The Commonwealth has always been defined as a crucial social, cultural and economic alliance of independent and equal countries. From its curation, it has sought to affix the ideas of working together towards joint peace and prosperity for its 2.4 billion citizens across 54 nations. With the rise of existential geo-security concerns from foreign powers that seek to dominate regions both militarily and geopolitically — the need for a renewed Commonwealth has never been greater. A modern, 21st Century, ‘Commonwealth Security Pact’ should be established to counter the world’s increasing cyber, territorial and fiscally predatory threats. Organisations, like the Commonwealth Security Group, should take centre stage on programmes to bring sovereign nations together on joint thematic accords. Critically, these security themes should coalesce with existing guidelines set up by International initiatives like NATO and 5 eyes. 

The global cyber threat has transitioned from singular group entities to state-backed attacks on industries from utilities and finance to government. When looking at a ‘Live Cyber Threat Map’ online, it is difficult not to notice the patterns of malware, phishing and other exploits emanating from more developed countries and targeting those that struggle to defend themselves on a basic level. Primarily, many of the nations that are crippled from such attacks are either members of — or allied to members of — the Commonwealth. It seems axiomatic to create a ‘Cyber Umbrella’, similar to the eponymously named nuclear alternative, that would be spearheaded by the technically abundant nations. In fact, a working group that would be based in South-East Asia, would utilise the experiences of countries like Pakistan and India to increase R&D on a Commonwealth wide cyber programme. 

Maritime, trade and conservation has been threatened by international efforts to fight over port access and island tampering. The South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region are clear examples of this, where countries like China are staking claims further into international waters — igniting the region into an island arms race. One of the notable problems was the initial lack of security co-operation from allied powers; leading to ‘bully-boy’ tactics used by China on some of the smaller Pacific nations. However, the Pacific region boasts 11 Commonwealth countries that (although they have had initial maritime-security dialogue) have yet to extend their diplomatic relations to a military one. If an axis from Malaysia to New Zealand were established, that is founded on a similar principle to NATO’s Article 5, a maritime blockade would form. This would produce a ‘safe zone’ that could be utilised for joint economic purposes and develop organisations like the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust. Australia would be the natural country in the region to lead on such a sensitive project, due to its strong naval presence and HMAS Melbourne (R21) Light Aircraft carriers.

Finally, a growing international concern is developing around the use of both ‘debt-trap-diplomacy’ and the turning of less developed nations to insecure forms of lending. It is well documented that the international financial system discriminates against developing countries. Credit ratings are often non-inclusive and there is usually ‘strings attached’ to grants and aid funding. Currently, this funding gap is being filled by states like Russia and China who are exploiting the situation to supplement their existing imperial machines. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is investing between $4-8 trillion, even though Beijing knows the majority of states will be incapable of paying for projects. This creates a vicious asset access or swapping cycle that moves the issue from an economic development crisis to a geo-security one. The easiest way to tackle this issue is to beef-up the existing Commonwealth Bank and establish an arms length body for Commonwealth related strategic investment. The former would place R&D and precedence on businesses related to the Commonwealth first, while ensuring interest rates are low and equity deals are available. Contrastingly, the latter should be analogous to other development banks like IsDB, CAF or EIB where investment is centred on individuals benefiting their community and Bloc states. 

To conclude, the existing set up of the Commonwealth must choose to pivot or expand its remit to include facets of security and military concerns. Without this the institution will lack a strategic nature, relevance and will struggle to stand-up to the challenges of the 21st Century. The UK is perfectly placed to front this redesign; with the Armed Forces and intelligence community taking a principal lead. The UK has the talents and capacity to build consensus and should leverage its existing military co-operations to encourage these thematic changes to the fabric of the Commonwealth.

By CFAF Member Tukeer Hussain