Courtesy Reuters

Postwar Strains on the British Commonwealth

HAS the British Commonwealth of Nations been fundamentally weakened since 1939? Certainly it has suffered contraction of territory through the secession of Burma. Its military position in Asia has been weakened by the transfer of power in India, and its position in the Middle East has been damaged by the withdrawal of troops from Egypt and Palestine. It has sustained heavy loss of economic resources by destruction in war and by expenditure in the waging of war. These are injuries, some of them formidable in character, whose final consequences cannot yet be foretold. But not all are to be taken at their face value. Was not, for example, a discontented India as much a liability as an asset to the Commonwealth in 1939? Moreover, the lasting consequences of wartime changes on the position of the Commonwealth are best judged not by an analysis of economic or territorial loss, but by their impact upon its essential nature. The Commonwealth's contribution, said Field Marshal Smuts, "in human qualities of balance and moderation, good sense, good humor, and fair play are of a very special character. They are worth more than scores of divisions and without them divisions must ultimately fail." This may seem paradoxical at a time when the thoughts of men are again preoccupied with the analysis of tangible material strength. But it remains true that no assessment of the position of the Commonwealth in the postwar world can neglect these human and political factors, for it is on them, for good or ill, and not upon its organization of power or its capacity to wage war, that the Commonwealth is founded.

The drafters of the historic 1926 Report on Imperial Relations implicitly recognized that a Commonwealth whose member states "were autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs," could not be a centralized Commonwealth. Its unique character emerged only with the transfer of power from the center

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