Lord Howell: "The Commonwealth has a crucial military dimension which one hears barely acknowledged"

Our Chairman, Lord Howell, spoke recently at a Royal United Services Institution (RUSI) conference on International Military Influence.

Crucially, he made significant references to the power potential of the Commonwealth through greater interaction in a strategic and defence setting. This builds on our report The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty which we launched with the support of former UK Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox MP. We also launched in Toronto with the then Defence Minister, Jason Kenney MP.

Lord Howell told the audience:

“In all the military rethinking going on I see very little of this [the Commonwealth] inspiring vista or this binding message . The rest of the world marvels at how little use we make of our Commonwealth potential. Not only is this one of our biggest soft power assets, there is also a crucial military dimension, which again one hears barely acknowledged. 

“The mounting horrors of terrorism remind us that a globally connected response is required. NATO membership is vital in our region but not nearly enough. Commonwealth military chiefs and security experts already work quietly but closely together…Britain and Commonwealth countries increasingly train together, exercise together, plan together.

“For deploying Britain’s undeniably immense, but still underused, soft power assets the Commonwealth, with its ready-made trust network, is the ideal forum andplatform, even though it has some backsliders.

“To see things through thislens demands a changed mindset amongstpolicy-makers and those in all branches of government, civil and military, who are charged with safeguardingBritain’s security, its global business, its brand and its reputation – namely the combat troops of our immense, but under-used, soft and smart power.”

In our report we have called for a Commonwealth Defence Forum to enable these countries a space to discuss the security issues that impact them. These can range from humanitarian and disaster relief, terrorism, radicalisation, cyber security, drug smuggling, military training, and many more besides.

The UK should build on its current military links to Commonwealth nations for a wider understanding of global affairs and solutions. For example, HMS Lancaster’s recent visit to the port of Lagos, Nigeria to help train its navy and the recent UK-South African Forum which had a section given over to security concerns.

We hope that Lord Howell’s remarks at RUSI are taken up by UK defence personnel who attended that conference as they are vital to the UK’s future. With a new Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in the coming weeks the Defence Minister’s remarks to RUSI in September have a Commonwealth implication:

“Firstly, Defence must become international by design: the way we make policy, plan and train must increasingly reflect the reality of how we operate. In a world with global problems we require multi-national solutions. The UK already has a proud history of international co-operation…So in the coming months you can expect to see specific undertakings as part of the SDSR, outlining our international-by-design approach.”