The Commonwealth as the Ideal Model for International
The Lord Howell
London, UK - 7 September 2006, 18:00 GMT - With
the rise of India, Lord Howell argues from The Palace of Westminster that
the Commonwealth is becoming a completely transformed entity and that
an enlarged and reformed version of it should be centre stage in addressing
the problems of the new international order. The Commonwealth normally
refers to 53 member countries, formerly members of the British Empire.
The Head of the Commonwealth is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to understand and
to address complex global challenges. ATCA conducts collective Socratic
dialogue on global opportunities and threats arising from climate chaos,
radical poverty, organised crime, extremism, informatics, nanotechnology,
robotics, genetics, artificial intelligence and financial systems. Present
membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished
members: including several from the House of Lords, House of Commons,
EU Parliament, US Congress & Senate, G10's Senior Government officials
and over 1,500 CEOs from financial institutions, scientific corporates
and voluntary organisations as well as over 750 Professors from academic
centres of excellence worldwide.
Dear ATCA Colleagues; dear IntentBloggers
[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors
are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and
Re: Question of Our Survival from a Genius -- "In a world that is
in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race
sustain another 100 years?" -- Prof Stephen Hawking
We are grateful to The Right Honourable Lord Howell of Guildford from the
Palace of Westminster for his contribution to ATCA, "The Commonwealth
as the Ideal Model for International Relations in the 21st Century".
The Lord Howell argues that the Commonwealth is becoming a completely transformed
entity and that an enlarged and reformed version of it should be centre stage
in addressing the problems of the new international order. The British FCO
(Foreign and Commonwealth Office) should be re-named the CFO (Commonwealth
and Foreign Office) and that the Commonwealth network should be enhanced and
made the centrepiece of British Foreign Policy. He also argues that sections
of the British overseas aid budget currently administered through the EU in
Brussels could be much more effectively handled through Commonwealth machinery.
The Commonwealth normally refers to 53 member countries, formerly members
of the British Empire. The Commonwealth's membership includes both republics
and monarchies. The Head of the Commonwealth is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
II and the Headquarters are at Marlborough House in London. Her Majesty also
reigns as monarch directly in a number of states, known as Commonwealth Realms,
notably the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others. The
Commonwealth's 1.8 billion citizens, about 30 per cent of the world's population,
are drawn from the broadest range of faiths, races, cultures and traditions.
About half of this population are less than 25 years old. Members range from
vast democratic countries like India, Canada and Australia to smaller city
states like Singapore. The Commonwealth has three intergovernmental organisations:
the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation, and the Commonwealth
The Right Honourable Lord (David) Howell of Guildford, President of the British
Institute of Energy Economics, is a former Secretary of State for Energy and
for Transport in the UK Government and an economist and journalist. Lord Howell
is Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords and Conservative
Spokesman on Foreign Affairs. Until 2002 he was Chairman of the UK-Japan 21st
Century Group, (the high level bilateral forum between leading UK and Japanese
politicians, industrialists and academics), which was first set up by Margaret
Thatcher and Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1984. In addition he writes a fortnightly
column for The JAPAN TIMES in Tokyo, and has done so since 1985. He also writes
regularly for the International Herald Tribune. David Howell was the Chairman
of the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, 1987-97. He was
Chairman of the House of Lords European Sub-Committee on Common Foreign and
Security Policy from 1999-2000. In 2001 he was awarded the Grand Cordon of
the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Japan). He writes:
Dear DK and Colleagues
Re: The Commonwealth as the Ideal Model for International Relations in
the 21st Century
The idea of the Commonwealth as a marginal international institution, doing
good works, uttering virtuous aspirations and blessing a host of unofficial
organisations is now completely redundant. We now face entirely new international
conditions and in these the Commonwealth should shed its past diffidence and
prepare itself to take a lead in setting the global agenda. This will require
the Commonwealth to raise its game all round, expand its ambitions and activities
and forge new links with non-members. It needs to demonstrate boldly its new
significance in the promotion of world trade and investment and to build on
the role it has already begun to carve out in the WTO debate.
This in turn depends, of course, upon its leading member states. Until they
wake up fully and understand the staggering potential of the new Commonwealth
network, as an ideal model for international collaboration in the 21st century,
the backing needed will not be there. This means persuading Commonwealth Governments
to give place and recognition to the Commonwealth network in their foreign
and overseas economic and development policies at a level which, for various
reasons (mostly now outdated), they have hitherto failed to do, the big exception
being India, which almost alone, with its new flair and dynamism, has recognised
the Commonwealth as the ideal platform for business and trade.
