Even before World War II there were those who knew that the British Empire would have to go through a radical reformation. Following the war there was a period of confusion and uncertainty about how the newly declared British Commonwealth would continue in the new world order. This was made worse by the situation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
An Empire of EqualsEdit
At a meeting held in Auckland, New Zealand in 1955 the first blueprint for what would be a new Commonwealth was put forward. It was entitled "The Empire of Equals" and proposed, among others, the following restructuring.
- Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II remains the constitutional Head-of-State and whoever shall succeed her shall assume the role.
- A Commonwealth Council is to be set up to deal with all matters affecting the Commonwealth as a whole. Unless a member violates its commitments to the Commonwealth this council will have no direct legal power over any one member's internal politics.
- All member states have a right to govern their own people how they see fit.
- All member states have a duty to the protection of the rights of all their people. Failure to do so could result in expulsion from the Commonwealth. (This effectively ended Apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia).
- All member states have a duty to the protection of the other members within the Commonwealth be it political, legal or military defence. Should any member wish to establish a defence treaty on its own with another nation outside the Commonwealth it must be approved by the Commonwealth Council.
- Economic ties to be strengthened between members to allow the Commonwealth to compete on the world market against the Soviet Union and the United States.
- All remaining 'Colonies' are to be granted self-governing rights and become equal members within the Commonwealth. (This effectively granted independence to the Falkland Islands and Hong Kong, the latter of which threatened Chinese retaliation).
Once the details had been ironed out the historic signing of the New Commonwealth Charter commenced on November 14th 1956 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, London. Among the founding members were;
- Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
- Falkland Island Territories
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- Sierra Leone
- Union of South Africa
- United Kingdom of Great Britain
It was hoped that India would sign but they refused. Instead they opted for mutual defence and economic treaties with the Commonwealth.
The New Commonwealth proved an attractive prospect for many former colonies and many were eager to join especially as the New Commonwealth's power and influence increased during the 1960s and 1970s.
- Antugua & Bardua (1981)
- Bahamas (1973)
- Bangladesh (1972)
- Barbados (1966)
- Belize (1981)
- Botswana (1966)
- Brunei (1984)
- Cyprus (1961)
- Dominica (1978)
- Gambia (1965)
- Grenada (1974)
- Guyana (1966)
- Jamaica (1962)
- Kenya (1963)
- Kiribati (1979)
- Lesotho (1966)
- Malawi (1964)
- Maldives (1982)
- Malta (1964)
- Mauritius (1968)
- Namibia (1990)
- Nauru (1968)
- Nigeria (1960)
- Papua New Guinea (1975)
- Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983)
- Saint Vincent and Grenadines (1979)
- Samoa (1978)
- Tanzania (1968)
- Tonga (1970)
- Trinidad and Tobago (1962)
- Tuvalu (1978)
- Uganda (1962)
- Vanuatu (1980)
- Zambia (1964)
The founding of the New Commonwealth was met with open hostility from many quarters for varying reasons.
United States of AmericaEditFor many, the hostility from the United States came as a surprise. Once the charter was signed the United States found itself effectively cut out of much of its export potential since Commonwealth countries preferred to trade with each other. The United States also found that its influence was now beginning to wane in light of the new alliance and while it still had NATO it was unsure of the new military allegiances the Commonwealth established and which way they would turn if things with the Soviets worsened. For America, the Commonwealth was now a threat.
China was furious at the new status the island of Hong Kong was granted and feared that it threatened agreements to hand the colony back over in 1997. In truth this was an issue that was never resolved and had it not been for the '91 Disaster many believe that the end of the century would have seen a conflict between China and the Commonwealth.
Almost mirroring the situation with China and Hong Kong Argentina resented the effectual granting of independence for the Falkland Islands. It meant that Argentina could no longer claim that the islands were held by Imperial powers. This eventually resulted in the CIA-inspired Falklands War.
The New Commonwealth and the Soviet UnionEditInitially the old hostility between the members of the Commonwealth and the Soviet Union remained intact. However as time went on and the New Commonwealth began to solidify itself its members began to question whether it was in their best interest to maintain this hostility.
