Its possibly part of my genetic makeup, but I am a firm believer in consensus (or what the Dutch call “poldermodel”) and multilateralism. In essence, everyone needs to adhere to the rules in order to ensure that life can operate in a fairly predictable manner. In December 2009 I blogged about the potential role that an organisation like the Commonwealth can play in modern society. I don’t want to rehash that blog but I have, in the interim, had some more thoughts on the issue.
As I noted then and as I will say again, the Commonwealth is an organisation that could wield immense soft power, despite the fact that its origins lie in the death-throws of the British Empire. But the emphasis (then and now) has to be on the word “could” and not “does”. In the absence of any visible British support for the Commonwealth, the organisation appears to be moribund, despite the continued good work that it is engaged in. In this regard, Britain seems far less interested in its relationships with its erstwhile colonies at a multilateral level than compared to France and its relationship with the Francophonie. Perhaps this is a result of the differing nature of the British and French colonial “adventures”. The French sought to turn its colonies into little Frances and incorporate its colonies into its domestic political system. I must hasten to add though that these changes were mostly a result of the “natives” becoming “restless” with the then status quo (to abuse a colonial expression). The British, on the other hand, seemed and seems more dispassionate about such matters.
Perhaps then it is time for the Commonwealth to take a leaf from the book of the International Cricket Council (formerly the Imperial Cricket Council – how more British can you get?) and move its headquarters out of Britain to another country. If the Commonwealth were a member of the United Nations this may require setting up shop in Geneva or The Hague, but I doubt whether the Swiss or the Dutch would be interested in hosting an essentially British organisation. The International Cricket Council ultimately settled on relocating to Dubai, as a matter of interest. I am not sure though whether Dubai would be a popular choice for the Commonwealth given the current political instability in the Arab world and I am also not sure whether Her Majesty and her corgis would be able to cope with the heat. She would probably receive regular health and safety reminders from her staff to carry a bottle of water with her and not get into any transport if it is hotter than 30 degrees, which it will be in Dubai.
However, what stops the likes of Canada, India or South Africa taking the initiative and inviting the Commonwealth to set up shop in one their capital cities? There are several advantages to each of these countries. In the case of Canada, it is one of the largest and most regular contributors to UN peacekeeping missions. As one of the world’s future superpowers, India is also a logical home for the Commonwealth. An African home for the Commonwealth also makes sense, given that African countries make up the largest proportion of Commonwealth members. No prizes for guessing which country would be my preferred choice. What is important for any prospective hosts of the Commonwealth to remember is that moral standing (or lack thereof) in the world is no bar to application. One only has to look at Britain’s dubious decision to invade (without lawful grounds) Iraq in Gulf War 2 to realise this point. All that would be required is that the candidate host be able to champion the cause of the Commonwealth. Whether the Secretary-General wants to leave the comfort of Pall Mall is, of course, a different question all together.
Perhaps the problem can be summed up in the saying that there are too many politicians and not enough statesmen these days. Politicians seem more interested in defending their parochial interests these days than considering whether those political interests are good for other members of the family of nations (as corny as that sounds). Unfortunately this is natural given that politicians only think in election cycles. However, if politicians are going to learn any lesson from the Great Depression, it should be this: those countries that remained open to international trade or reopened their borders as quickly as possible to international trade soon after the depression struck were those that recovered quicker from the Great Depression than those countries that adopted more defensive positions (such as the United States).
Either way, one of the powerhouses within the Commonwealth need to step forward and save the Commonwealth from irrelevance.