On May 6, 2023, Charles III succeeded his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, as Britain’s new monarch. As the celebrations in the United Kingdom have now concluded, a new era of the British monarchy is officially underway. The festivities in and around London have naturally provoked those living within the bounds of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations to consider the prospects of a new future under the hand of their newly crowned King. After nearly 70 years of rule under Queen Elizabeth II, the Commonwealth of Nations has evolved from a tool for Britain’s post-colonial enforcement of influence over the stretches of their former empire into a way to dress a veil over the atrocities committed by British rule.
The beginning of the modern Commonwealth began in 1949 when the leaders of 8 countries led by the United Kingdom gathered to reassert their commitment to the old association of the Commonwealth but with a new purpose and motivation. Their goal was to establish a free-enterprising association of nations who would be considered “free and equal members… freely cooperating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress.” Even as large a country as India, a rising global economy where half of the Commonwealth’s population resides, desired to enter the organization in 1949, just 2 years after gaining its independence in 1947.
Almost the entirety of the modern Commonwealth’s existence has been under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who was successfully able to assert the UK’s leadership in the organization by making it a mechanism for smaller countries with less influence to utilize its soft power in the world to attain a platform for their concerns. This soft power, or the power for countries to impart their set of values or goals on another country, was considerably formidable during the 1950s and 1960s when the U.K. was the third largest power in the world. However, today, the Commonwealth only provides a fraction of its previous influence only because of its sheer size of about 2.6 billion people and not because the U.K. is its leader. Considering today’s multipolar world, where multiple countries harbor significant pull on the international stage, the Commonwealth’s mutual cooperation and simple association might be the only benefits preventing its dissolution.
As the U.K.’s influence in the world has decreased significantly since the early 20th century, many Commonwealth countries are far more empowered to assert themselves in opposition to the British monarchy’s imperial glory days. This is evident in the protests of the monarchy at Charles’ coronation and a host of Commonwealth nations already pressing King Charles to immediately hold a “day of reckoning” that was promised but postponed by Queen Elizabeth. Consequently, King Charles’ first challenge as the new British monarch will be tackling the challenges of reaffirming the global goals of the Commonwealth, and solidifying the purpose of the monarchy as not just a ceremonial head but a force to effect progress towards global issues like climate change, world hunger and poverty.
Before the monarchy empowers the Commonwealth to tackle these challenges, King Charles must reckon with the United Kingdom’s role in creating the very challenges he seeks to solve. Not only to acknowledge the history and disadvantages the world’s largest empire has been complicit in perpetuating, but in order to heed the basic logic that the former colonies crave: “in order to solve a challenge, one must identify its cause.”