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Divided Commonwealth

In January, the seventeenth Commonwealth Conference was held in London.
Our Regional Editor for the United Kingdom was again invited by the Secretary-General
to attend a special meeting to put questions to the Prime Ministers and diplomats attending the Conference.
Here is his analysis of that meeting and of today's divided Commonwealth!


London, England

COMMONWEALTH meetings used to be times when the great British-reared "family of nations" came together for frank but cheerful discussions.

Times have changed.

Today's Commonwealth Conferences are far from occasions of jubilation. No longer are these Conferences friendly "family reunions."


Why Commonwealth Conflicts

The sixteenth (1966) Commonwealth Conference all but broke up over differences in how to handle the Rhodesian problem. This year's seventeenth Conference wasn't quite so stormy. But it was quite evident that there is still much contention over such thorny Commonwealth problems as the Rhodesian question, the Nigerian-Biafrian conflict, and the touchy racial immigration issue!

How can these — and other — knotty problems be solved in such a way as to preserve real peace, harmony and cooperation between members of this Commonwealth of Nations? Today's Commonwealth, remember, is made up of a motley assortment of twenty-eight nations — representing over one-fourth of the earth's peoples and land surface.

I was invited to attend a special informal meeting of the Prime Ministers of today's Commonwealth. Speaking to a number of Prime Ministers — Mr. Trudeau, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Dr. Kaunda, and Dr. Makarios — I learned, firsthand, their reactions to the sticky problems which confront today's multicolored, divided Commonwealth.

The Secretary-General, Mr. Arnold Smith, and the Prime Ministers to whom I spoke, know that the big problems confronting the Commonwealth all revolve around the racial issues, or barriers, which do exist in today's multiracial Commonwealth.

Mr. Arnold Smith reported to the Commonwealth Conference in 1966 that the whole world was watching to see if the member nations of the Commonwealth could cooperate effectively across racial barriers. He pointed out at that time that the real crux of the Rhodesian problem was whether or not the diverse races of mankind could get along together. The whole world was, he said, watching to see whether or not the multi-racial Commonwealth could survive — and prosper!

Mr. Smith recently told me that, despite serious differences, he didn't think any disgruntled members were seriously thinking about leaving the Commonwealth at this time.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General said that this meeting was being attended by 24 Heads of Governments, while only four Commonwealth nations didn't send their Heads of State — just sent representatives. He said he thought this was the largest meeting of Heads of State since the 1947 San Francisco Conference.


India to Withdraw?

Mr. Smith spoke of the "disenchantment between the races" which make up today's multi-colored Commonwealth. Many believe India is being subverted by communism. Communist gains in India's February elections lend weight to that conviction.

But India's Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, told me she didn't think her country was in danger of a communist take-over — as had recently been hinted by the British press.

Just before the January Commonwealth Conference began, reports in British newspapers, radio and T.V. were saying Mrs. Indira Gandhi had even said that India might leave the Commonwealth. This she later denied. But there can be no doubt that the Commonwealth's most populous country, India, is beset by many problems, and is slipping in the direction of communism.

Zambia's Prime Minister, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, refused to attend the 1966 Commonwealth Conference because of a serious disagreement with Britain and other members of the Commonwealth over how the 'Rhodesian rebellion" should be handled. Dr. Kaunda favored military intervention by Britain and other Common wealth members. Most of the Commonwealth knew that an attempted military solution could have set all Africa ablaze in a nightmarish racial war.

Rhodesia, the Republic of South Africa, Mozambique (and possibly even Portugal and other nations) would certainly have joined forces to resist any armed attempt to overthrow the Smith regime. The outcome of such a military conflict could have been fraught with more danger than the Vietnamese conflagration! Britain and other members of the Commonwealth could see this and wanted to avoid a direct military confrontation with Rhodesia and her loyal allies. Besides, Britons weren't eager to kill their own "kith and kin" in Rhodesia.

