Hail Britannia: The Benefits of Empire in the Modern Age

Article excerpt

In 1999, Australians will enter the voting booth to decide the fate of the monarchy in their country. The choice, ostensibly, is between a native president and continued allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II. Many around the world, however, see this vote as something far grander--a referendum on the historical legacy of the British Empire. A vote against the Queen, the pundits contend, is a vote against the British Commonwealth itself.

Or is it? The republican movement in Australia is quick to point out that the initiation of a republic will not sever any ties to the Commonwealth of Nations. Under the "India rule," established to allow New Delhi to join without swearing allegiance to the British monarch, many former colonies have joined the Commonwealth as republics, allowing a republican Australia, too, to retain ties to the monarchy. Far from being outdated, the British Commonwealth is a vibrant, vital organization with an important role to play in the twenty-first century. The Commonwealth of the next millenium will provide humanitarian assistance, promote peace, and drive economic growth around the globe.

On August 21, 1995, the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted, spewing a cloud of ash high above the tranquil island of Montserrat. For 15 minutes, the sky above the capital of Plymouth turned black. In the midsts of this catastrophe, Britain rushed to her colony's aid. Despite tension between Montserrat and London, Whitehall is spending US$64 million to develop the unaffected northern half of the island, an amount greater than their entire pre-eruption GNP of US$55.6 million and far surpassing Montserrat's entire government outlays of US$15.6 million. In addition, London is spending another US$16.8 million to relocate Montserratians who found their houses and livelihood destroyed.

The rebuilding of Montserrat is but one of many humanitarian projects embarked on by the Commonwealth. From March 30 to April 3, 1998, representatives of Britain, Australia, Canada, and a number of other member countries met in Malta for the Malta Workshop, a conference designed to improve the health education in Commonwealth Nations. By bringing together both public and private sector representatives, the Commonwealth allowed an interaction of diverse nations and interests that few bodies can provide.

After becoming independent in 1981, the tiny Central American nation of Belize found itself embroiled in a border dispute with her much larger neighbor, Guatemala. With a minimal defense budget of US$8.1 million and a population of only 220,000, the former colony was unable to defend herself without outside assistance. Because of her membership in the Commonwealth, however, Whitehall stationed the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) and an Army Air Corps helicopter flight in the Central American nation as a deterrent to any possible Guatemalan aggression.

Thousands of miles to the south, on April 2, 1982, the British military went into action as Argentine Marines landed and captured the Falkland islands. …