So the first task is to bring home to a half-interested world a few new facts
about the Commonwealth system which have clearly escaped them. First, far
from being a run-down club, held together by nostalgia and decolonisation
fixations, todays Commonwealth now contains thirteen of the worlds
fastest growing economies, including the most potent emerging markets. Outside
the USA and Japan, the key cutting edge countries in information technology
and e-commerce are all Commonwealth members. The new jewel in the Commonwealth
Crown turns out to be the old jewel, dramatically re-polished and re-set,
namely booming India , the worlds largest democracy with a population
set to exceed Chinas .
This presents a picture so far removed from the old image of the Commonwealth,
bogged down in demands for more aid and arguments about South Africa (or latterly
Zimbabwe) that many sleepy policy makers find it simply too difficult to absorb.
The unloved ugly duckling organisation has grown almost overnight into a true
swan. Or to use a different metaphor the Commonwealth of today and tomorrow
has been described as The Neglected Colossus. It should be neglected
It has been recently estimated that in the new information age context the
Commonwealths commonalities of language, law, accounting systems and
business regulations gives a 15 percent cost advantage over dealing with countries
outside the Commonwealth.
As for finance, the market capitalizations of Toronto, Sydney and London
alone, combined, exceed New Yorks. The assets of the financial services
sectors of the Commonwealth group of nations are actually now larger than
those of the whole EU.
Finally, on the economic and commercial front it should be noted that recent
detailed academic analysis has identified a growing Commonwealth effect
namely a perceived reduction in what is termed the psychic distance
between Commonwealth member states, and a consequent increased propensity
for Commonwealth states -- especially the smaller developing ones -- to engage
in increased trade and investment activity between each other in preference
to, and prior to, trade and investment elsewhere in the global community.
A Wider Role than Trade
The Commonwealth Flags in Abuja
But the new story should not just be about bread and butter matters and new
economic opportunities staring us in the face. The Commonwealth needs to be
re-assessed in terms of its real weight in securing world stability, in balancing
the dialogue with the U.S. giant, in linking rising Asia and the West, in
helping to handle the prickliest of issues such as the Middle East and Iran,
in promoting better development links, in bringing small and larger nations,
poorer and richer, together on mutually respectful and truly friendly terms
and in bridging the faith divides which others seek to exploit and widen.
In all these areas I believe the Commonwealth, reformed, reinforced, built
upon and enlarged, offers, as the Indian Industry Minister Mr Kamal Nath,
wisely perceives, the ideal platform. But, it will inevitably
be asked, how can such a disparate and scattered grouping possibly be a force
and a weight in these dangerous and contentious areas? Who will take the lead?
Where is central control going to be?
To understand the answer to these questions requires the biggest shift of
all between the 20th century and the 21st century mindset, a shift which many
still find it impossible to make. In the 20th Century the solution had to
be in terms of blocs, consolidated organisations, centrally controlled in
the name of efficiency, organisational pyramids, perhaps with some delegation,
but basically radiating down from a superior and central point.
All this has now been invalidated, not only in business but in governmental
affairs and in relations between countries and societies. Thanks to the extraordinary
power and pervasiveness of the information revolution we live in an era now
not of blocs and pyramid tiers of power and management but of networks and
meshes, both formal and informal.
By accident as much as design the Commonwealth emerges from a controversial
past to take a perfect place in this new order of thinking and acting. The
fact that the Commonwealth now has no dominant member state, or even a coterie
of such states, far from being a weakness is now a strength.
Because the Commonwealth is founded on respect for nation states, each following
its own path, yet recognising the imperative of interdependence, constant
adjustment can take place to new challenges, with partnerships and coalitions
being swiftly tailored to each new scene.
This answers three dilemmas:
The first is that people want more than ever in an age of remote globalisation,
to develop their own identities, to have countries and localities to love
and defend and take pride in. They recognise the fact of interdependence but
they long equally for ownership and a degree of independence. Superior ideas
of supra-national government and super-states, along with sweeping dismissals
of the relevance of the nation state, can play no part in resolving these
deep and competing needs, and indeed utterly fail to do so when imposed by
well-intentioned integrationists, as in the case of the EU.
Second, rigid bloc alliances cannot keep up with the kaleidoscope of change.
The more that the European Union tries to draw its members into a rigid and
unified political and military bloc the less effective it becomes. The more
that the world is seen as clinging to a structure of blocs established in
rivalry to each other the more the real criss-cross network of bilateral linkages
between nations is neglected. Yet it is just this new and more flexible pattern
which provides far the best guarantee of stability and security.
Third, the new texture of international relations is made up not just of
inter-governmental and official contacts but of a mosaic of non-governmental
and sub-official agencies and organisations. This takes time to grow, but
grow it has under the Commonwealth canopy into an amazing web of organizations
and alliances between the professions, the academic and scholastic worlds,
the medical, educational, scientific and legal communities and a host of other
interest groups linked together across the 54 nation Commonwealth Group.
