The Sogang Herald

Reasonable Admission of the Commonwealth

By Yoo Dong-yeonl승인2008.12.01l0호

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The great legacy of British imperialism will be the Commonwealth of Nations today, which is one of the biggest international organizations in the world and, at the same time, the most singular one in terms of its membership. It is an apparent contradiction that the Commonwealth, whose head is the monarch of the United Kingdom, is mainly composed of countries colonized by the British Empire in the past. Why do they linger about in this association?

   

   Beside Kevin Rudd, the incumbent Prime Minister of Australia, stands a woman smiling. Her name is Quentin Bryce, and every Australian gives cordial hospitality to her. Ms. Bryce is the Governor-General of Australia, the representative of the monarchy of Australia.
   Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, appointed her as the Governor-General on April 13th, 2008, and she is granted a wide range of powers by the Constitution. In practice, almost all of the power resides in the Prime Minister, who is elected by the people. The Prime Minister holds office on commission from the Governor-General, who mostly acts only on the advice of the ministers. Though the Queen appoints the Governor-General, that formality is entirely based on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Governor-General is nominally the supreme executive power. It is somewhat surprising, however, that this reminder of imperialism still remains as the pivotal government post; the term Her Excellency is apparently not anachronistic at all. This singularity of the Australian political system is on account of the Commonwealth of Nations.

     
▲ Kevin Rudd and Quentin Bryce

   The basic principle: the more the better
   The origin of the Commonwealth traces back to the British imperialism in the 19th century. During this period, called the Pax Britannica, the British Empire ruled almost the whole world through colonization. After two world wars, the powers had conceded the potential hazards of keeping up colonies-the great source of disputes and wars-and decided to liberate many of their colonies. Since the loss of colonies would result in a decrease of national influence, their concerted action would be a fatal measure to Great Britain, which was at head of colonization. British politicians, however, had already noticed that they could not hold all the colonies any longer. What they devised thus was a concept of a loose organization which could replace the empire, ensuring the rights of dominions in accordance with the Statute of Westminster (1931). That expedient was the Commonwealth of Nations.
   In the mid-20th century, the international order was newly instituted under the hegemony of the United States. It was the Soviet Union that this structure targeted as the main opponent; behind the scenes, it had some degree of intent to displace the former predominating order under the British Empire. It was needed at that time for the United Kingdom to make an investment in the cooperative structure to stand against the Pax Americana. "Britain's great efforts to maintain close relations with the Commonwealth members were to grow as one which could cope with America. A great many allies would elevate Britain's national influence in international relations," said Prof. Lim Sang-woo (Dept. of History). The Commonwealth associated with the prestige of the United Kingdom is surely the one that she cannot abandon. 
   Such necessity was applicable to other members. All the members were desperate to form an alliance they could rely on in the rapidly changing world dynamics, and this need has secured the Commonwealth's survival. 

   No historical awareness or just different cases?
   Despite the historical fact that they suffered under the rule of British imperialism, the Commonwealth members decided to join this association. It is certainly not an understandable decision in the point of view of those who have had similar experiences of being colonized. British imperialism, however, had some remarkable differences-Professor Lim pointed out three historical circumstances. First, the British colonial rule was not that intense in that they generally constructed an indirect system of rule, transferring power to some of the natives. Second, the British exploitation over the colonies was minimal due to the difficulties of transportation. The long way Britain would have to go to carry the load from its colonies prevented the exhaustive exploitation often found elsewhere. Third, British imperialists did not do acts of barbarity like massacres, on account of their national pride as a civilized culture, even if they regarded native customs savage. For these reasons, the natives did not have that much animosity against Britain. Professor Lim made it clear, however, that those three circumstances did not imply British imperialists were morally superior to others. "They are an indication not of morality but of difference in extent."


   The vestiges of imperialism are now the guardians of democracy?
   Since the early 19th century, imperial preference in British colonies has worked as a crucial privilege of membership of the Commonwealth. Though globalization nowadays reduces its substantial economic benefits, this preference is of high importanceㅡin particular, to small insular countries in the Caribbean Sea, such as Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Barbados, and Dominica. "Their economic structures are entirely based on reciprocal trade with the United Kingdom, and without the Commonwealth they might perish," said Prof. Lee Geun-wook (Dept. of Political Science).
   The fundamental that catches up the members, above all, will be the protection of democracy, the pillar of the Commonwealth. The Singapore Declaration (1971) outlined several conditions required to gain membership, including *multilateralism, *egalitarianism, *individual liberty, and good governance; the Harare Declaration (1991) reaffirmed those clauses. The violation of its key principles entails suspension. Apartheid, for example, was the impetus for suspending South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961ㅡSouth Africa's readmission was granted right after the abrogation of that inhumane policy in 1993. The members are involved in the Commonwealth, thereby developing their democratic systems under its protection. 
   In other words, breaking away from the Commonwealth might lead to a breakdown of democracy. On December 27th, 2007, Benazir Bhutto, the symbol of Pakistani democracy, was assassinated, and that year a military crackdown claimed hundreds of lives in Burma. Those incidents happened when Pakistan had been suspended on account of its military government and Burma had not joined the Commonwealth. Professor Lee ascertained, "No one can assure that the small and politically unstable members will keep up their democracy after leaving the Commonwealth."

   

   Suffering and conquest of Australia and New Zealand
   Two oceanic countries-Australia and New Zealandㅡespecially would not be able to think of leaving the Commonwealth in that their national identities are closely connected to that association. The 25th of April is the national anniversary in both countries. This day is called ANZAC Day, which is a commemoration to honor the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. On April 25th, 1915, they led the campaign in a British landing operation, and by the end of the year, over ten thousand ANZAC soldiers had died. It was an enormously huge challenge to the people of the two countries. Professor Lee remarked, "There had never been such a severe and tragic ordeal like this. The people consoled and cooperated with one another for the first time. This interaction constituted national unity, which is the essence of building the national identities of Australia and New Zealand. It would be unthinkable to them to leave the Commonwealth, since that action might imply obliterating that precious memory on this ground."


   Weak, but long-lasting: an inseverable bond
   In recent decades, each member of the Commonwealth has begun to take its own line under the loose combined system; it is one way to extend their free hand in diplomacy. Australia, for instance, has made steady movements to renovate the political system with the adoption of republicanism. The majority leaned toward this reform before the *referendum; however, the bill was actually voted down in 1999. This was explained by the priority of Australia to keep the alliance rather than to obtain national sovereignty. Prof. Hwang In-won (Dept. of Political Science, Gyeongsang National University) said, "Australia had always been anxious about national security on account of its geographyㅡthe white community in Asia. They really needed the association of familiar countries which could support them in an unexpected crisis. This need was demonstrated by her rejection." The longtime necessity of alliance will fortify the Commonwealth.

  By Yoo Dong-yeon pinmail@sogang.ac.kr (Editor of The S.H.)

* multilateralism: n. trade or diplomatic negotiations among several nations
* egalitarianism: n. the doctrine of the equality of mankind and the desirability of political and economic and social

   equality
* referendum: n. a vote by the general public, rather than by governmental bodies, on a bill or some other important

   issue


By Yoo Dong-yeon  pinmail@sogang.ac.kr
<저작권자 © 서강헤럴드, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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