Encompassing almost a third of the world’s population, and being founded nearly 90 years ago, many of us have never known a world without the Commonwealth of Nations, more commonly known as the Commonwealth. We may focus on the games, held every 4 years, or take note of the commemorative day which has just passed, on the 14th March, but how many of us pay attention to the more mundane news of this organisation, or can confidently say that it’s contributing to a bright future?
The foundations of the Commonwealth lie within the demise of the British Empire. At the beginning of the 20th Century an increasing number of colonies began to acquire various degrees of independence for their internal governments. For this reason, coupled with the decreasing profitability of Empire, Britain decided to grant Canada and Australia complete independence along with several other countries, and so the Commonwealth was born. Following World War II, Britain granted several other countries independence, allegiance to the crown was removed and the word ‘British’ dropped from the name; however the Queen remained as its head, in the same way that she does today.
The Commonwealth today can be seen as a way of ‘staying in touch’ with other nations. Their relationship is more casual compared to organisations such as NATO, but still allows for the shared enrichment of culture and knowledge. Although it has no formal trade agreements, like the EU’s single market, the historical ties between the member countries, provide a positive basis for trade.
A major benefit of being part of the Commonwealth is in defence, as its members aim to protect each other in crisis. This avails to the smaller members the most, who would face a sizeable threat otherwise. A Commonwealth citizen is also not regarded to be foreign by other Commonwealth governments, for example, in the UK, Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in general elections. The Commonwealth aims to promote equality, evidence of this can be seen in the continuous effort it made to bring about an end to Apartheid in South Africa, by its support of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
In contrast, some may view the Commonwealth as almost entirely pointless due to its lack of a significant geopolitical role. Although being a member of the former British Empire has its benefits, the organisation doesn’t do much to reinforce this. When Jamaicans were asked who the head of the Commonwealth was, during a survey, a quarter answered with Barack Obama, displaying its lack of relevance. Another problem is that if a member state refuses to comply with a decision made, the organisation has no power to enforce it, making one ask if it bears any purpose at all.
Overall, despite its seeming irrelevance, I view the Commonwealth as an organisation worth having. Although the UK, as a powerful nation, may not see many positives, but for the smaller countries it may be making a much-needed difference. If we have the power to help others less fortunate, shouldn’t we?