Filling a Dangerous Vacuum
The tragic collapse of Americas soft power, reputation
and influence almost across the entire globe is leaving a dangerous vacuum.
Into this vacuum, cautiously, subtly, but steadily are moving the Chinese
with cash, with investment projects, with trade deals, secured access
to oil and gas supplies in an energy hungry world, with military and policing
support and with technology.
This is a gap which ought to be filled not by the Chinese dictatorship but
by the free democracies of the Commonwealth, from both North and South, banded
together by a commitment to freedom under the rule of law and ready to make
real and common sacrifices in the interests of a peaceful and stable world
and the spread of democratic governance in many different forms.
The Commonwealth possesses the vital attributes for dealing with this new
world which the old 20th century institutions so conspicuously lack.
It stretches across the faiths, with half a billion Muslim members; it stretches
across all the Continents, thus by its very existence nullifying the dark
analysis of a coming clash of civilisations.
Better still if a more confident Commonwealth now reaches out and makes friendly
associations with other like-minded nations, both in Europe and Asia. Japan,
with some twelve percent of the entire worlds GNP, and with its confidence
and dynamism now restored, is ready to make links with the Commonwealth, especially
with India and Britain together. Poland and some other Central European nations
long to have association with a grouping less parochial than their own local
European Union. Even Russia, despite its prickly inward-looking mood and latent
nationalist sentiments, could yet emerge a good democratic partner of like-minded
nations inside the Commonwealth club.
So in a sense I am asking that the Commonwealth Secretariat should be encouraged
to develop its external wing in a much more powerful way than hitherto and
perhaps have a nominated high official to work with the Secretary General
and act as the Commonwealths High Representative. Make such an enhanced
Commonwealth the central platform of the international future and there will
then be an enlightened and responsible grouping on the planet, ready to be
Americas candid friend, but not its lapdog -- a serious and respected
force, both in economic and trading terms and in terms of upholding security
A Key UK Priority
This is the body the strengthening of which our own UK should now make a
key aim and together with which it should re-build its own foreign policy
priorities. It should do so because this route offers far the best way both
for a nation such as ours, with our history and our experience and skills,
to make a maximum contribution to meeting the worlds many ills and,
even more, because it is the best way to promote and protect our own interests
In particular the UK should consider transferring the administration of that
part of its overseas development effort which at present goes through the
EU from that unhappy channel to the Commonwealth system, and encourage both
other Commonwealth members to do likewise and the Secretariat to develop the
full capacity to handle this role. This single move would give the Commonwealth
huge new prestige and resources, direct our aid efforts far more effectively
to poorer Commonwealth member states, who are our closest friends and to whom
we owe the strongest duty and greatly strengthen the UKs own prestige
and effectiveness in the global development process.
And when the Prime Minister calls for children here to be taught a greater
sense of British identity, I say that should be British and Commonwealth
identity. That alone conveys the broader and outward-looking sense of
interdependence and duty which is the true message with which young British
children should carry in todays world.
Of course we must always be the best possible local members of our European
region - as, incidentally we nearly always have been, although some
people forget this.
But Europe is no longer the worlds most prosperous region. It is our
duty to build up our links, many of which were so strong in the distant past,
with what are becoming the worlds most prosperous and dynamic areas
of the world, but also with the smaller nations as well as the large ones,
the struggling poor ones as well as the rapidly industrialising and increasingly
high-tech ones. This is what an enlarged Commonwealth can do for us in a way
that the European Union can never do and for which it lacks the reach and
the right basic policy structure.
That is why Britains external relations priorities need major re-alignment
and why I would like to christen the home of our able and experienced diplomats
the Commonwealth and Foreign Office the CFO not the FCO.
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views. Thank you.
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to understand and to
address complex global challenges. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue
on global opportunities and threats arising from climate chaos, radical poverty,
organised crime, extremism, informatics, nanotechnology, robotics, genetics,
artificial intelligence and financial systems. Present membership of ATCA
is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members: including
several from the House of Lords, House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress
& Senate, G10's Senior Government officials and over 1,500 CEOs from financial
institutions, scientific corporates and voluntary organisations as well as
over 750 Professors from academic centres of excellence worldwide.
Intelligence Unit | mi2g | tel +44 (0) 20 7712 1782 fax +44 (0) 20
7712 1501 | internet www.mi2g.net
mi2g: Winner of the Queen's Award for Enterprise in the category of
mi2g is at the leading edge of building secure on-line banking, broking
and trading architectures. The principal applications of its technology are:
1. D2-Banking; 2. Digital
Risk Management; and 3. Bespoke Security
Architecture. For more information about mi2g, please visit: www.mi2g.net