Winston Churchill once said, “I never worry about action, but only inaction.” He could well have been talking about the problem the Commonwealth faces today. After the recent exit of Gambia, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on Monday, confirmed that he would be boycotting the November Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in protest against the human rights record of the host nation Sri Lanka.
That Harper’s boycott statement comes after news that Queen Elizabeth II will give the summit a miss, a first in 42 years, is not good news for the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.
The Commonwealth faces a crisis of credibility today. In this, it is not alone. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) is an example of how futile a group can become if its objectives are hijacked by member nations.
For a greater part of its 27 years of existence, the Saarc has been a forum where India-Pakistan ties have been focus. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is still afloat — never mind that the Cold War is over and most member nations have aligned with one or the other superpower.
In contrast to this, groups formed primarily on an economic-trade foundation seem to wield more power. The relevance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is reflected in the fact that larger non-member nations like the United States, Russia and China attend its forums like the East Asia Summit.
Similarly groups like the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are prominent because they are relevant in the current scheme of things. This cannot be said of the Commonwealth, NAM, or the Saarc.
The purpose and necessity of these relics of a bygone era should be assessed.
They hardly ever take a strong stand, preferring to stick to the middle path, in order to avoid action against member states that violate their core values.
For such groups to remain in the reckoning, it is essential that they reassert their principles. If they cannot reinvent themselves, they are best off shutting shop and making way for groupings that have influence over the course of events in today’s world.