The Commonwealth and security are seldom words that inhabit the same sentence, let alone a discussion. Despite the Commonwealth’s vast network of nations in every habitable continent, ranging from developed, developing, and emerging economies, the world still tends to think locally, regionally, or simply to the United States for its strategic security solutions. ASPI should be congratulated for its recent work on the Anglosphere and what it means today, but the term should be opened up to include other Commonwealth partners. This is especially germane with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) convening at the moment.
This is because a significant number of outmoded viewpoints still circulate when it comes to security. We’re witnessing the end of unilateralism under the auspices of the US. Despite its colossal ability to maintain the status quo, it appears to have lost the will to do so. Politically, it needs to act in consort with friendly powers but, as Syria has shown, such support is fast ebbing away.
The five Anglosphere powers (four are Commonwealth nations), given their geographic dispersion, are able to tackle problems in multiple parts of the globe. But, by incorporating other Commonwealth nations, a much wider grouping can take the strains in different regions. The Anglosphere series discussed briefly the ethnic connotation with the Anglo-sphere, but in a Commonwealth framework it allows itself to be inclusive by not being ethnically Anglo but intellectually Anglo.
The Commonwealth shouldn’t merely be seen as a relic of WWI & II, but as a possible future security architecture. I’m not arguing for a Commonwealth military command or formal defence arrangements, but for realising certain self-evident facts about the changing nature of world affairs and how best to combat these threats within an Anglosphere context.
The English language acts as one of the binding forces in the Commonwealth, and allows for strategic communications and operations to be conducted in a straightforward manner. As well, the wider Commonwealth possess near identical military structures, thanks largely to the British imprint, and the resulting interoperability can be utilised in the 21st Century for mutual security and prosperity.
For example, the recent terrorist atrocities that took place in Kenya demonstrate the benefits of a close relationship with such a Commonwealth for such a nation. The UK remains a principal ally given its long-standing military co-operation agreement and was first on hand to help with the September attack.
The problem of piracy in East Africa has been dramatically reduced in recent years assisted by the naval and legal co-ordination from three Commonwealth powers: Kenya, the Seychelles, and the UK. The Commonwealth’s English Common Law principles provide a valuable legal angle that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Piracy isn’t solely located in East Africa and its rise in West Africa highlights the need for more synchronised support. Regional Anglophone and Commonwealth members such as Nigeria and Ghana can provide the start of a much closer safety network, although the former has its own horrific problems with terrorism. Nigeria needs assistance from more than just the five Anglosphere partners alone.
The Arctic is an interesting Commonwealth case, with Singapore’s desired involvement with the Arctic Council. As one of the principal trading ports in the global economy, economic and strategic stability is of fundamental importance to Singapore, which means having a voice on Arctic shipping lanes.
The Antarctic is also a region which may well cause issues of sovereignty in the near future. Numerous Commonwealth nations have interests and claims, and Malaysia acceded to the Antarctic Treaty System in 2011. This demonstrates the opportunity for Commonwealth partners to be more active by providing mutual support in these regions.
Together, the Commonwealth can make a pragmatic contribution to combating terrorism, intelligence sharing, training programmes, advanced security studies, and emergency relief efforts, while avoiding grand statements through naval parades and army manoeuvres that could be viewed with hostility by others. A security meeting aligned with CHOGM to discuss further coordination that affects the safety of all members big and small would make a valuable contribution.
This isn’t about replacing the Anglosphere or throwing down a gauntlet to American leadership, but an examination of augmentation of a well-established historical relationship to find the safest path to stability in an uncertain world.
Tim Hewish is the executive director & do-founder of Commonwealth Exchange (CX), a policy foundation building stronger trading, educational, and security connections within the Commonwealth.