When I spoke to Dr. Kaunda at the recent Commonwealth Conference, he gave me the impression he had never fully forgiven Britain for not intervening to overthrow Mr. Ian Smith's government in Rhodesia.

The members of the Commonwealth are generally agreed that Mr. Smith's U.D.I. (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) was "illegal" and they all wanted to see Mr. Smith's government overthrown — but no Commonwealth nation wanted to have the expense, trouble and bloodshed necessary to bring about such a large undertaking.

The Commonwealth members are like the "council of mice" who, according to Aesop's Fables, once got together to consider what to do to protect themselves against the menace of a certain cat who had the obnoxious habit of eating mice.

During the council session one bright mouse popped up with the brilliant suggestion that a bell be put around the neck of the offending cat. This would warn all the mice when the cat was approaching. Every mouse in the council loudly applauded the idea. But one wise old mouse dampened their enthusiasm considerably by asking one penetrating question: "Who is going to put the bell on the cat?"

This question quickly dissipated all of the mice's applause and enthusiasm. None was quite prepared to accept so formidable a challenge. So it is with the members of the Commonwealth toward the Rhodesian lion!

Dr. Kaunda recently told me that he still strongly believes Britain should take steps to see that Mr. Smith's government is overthrown — by military force if necessary. He then said he feels less bloodshed in Africa will result from this course of action, than if nothing is done until a very hot, bloody racial war engulfs all of southern Africa.

He has even offered his country, Zambia, as a launching-base for Britain to use in overthrowing Rhodesia.

Many African states are certainly disturbed by the continuing prosperity and growing strength of Rhodesia — where about 225,000 white, European-descended Rhodesians rule over 4,000,000 Rhodesian blacks.

Having travelled throughout Zambia and Rhodesia, I feel that I pretty well understand the racial conflict of that continent.

The European Rhodesians see what occurred in the Congo, in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and other African-run nations — and they are simply not prepared to lose all they have struggled to build up through the centuries. They point to the fact that the Africans are better off in nations like South Africa and Rhodesia where the whites are still masters. They shake their heads, saying they are not about to turn the reins of government over to the Africans whom they argue are nowhere near qualified to run their own national affairs.

Thus the black and white members of the Commonwealth are deadlocked over the solution to the Rhodesian impasse — are quite unable to untie the tangled Rhodesian knot.

Mr. Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, told me that he and his government are seriously considering taking Canada out of NATO. He said he is more concerned about "national unity" in Canada than anything else. Mr. Trudeau, himself of French and British ancestry, is very anxious to solve Canada's racial unity problems.

Does Canada support the doctrine of armed intervention in Rhodesia? If Canada isn't even willing to remain in NATO, certainly she couldn't be counted on to supply troops to fight against her own white Rhodesian relatives thousands of miles away.

Most of today's biggest Commonwealth problems all revolve around the explosive issue of "race." This sad, poignant fact keeps throwing itself in the face of today's divided Commonwealth.

What is the Commonwealth? When did it begin? What useful purpose, if any, does it serve today? What is its future?


Britain's Empire

Today's Commonwealth of twenty-eight self-ruling nations is actually an outgrowth of the once-proud British Empire, originally consisting of many territories ruled by Britain.

Sir Kenneth Bradley, CMG, Director, Commonwealth Institute, thus defined the Commonwealth: "The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent nations consisting of Britain and those countries which were formerly in the British Empire or had been Protected States in treaty relations with The Crown."

Sir Kenneth says that it is not just "a prolongation of the Empire." "It is an experiment in living together by many different peoples who share a common heritage of ideals and institutions . . ."

He then points out that the peoples of the Commonwealth "belong to many races and religions, and speak a multitude of tongues; they comprise more than a quarter of the world's population, and they occupy a quarter of its land surface."

Sir Kenneth continues: "Before 1947, when the Commonwealth consisted of Britain and the old "White Dominions," its statesmen thought of it mainly in terms of political relations, defense and trade. It was very much a family affair . . ."