The Focus of the Commonwealth

The focus of the Commonwealth from the late 1940s has been co-operation and consultation on both political and economic affairs. Of these two main areas of interest, economic co-operation has proven the less controversial one. The Commonwealth was the impetus for the first significant development assistance programme in 1950 – the Colombo Plan, providing capital and technical assistance to countries in South and South-East Asia. It was followed in 1958 and in 1960 by Commonwealth assistance programmes targeted first to Caribbean and then to African developing countries.

Inevitably, as a greater variety of viewpoints assembled around the Commonwealth table, the achieving of consensus on political issues became more challenging. But there is considerable value in communication and consultation among states, even when discussions do not result in complete unanimity or agreement. In principle, consultation provides for greater mutual understanding between countries, and the hope that they can support each other’s development.

The ability to maintain friendly relations while ‘agreeing to disagree’ is crucial for securing international peace. This facility is often upheld as the Commonwealth’s greatest contribution to world affairs. It has proven useful in broader contexts such as the United Nations, where consultation among Commonwealth countries was able to circumvent some of the ‘East-West’ divisions of the Cold War, as well as the ‘developed and developing world’ divisions in debates about creating a new international economic order.