the role and involvement of the Indian government behind the killing. Though India has rejected the allegations as “absurd”, it is also aware that these events would affect the talks regarding India’s inclusion in the Five Eyes. The Five Eyes (FVEY) is an intelligence alliance created for cooperation in signals intelligence, i.e., intelligence gathering through the interception of signals. The formal foundation of the organization took place in the aftermath of the World War II, through the Multilateral Agreement for Co-operation in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), known as the UK-USA Agreement, on March 05, 1946. There is an exchange of a wide range of intelligence within the grouping. It is one of the most secretive and powerful intelligence-sharing alliances in the world.
Informal secret meetings that took place during the World War II between USA and UK, the then Allied powers who were fighting to counter the Axis uprising in the world, served as the base for the Five Eyes alliance. While the origins of the alliance date back to World War I, it wasn’t until the early 1940s that the alliance started taking formal shape. It was formally signed on March 05, 1946 between the US and UK. Canada joined in 1949 and Australia and New Zealand in 1956. Together it came to be known as the Five Eyes. However, it was not until 2010 that the alliance was fully made public. Until the 1990s, the member states were mostly bound by a common goal of defeating the Soviet Union in every aspect. Post the Cold War, the Five Eyes were also responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses carried out by the Anglosphere.
Relation between the Anglosphere and five eyes
The Five Eyes has been hailed as the ‘Intelligence Alliance of the Anglosphere.’ ‘Anglosphere’ is one of the salient terms we come across in International Relations. It is a shorthand for the Anglo-American sphere of influence, representing a major transnational community. The Anglosphere has been the architect and a staunch proponent of international norms. It has incubated and hatched the institutional norms and philosophies that continue to dominate the international security architecture.
The FVEY has been an infrastructure of surveillance with a global reach and it remains one of the most complex and far-reaching intelligence and espionage alliances in the history of the world. Each and every member of the alliance is equally responsible for intelligence gathering and analysis over specific regions of the world. The states comprising the Anglosphere share several convergent aspects: common language and principles, liberal democratic values, similar national interests and strategic cultures. These characteristics foster mutual understanding, trust and respect. The alliance is thus the ‘gold standard’ of intelligence alliances. It is an enormous asset to keep the citizens of the ‘English-speaking World’ safer and maintain mutual trust and partnership among them.
The debate around India’s Possible Inclusion into the Alliance
The proposal of reforms and expansion of the Alliance consisting of Anglo-Saxon countries has been in discussion since 2020. US Congress Subcommittee on Intelligence and Operations had suggested that “in light of Great Power Competition, Five Eyes Countries must work closer together, as well as expand the circle of trust to other like-minded democracies.” It mentioned the names of Japan, Germany, India and South Korea as proposed members.
Out of these four, India is the only country which doesn’t have a formal alliance with the USA or Anglo-Saxon world. Also, India is undoubtedly not an Anglo-Saxon country which will fit into an inherently Anglo-Saxon Intelligent alliance. Despite these facts, India’s increasing strategic convergence with the US, Australia and the UK allowed the possibility of including India in FVEY. With India’s concerns about cross-border terrorism and other security threats, inclusion in FVEY had generated the possibility of having unparalleled state of art of intelligence from countries like the USA and the UK.
Also, the proposed expansion was more or less focused on countering China using intelligence agencies of India, Japan and South Korea. Though this proposal is politically attractive when the USA is trying to build many alliances in the Indo-Pacific Region like QUAD and AUKUS in light of increasing Chinese assertiveness, the question is whether there is a deep trust between the intelligence agencies of Five Eyes and the proposed members.
Similarly, members apart from the USA and the UK had expressed concerns over the ‘expansion’ of the Five Eyes Alliance. It is also pointed out that India and the other three proposed members don’t have common worldviews on global threats such as terrorism which the existing members of the FYEY have.
Anglosphere, Five Eyes and Nijjar Case
The talks of the inclusion of India in the Five Eyes have vanished in the air. The current diplomatic standoff between India and Canada has brought the Five Eyes Alliance back into the limelight. US Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, said during the CTV interview that there was ‘shared intelligence amongst Five Eyes partners’ before the Canadian PM accused India of involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. He also said that ‘this was a matter of shared intelligence information.’
The Five Eyes providing intelligence pointing out towards possible hand of Indian intelligence agencies in the killing of a Khalistani separatist and a ‘Canadian Citizen’ has many implications. Despite the close relations between the US and India, Anglospheric Five Eyes could encircle India with doubts and insist on cooperation with Canada in the investigation as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken asserted the same. This shows that The Five Eyes as an alliance don’t consider India as a close and trustful partner to be a member of the Anglosphere Intelligence Alliance.
Though the US might be willing to cooperate on a range of issues including QUAD and other issues especially when the US has become India’s largest trading partner, the other members of the Five Eyes especially Canada and New Zealand have a history of roller coaster relationships with India. Given the tough diplomatic situation, the hopes of optimists who were seeing India as a member of Five Eyes have been smoked out.
Thus, the situation between India and Canada has shadowed any possibility of expansion of Five Eyes. The talks of expansion in 2020 have disappeared with time. Also, there are fundamental disagreements about the expansion within the Five Eyes. The Five Eyes institutionalize the conception of Anglosphere in a very tightly knit security alliance. The recent India-Canada standoff made the alliance closer and tighter, ruling out any possibility of expansion at least in the near future.