Commonealths call to duty cover imageThe Commonwealth and global security concerns are scarcely mentioned together and yet they share a strong heritage and the latter increasingly affects these nations in the modern day. That is why we at Commonwealth Exchange produced the report: The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty whose foreword was written by Rt. Hon Dr Liam Fox MP, former Secretary of State for Defence.

We wrote the report against the recent backdrop of Boko Haram’s continued reign of terror in northern Nigeria and the kidnapping of 200 young girls; the Westgate mall shootings which left 63 dead in Kenya; the outbreak of Ebola which killed thousands across three Commonwealth nations, and the Peshawar school massacre that saw the brutal death of 132 innocent children in Pakistan.

Since the report’s launch a few weeks ago two further disasters befell the Commonwealth - we saw Cyclone Pam demolish Vanuatu and the horrific terror attack on Kenya’s Garissa University where 147 young people died at the hands of merciless al-Shabaab militants.

Yet despite these serious and tragic difficulties we see constructive opportunities in the security sphere through greater Commonwealth interaction and understanding. The Commonwealth works on a myriad of issues, but defence and security is one area left untapped by policy makers. We are not claiming that Commonwealth solutions would stop or solve the above atrocities completely, but having mechanisms to provide early warning systems or having means to act quickly and effectively between Commonwealth nations should be sought. Bringing together the traditional defence powers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK with emerging and developing Commonwealth economies should be welcomed as a means to enhance greater peace and security under a Commonwealth umbrella. Only the Commonwealth as a global network not a regional bloc can provide such a diverse palette of knowledge and support.

We did expect initial detractors, although we would like to think that this is an inbuilt misconception which can be altered and ultimately swept away. We live in a climate where any talk of “boots on the ground” is quickly spurned, yet there should be scope to have helpful and friendly ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ as well as ‘feet’ on the ground in terms of intelligence and training. Armed Forces are not blunt instruments of war, rather they can offer safety and security, while laying the groundwork for stability. This can often be seen during numerous natural disasters.

Having expertise and training delivered by military personnel should not be disregarded. For many the issue can be one of semantics. ‘Defence’ can often unnerve citizens and policy makers alike. Perhaps advocating a ‘resilience’ agenda is easier to accept. Whatever the name or branding we take the view that security concerns matter to the Commonwealth and a more joined up approach should be explored.

Importantly, we were not arguing for the creation of a Commonwealth defence force or a security council like NATO. Any such plans are presently impractical and unhelpful. Instead we looked at ways to advance Commonwealth defence connections starting from a small base. Our recommendations reflect this.

Our major proposal is the creation of a Commonwealth Security Forum to take place alongside CHOGM similar to the business forum and others. We suggest that it could focus on seven major policy areas: defence diplomacy; interoperability; intelligence sharing; anti-terrorism; humanitarian & disaster relief; anti-piracy; and military training. This would provide all Commonwealth nations the chance to discuss, understand, and develop responses to a number of fundamental strategic concerns. It could also follow the hugely successful example of International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Dialogue series which started in Singapore.

Another recommendation is for the creation of a Commonwealth military scholarship to allow young officers the chance to study in other Commonwealth nations thereby increasing educational understanding, as well as trust and loyalty. The final proposal is to upscale officer exchange programmes between Commonwealth nations which will foster greater interoperability and camaraderie between members.

Crucial to the understanding of the Commonwealth strategic concerns is that we are looking ahead, not to the past. Ultimately solutions to the Commonwealth’s pressing defence problems need progressive and modern architecture to deal with them. The Commonwealth must be better prepared. Many lives would certainly benefit and indeed prosper.

The last word should go to Dr. Fox: “We cannot have too much dialogue or an excess of information in the era of globalisation. It may be that the Commonwealth could be coming of age in the right way at the right time. It is time to be bold.”


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.

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