Article from United Commonwealth Society member, and Editor-in-Chief of The Odd Historian, Abdur Rafay looking at the advantages of closer working between the nations of the Commonwealth.
With the signing of the London Declaration of 1949, the modern Commonwealth of Nations came into being. Comprised then of eight original members, it today represents 52 diverse nations united together in language, in the shared values of democracy and the rule of law. Barring the United Nations, never before has history seen such a voluntary association of this many sovereign states, accounting for 1/6 of the World’s GDP, a quarter of its landmass and nearly a third of its entire population. Ever since its inception, there have been strengthening movements calling for greater integration between the Commonwealth nations. Today in the era of globalization, the demands hold more feasibility than ever before.
As globalization dissembles the states from within and outside, chipping away at its autonomy and sovereignty, for non-hegemonic states the formation of a political-economic union is crucial to retaining some form of control over the forces of the free market. This is why, in the last twenty years, we have seen the emergence of many such organizations (AU, USAN, and CIS) and greater integration within existing ones (ASEAN, EU).
However, the Commonwealth is most suited to benefit from the changing environment. Its unique structure enabling an unprecedented level of cross-regional connectivity at a grass root level. Unlike the EU and other economic blocs with an emphasis on centralism and intergovernmental cooperation, the Commonwealth is a much more organic network with a bottom up approach, allowing various interactions to take place at non-governmental levels. This novel structure allows for greater integration and flexibility without the need of undermining the sovereignty of its member states.
Another inherent advantage for the Commonwealth lies in the strong similarities in the member states. Shared cultural links, legal procedures and a common working language means that the flow of information, goods and services is both more economical and faster between members relative to non-member countries.
For Britain – post Brexit –the opportunity is ripe to increase its focus towards the Commonwealth regardless of what type of settlement is struck with the EU Single Market. Before joining the European Economic Community, Britain’s trade with the Commonwealth was four times more than that with the mainland, accounting nearly half of its exports. Today it’s less than one-fifth. With the African and Asian markets growing rapidly and opening to new investments, re-orienting towards the Commonwealth will be vital to the continual prosperity of the United Kingdom. Similar can be said for other major Commonwealth economies.
Within the Commonwealth lies great potential for the benefit of all members. Old ties and legacies can only go so far. We must look beyond just trade deals and make effort to support polices that strengthen the bond between each member states, eventually paving the way for the creation of a formal union.
Many obstacles exist to the formation of such a Union, chief among them the issue of human rights, border issues and disparity in incomes. However, Europe was facing the same problems when the EEC was forming. Obstacles are addressed through co-operation between states. A set of common goals have to be realized and a framework made for them to be implemented. A will has to be present towards greater integration of the Commonwealth with aims towards freer movement and a single market. The process can be gradual, starting with the Commonwealth realms, eventually incorporating other member states as they qualify in meeting the desired requirements.
With the uncertainty surrounding the EU and the United States in political decline, the role of an integrated Commonwealth would be crucial safeguarding the principles of democracy and free trade. It is time to make efforts to pave the way towards a common future.
Member Abdur Rafay
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief The Odd Historian