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The commonwealth: Who cares?Sir Geoffrey HowePublished online: 15 Apr 2008.
To cite this article: Sir Geoffrey Howe (1987) The commonwealth: Who cares?, TheRound Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 76:301, 18-21, DOI:10.1080/00358538708453787
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18 The Round Table (1981), 301 (18-21)
THE COMMONWEALTH:WHO CARES?
SIR GEOFFREY HOWE
MY OWN PERSONAL COMMONWEALTH EXPERIENCES go back along way, much further than I care to remember. At Sunday School in1935 I was presented with a card bearing a message from King George V on theoccasion of his Silver Jubilee. It was addressed 'To the children of the BritishEmpire', and read 'As you grow up you will be the citizens of a great Empire. . . be ready and proud to give to your country the services of your work, yourmind and your heart'. The Empire has passed away, the Commonwealth standsin its place. The message remains true today.
Some years later, I was fortunate to serve with the King's Africa Rifles inKenya and Uganda. Alas my Swahili has rusted almost beyond repair, but Icherish the time spent there.
More recently as Chancellor of Exchequer, I greatly appreciated Common-wealth Finance Ministers' Meetings. Twice I had the privilege of being Chair-man, once in Bermuda and once in London. On the latter occasion I was able toentertain my colleagues in the Tower of London, and was much criticized forever having let them out. These contacts proved particularly useful when I wassubsequently Chairman of the IMF Interim Committee.
And I have had countless contacts in my present job, at Heads of Govern-ment Meetings and elsewhere. I am proud that my job is described as that ofForeign and Commonwealth Secretary: the only one of 49 to be identified inthis way.
Hence I have many personal insights and bonds of affection. We certainlyneed both if we are to tackle the problems facing the world today.
Many cry out to be tackled multilaterally: global problems need globalanswers. The UK fully recognizes this. We of all countries are not in thebusiness of a 'retreat from multilateralism'. Quite the reverse. Almost 30 percent of expenditure for which I am responsible as Foreign and CommonwealthSecretary, including aid, is directly related to multilateral organizations. Andthat does not include Britain's contribution to the European Community.
So naturally we wantwe all wantinternational institutions to be aseffective as possible, in order to respond to real needs in a balanced way. If theydo not, they will lose credibility, even the support of their own members. TheCommonwealth has succeeded in avoiding this pitfall: long may that continue.
A speech given by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Common-wealth Parliamentary Conference in London on 30 September 1986.
0035-8533/87/301018-04$03.00 1987 Butterworth & Co (Publishers) Ltd
THE COMMONWEALTH: WHO CARES?
Of course, many Commonwealth countries work hard in their own regionalorganizationsfor some it may be ASEAN, for others CARICOM, or theSouth Pacific Forum. Britain's regional commitment is to the EuropeanCommunity.
Active regional diplomacy need not, and does not, mean that we care lessabout the Commonwealth. Britain's commitment to the Communityas wellas to the Commonwealthstrengthens both organizations, particularly atpresent when Britain has the Community Presidency.
Thus my recent mission in that role to Southern Africa has been generallyseen as a useful reinforcement of our own Commonwealth Eminent PersonsGroupnot least by members of that Group. The few Commonwealthspeakers who still take a different view must, I think, be seen as carrying brandloyalty to the Commonwealth beyond the call of duty.
Certainly in the Commonwealth and in our regional organizations, there aresome issues which we cannot escape, problems that literally straddle the world.
Let me say a word about three such world-straddling issueseach verydifferent from the others.
I have something first to say about food. Yes, food. For the way in which theworld is producing its food today is to say the least paradoxical! Full ofparadoxesfrom which I select just two.
Paradox number one: more plus more can equal less. Overall the world'sfood problem today is not one of shortages but of surpluses. And thesesurplusestoo much food in some parts of the worldaggravate shortageselsewhere. Protectionism for high cost surplus producers damages exportprospects for low-cost growerssometimes even destroys their domesticmarkets. So local production becomes uneconomic and goes into decline.
So you come to the second, even more distressing, paradox: huge surplusesco-exist with terrible food shortages, particularly in parts of Africa.
Commonwealth countries are deeply involved in every aspect of this process.Some of those countries most seriously affected by shortages are Common-wealth members. But so too are a number of the surplus producersand notjust in temperate climates. For developing Commonwealth members aresteadily improving their ability to feed themselves and produce surpluses. Therehave been outstanding successes: India's green revolution, for example, andZimbabwe's maize production.
The most urgent human problem, of course, is to feed the hungry. Common-wealth institutions play a key role here: transferring agricultural expertise,securing more reliable transport systems and so on: and, most important of allperhaps, by helping to sustain and enhance the stability of government, withoutwhich nothing is possible.
But far the largest political problem is to curb the growth, to cut the size, ofthe protected food surplusesto 'demountainize food', as I said at the TokyoSummit. Our greatest political skills will be needed to achieve this at the sametime as maintaining the economic and social health of our rural communities.
Britain plays a leading part in each of these processes. The British Govern-ment last year delivered almost 100 million worth of food aid. Band Aid andLive Aid raised 60 million more. Our total aid to Africa in 1985 was worth550 million. And in Europe Britain is championing the reform of the Common
THE COMMONWEALTH: WHO CARES?
Agricultural Policy. A caring Commonwealth can not only bring food to thehungry but can also help preach the gospel of uncomfortable political change tosurplus producers and agricultural protectionists around the world.
Let me turn now to a second problem, which similarly affects us all. How arewe to cope with the far-reaching consequences of the transport explosion,which has so dramatically shrunk the size of the world?
Today's global mobility would astonish our forefathers. When thisAssociation first met in 1911, many must have needed weeks to get here by trainand ship. Yet now we can fly half-way round the world in 24 hours.
This ability to travel has had various consequences. Many countries nowcontain immigrant communities, often from other parts of the Common-wealth. Loyal to their new homes, these communities retain links with their oldones. They bring new skills and ideas, but their presence can lead to friction.Between hosts and new arrivals: between country of origin and country ofsettlement.
Global tourism is a positive aspect of this mobilityinternational terrorism avery negative one. The one teaches nation about nation and brings countriescloser to