Revamping the Commonwealth of Nations Post-COVID-19
The Commonwealth (CW) is a political arrangement that is very diverse and consists of 54 member states encompassing over 30% of the world’s population, most of which were British colonies. It is considered the third most consequential organization globally after the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the United Nations (UN). It came into existence with the proclamation of the sovereignty of the state from the colonial rule of the British Empire and was later given self-governance. The CW has encouraged member nations to create inclusive establishments, vitalize governance and support justice and human rights. The CW Secretariat instituted in 1965 assists member nations to realize development, democracy and peace. The Secretariat with international representation whose official Centre is in London has stood at the vanguard of the global response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Global Scenario Post-COVID
COVID-19 is the defining global health crisis of our time and the biggest hurdle of the 21st century since World War II. There are three-ply hurdles for the CW such as economic, climate and pandemic crisis. There is a shift from globalization and the fading of liberal policies that have been generally endured for decades. The ghastly COVID has resulted in the closing of international borders and a drop in trade bolstering the shift from globalization.
Role of the CW post- COVID-19
There are 10 strong features, which support the relevance of the CW in the post-COVID era with a few initiatives, which are as follows:
- ‘Fostering multilateralism’ through sustained efforts in dealing with the COVID pandemic commonly can increase the pertinence of Commonwealth as a stand for multilateralism and partnership for advancing.
- The role of ‘Small states’ where CW is likely to remain a voice of small states that could be useful in this process of recovery and relevance where the importance of CW could only amplify.
- Increased importance of ‘Young people’ aged between 15-29 (essential assets to the nation’s growth) should be empowered to recognize their potential is stated in the Charter. Since pandemic is likely to hit young people in terms of their career opportunities, there is an increasing concern about the lack of jobs for fresh graduates this year and the long-term repercussions. A new innovative CW platform for young diverse talent who can contribute to smart solutions using limited resources in different fields can be formed contributing to their empowerment.
- Strengthening the commonwealth networks where the CW system is an inherent connection of networks can work at various levels that give an advantage of people’s participation.
- ‘Climate change’ can serve to strengthen the CW through the ‘Paris Agreement’ on Climate Change, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). The CW can collectively form a core and ameliorate development policies to support energetic and sustainable blue and green economies because the majority of the CW nations have a coastline and depend on the ocean for livelihood and sustenance. The CW Blue Charter is one of the most efficient platforms for international ocean action in the multicultural panorama in the contemporary world.
- Enhancing the participation of women in local government which is the priority of CW Local Government Forum (CLGF) that could further strengthen the ‘Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)’ that have been the most affected in some of the CW nations.
- Rising powers like India, Australia and Canada can leverage on CW and attempt to deal with expansionist plans of other competitive countries.
- Utilizing the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) where CW should consider setting up a common AI Framework in the domains of healthcare, governance, international relations etc. along with information and communication technologies (ICT’s) that include the CW Network on Information Technology for Development (COMNET) Foundation for ICT Development. A common AI and ICT’s network is the need of the hour to ensure the innovations made by anyone country are accessible by other nations. Likewise, some CW nations like UK, India and Canada have immense capabilities in AI. There should be a common framework across the CW nations to utilize these innovations, and for further policymaking and governance of AI to be used responsibly considering human rights, democratic values, ethics and Privacy. The Secretary General of CW, Baroness Patricia Scotland acknowledged the importance of ICT for the CW Nations in an event convened by Global Policy Insights think tank along with The Ramphal Institute (United Kingdom) to discuss about optimizing networks and challenges for the 21st century CW.
Role of India in the CW Post-COVID
India since independence has been a member of the CW. After India attained Independence, it chose to be a republic and also stay in the CW. The CW decided in April 1949 as part of the “London declaration” that republics can also be part of CW, which has resulted in new Commonwealth 54 nations being part of the CW. Thus, India has played a significant role in shaping the present form of CW.
The present political interest of India in the CW is visible through the participation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 25th CW Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2018 held in London, considering the first Indian prime ministerial representation in a CW Summit in almost a decade. The CW membership for India and CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) every two years serves to intensify its bilateral affinities with different nations. The CW has in the face of COVID-19 delayed its biennial Heads of Government Meeting, first slated for Kigali in June 2020. India is an integral member of the CW as well as an emerging power where UK believes that India will continue being a worthy ally. India can further play a large role post-COVID in revamping of CW through the following:
- Being an extensive producer of generic drugs in the world, Indian medical experts can collaborate with medical experts from the CW by developing the COVID-19 vaccine at the earliest. The 2021 CW Health Ministers meeting is yet another opportunity to leverage India’s position.
- With a large proportion of CW members (almost 60%) being small nations shows the increased significance of these nations with regard to the foreign policy of India. India should further leverage the CW platform by providing aid to the small nations, supportive technology, improving lives, which could also be a measure to balance China’s increasing influence in the smaller states from pacific and Caribbean.
- With a far-flung presence of ‘Indian diaspora’ in the CW, India should consider expanding cultural centers and embassies that will help to magnify India’s ‘Soft power’.
- ‘Digital India’ initiative offers new optimism, as the world is moving towards industrial revolution 4.0. This platform could also be used to support small states with Technology initiatives increasing India’s influence and significance on the globe.
- The CW platform can further aid to prop up ‘India’s sustainable blue economy’ through SAGAR vision, Sagarmala project and the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) that is considered as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The new CW window of the India-UN Development Partnership Fund proposes to catalyze the accomplishment of the SDGs in the developing CW. India Fund at the UN, which has $50 million window for CW countries, is already providing access to support the CW Caribbean.
- India can play a lead role because of economic capability, good relations with the UK & most CW countries. Also, as a leader in technology, India can offer collaborations and support to CW nations particularly in digital learning.
- CW is the only big international platform without the US, China, and Russia which gives India access to 53 nations. Due to her size, economic capability and global influence, India’s voice cannot be ignored. India can leverage this opportunity and further diplomatic relations with CW countries, which could also help towards balancing china’s attempts to increase the influence with these nations.
- India can leverage the CW platform to get the support of CW nations for its candidature to be a permanent member of the UNSC though the UK is the only permanent member.
- India has the highest youth population in the CW and globally. India with schemes such as “Start-up India”, “Skill India” etc. could collaborate with CW youth program Asia Center in Chandigarh and CW Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) along with providing support to young people of CW through skill exchange programmes, that can benefit India’s economic growth and soft power.
There are certain CW challenges that need to be addressed such as the gap among the wealthy, medium-income and small nations. On the health care front, there is much variation across the CW with a shortage of medical equipment, a huge risk of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), human capital and also incongruity in universal health care systems. The disabled have been one of the most affected people post- COVID across the world. The Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum (CDPF) in this way can accommodate the subsequent principles to assure disabled people are not left out through the pandemic. Then there is also a wide gap in the Internet speed and digitization where CW nations differ in the Internet speed (2G, 3G, 4G and some nations advancing to 5G), which needs to be bridged.
The post-COVID world would certainly bring new challenges and opportunities. However, It’s complicated to specifically foretell how the world would be molded with these circumstances in the long-drawn phase. Yet, we can unquestionably assume these will assuredly reconstruct state and economic systems in the long term. As the world is beginning to brace for a new normal, CW should play an important role in the post-COVID world order.
Author is the Co-Founder and Executive President of Global Policy Insights
(GPI) think tank and heads the Commonwealth Project at GPI, London. He holds a Masters degree in Computer Science from Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom.
Author is a Doctoral Scholar, Geneva School of Diplomacy, Switzerland
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