The Cuban Missile CrisisEdit
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a key point in the early history of the New Commonwealth. The Soviet Union pushed the world to the brink of war and the New Commonwealth was forced to chose who it wanted to support. The New Commonwealth voted to support the United States despite the hostility the North American superpower had shown to it. With the support of the New Commonwealth with the Americans the Soviets backed down.
The US attitude to the New Commonwealth (Post-1962)Edit
The result of the crisis in Cuba surprised everyone. Many thought that it would lead to improved relations with the United States but sadly this didn't happen. The United States saw the potential the New Commonwealth now had on the world stage and not having control over it worried Washington to the core. Many asked the question What would have happened if the New Commonwealth had elected to support Moscow instead? The New Commonwealth had to go and the CIA secretly drew up plans to that end.
The Soviet attitude to the New Commonwealth (Post-1962)Edit
Despite many hardliners in Moscow opposed to opening relations with the New Commonwealth there was a thinking in Moscow that it was better to befriend the new alliance of nations. Trade missions were sent to London and Canberra and this eventually lead to weapons deals for aircraft such as the Hawker Harlot.
Behind closed doors Commonwealth and Soviet leaders made secret unwritten agreements with how to behave around one another. While neither side considered the other an ally in any way or form agreements were made that the New Commonwealth would not interfere in Soviet ambitions in South East Asia and Central Africa while the Soviet Union halted support for Communist insurgencies in Belize and other Commonwealth nations.
One historian has argued that these meetings effectively divided up the world between Moscow and the New Commonwealth leaving the United States isolated except for its dwindling number of small allies.
Friends of the New CommonwealthEdit
Due to the shared experience of Suez and the equal hardship after the US reaction to the operation and continuing war the Commonwealth and France were always very close coining the phrase "the Special Relationship". France and its empire were official allies of the New Commonwealth and by the end of the 80s shared many command centres, air bases and naval bases as well as holding regular major exercises throughout the world. During the Falklands War France offered to get involved but the Commonwealth declined all help offered apart from Red Cross flights after getting wind of the CIA's involvement in the war and the reasons behind it.
Great Britain's oldest and most loyal friend Portugal was involved in the Suez war and though never an official member of the New Commonwealth alliance to all intents and purposes she was, with her armed forces operating mainly Commonwealth equipment and the joint interests in keeping open communications with parts of her former empire it was a logical and beneficial arrangement for Portugal.
JapanEditBy the start of the 1960's Japanese feeling against the American continuing occupation of the country was becoming a major political issue, which the USA was unwilling to help solve as it considered the bases in Japan too important to give up. This led in 1962 after the Cuban crisis to the then Japanese government seeing the writing on the wall, and contacting the UK in relation to reactivating the old Anglo Japanese alliance, but this time making it a Commonwealth wide alliance. Initially the proposal was met with hostility from Australia and New Zealand but the public apology by the Emperor and the entire Japanese parliament and the two days of national shutdown in shame for the country's actions in World War Two started the road to reproachment and eventual alliance and by 1977 and the Queen's Jubilee Japanese ships and aircraft where in the allies section of the Queen's reviews.
More or less forced into the open arms of the Commonwealth by the actions of the CIA and Argentina, Chile proved a good friend to the Commonwealth during the Falklands war , with major elements of the RAF such as the Singapore Strike Wing being based there.
During the late 1940s, there were incidents of Soviet aircraft attacking Swedish aircraft over the Baltic Sea. Matters came to head in 1952, when the Soviets shot down a Swedish Air Force C-47 followed a couple of weeks later by a torpedoing by a Soviet submarine of a Swedish cruise liner, causing 800 deaths. An outraged Swedish government first asked the United Nations, then the United States for help, but both of them decided not to help Sweden face down the Soviets. Swedish prime minister Tage Erlander, in a last ditch effort for assistance, asked the British government for help, which Britain replied by sending one of their carrier groups into the Baltic forcing the Soviets to back down. With the help of British prime minister Winston Churchill, prime minister Erlander formed a long-proposed defensive alliance with the governments of Norway & Denmark becoming valuable allies of Great Britain & the New Commonwealth. During the Suez & Falklands crises, Swedish armed forces units helped stand in for British units that were deployed in those two conflicts.