“It has to grow wings”: Interview with Lord HowellPosted by AlexT - 11/08/09 at 05:08 pm
Lord Howell, former chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the UK Parliament discusses the continued relevance of the Commonwealth to British Foreign Policy.
What do you think are the Commonwealth’s core strengths?
In a word the Commonwealth is a network. We live in an age of global information networks of a fantastic kind. The world is no longer organised in empires and blocs. And we are part of this network and so are the other 53 Commonwealth members.
It is multi-faith and trans-continental, unlike many other blocs. It embraces rich and poor in an equal relationship and of course there is a fantastic cement of common culture and common understanding and values. All of these things make the Commonwealth the ideal model for the 21st century.
How would you like to see the Commonwealth evolve in the 21st century?
It has to grow wings. It’s under funded. It’s underappreciated by many of its members, including the UK. It has got to be a much bolder organisation that recognises its innate strengths. When I say grow wings I don’t see why it shouldn’t have a more vigorous foreign policy aspect, the EU after all has a foreign minister, and an active foreign policy. The Commonwealth could have a similar kind of involvement. The Commonwealth could take a far stronger role in the whole development pattern of the globe. The Commonwealth is basically ready to take off it’s just not being supported the way it should at present. It’s got to raise its game.
I think it could have associate members as well as new ordinary members. Some of the giants of the world are waiting on the sidelines, not to join, I am thinking of Japan for instance (14% of the World’s GNP) but they would be very happy to be observers and associate with the Commonwealth. It’s an enormous opportunity which we have to exploit.
What role do you think the commonwealth should play in British foreign policy?
A much more central role. The British foreign policy system has been paralysed for the last 30 or 40 years by the belief that somehow we are being squeezed out of Europe the wonderful continentals are doing things and we have to get in on their game?. This is a complete misunderstanding of the way the world is working. Power has shifted to Asia, to the booming Asian economies and may soon shift to Africa as well. That is where our commonwealth links take us and therefore while we remain very active members of the European union we should strengthen our foreign policy links with the Commonwealth because together we can do great things- not only economically but in terms of peace and stability, peacekeeping, and international global stability.