The Royal Baby Actually has Some Global Political Significance . . . But Only Some

British Flag

By Andreas Kuersten

With all of the shameless news coverage of the lead up to, birth, and post-birth activities of the newest member of the British royal family, fans of international politics may have gotten a little annoyed.  The rest of the world did not cease to spin and other events that really effect international affairs continued to take place.  But there are some reasons why the birth of little Prince George Alexander Louis matters in international relations.

To begin with, he is likely the future holder of the British Crown, which is still vested with an immense amount of power.  This power is contained in the Royal Prerogatives, which include the authority to:

1)    Recognize foreign states;

2)    Declare war;

3)    Make treaties;

4)    Accredit diplomats;

5)    Deploy the armed forces in the United Kingdom and abroad;

6)    Appoint and dismiss ministers;

7)    Dissolve Parliament;

8)    Appoint and regulate the civil service;

9)    Grant assent to bills;

10) Commission and regulate the armed forces;

11) Call elections; and

12) Grant honors.

Most of these powers have, however, been delegated to the Prime Minister and civil service.  A recent example is the United Kingdom’s involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In that conflict, it was Prime Minister Tony Blair who deployed and exercised overall control over the armed forces.  Though he sought parliamentary approval for British participation, Parliament’s ascent was legally advisory since Blair, as Prime Minister, could exercise the Royal Prerogative.

Queen ElizabethWith many of the prerogatives, the monarch exercises a symbolic function.  Should the United Kingdom declare war, Queen Elizabeth would most likely make the formal declaration upon the advice of the Prime Minister.  The Queen also formally opens and dissolves Parliament, approves laws, and appoints the Prime Minister.  Yet, practically, she has no part in any of these actions.  The only prerogative the Crown maintains control over is the bestowing of certain high honors.

While British monarchs have, in recent history, left fallow their impressive powers, many are still legally in their hands.  Furthermore, both through constitutional arrangements and as the head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the British Crown has significant legal and symbolic power over other states as well, including: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Belize, and many others.  These powers are similarly dormant and delegated to civic officials.

Without engaging the royal prerogatives, the Queen has, however, still exercised substantial influence.  She openly supported Nelson Mandela and made contributions to the ending of apartheid in South Africa.  The Queen has also had a significant impact on independence movements in former British colonies, supporting most during decolonization and coming out against Quebec’s.  Though the British Crown no longer backs up its words with action, those words carry a lot of weight over a large portion of the globe.

Since royal title and authority is handed down through family, the birth of an heir to the British throne is a rare occurrence involving the creation of a person who is almost guaranteed to possess significant power and influence in the future.  This sort of preordained life path to power is rare, most especially in the West, and only finds parallels in states such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and others similar where power remains tightly connected to familial relation.  While these cases differ since they involve assent to positions where individuals will actually exercise control over the state, most of these same powers will likely eventually be vested in little Prince George.

Ultimately, it is more than likely that Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George will all inhabit the throne with the same restraint as Queen Elizabeth, but immense state power still resides with the Crown.  Any one of them could cause quite the domestic and geopolitical ripple if they decided to assert themselves.  They will also be able to exert significant international influence by simply operating in their symbolic capacity.  For these reasons, Prince George’s birth should garner some interest from the foreign policy community.  But only some.

Picture 1: Jiri Hodan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: NASA/Bill Ingalls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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