TITLE

CANADA AND THE COMMONWEALTH: THE MULTILATERAL POLITICS OF A "WASTING ASSET"

AUTHOR(S)
Black, David
PUB. DATE
September 2010
SOURCE
Canadian Foreign Policy (CFP);2010, Vol. 16 Issue 2, p61
SOURCE TYPE
Academic Journal
DOC. TYPE
Article
ABSTRACT
As the modern Commonwealth passed its sixtieth anniversary in 2009, the organization's slow-brewing crisis of relevance seemed deeper than ever. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Canadian attitudes toward this venerable organization. This represents a striking reversal of the predominant Canadian disposition through the first 50 years of the modern era, when Canada and Canadians were among the organization's most consistent supporters and leaders. Moreover, Canadians' enmeshment in this association has always been multidimensional and trans-societal, involving the organization's dynamic web of nongovernmental, as well as interstate, forums. This vital transnational dimension, reflecting a long if contested common heritage, would seem to place the Commonwealth in the vanguard of contemporary multilateralism, with its emphasis on multi-level interaction and sociality. Yet, in some respects, the decline of the Commonwealth as a multilateral asset is eminently predictable. For Canada, along with other Commonwealth members, the organization's historic importance has been increasingly undercut by the growing strength of regional multilateral arrangements. For Canada and a handful of others, the G8 and now G20 have become top priorities and foci of diplomatic energy and resources, eroding the logic of continued commitment to the Commonwealth, which is, by any standard, a lightly resourced, diffuse, and ungainly association. In this light, two key questions arise. First, what has been the Commonwealth's historic role in the practice of Canadian foreign policy? Second, what reasons, if any, can be given for continuing to invest scarce resources in this apparently declining association, and what bases might there be for renewed Canadian interest and engagement? This paper argues that while the continuation of the Commonwealth's slow decline as a Canadian foreign policy priority is likely, it is worth resisting. If it continues, we will lose an important source of global social capital, and unmatched incentives and opportunities for the development of international empathetic understanding. Indeed, the very factors that have driven the Commonwealth's relative decline underpin its continued value as a relatively flexible and informal forum/community within which many of the salient divisions in world politics are straddled and engaged. There are, moreover, at least some bases on which a process of renewal could be anchored. The paper discusses two: 1) the opportunity to forge enhanced relationships with a handful of increasingly important countries (rising states) in world affairs-notably India; and 2) the role the Commonwealth could play as a vehicle for the Canadian government's consistently articulated priorities of fostering democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
ACCESSION #
59244850

 

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