The Round Table first appeared in 1910 with the subtitle ‘A Quarterly Review of the Politics of the British Empire’. As well as regular articles from around the then British empire, it promised informed analysis of wider aspects of colonial and imperial affairs, and of international relations more generally. Early issues included articles on Anglo-German rivalry, Japanese ambitions in East Asia, the foreign policy of the United States, and trends in contemporary Islam.
Many of the Round Table’s founders at first supported ‘imperial federation’, by which they meant the transfer of the control of defence, foreign and colonial policy from Westminster to a new parliament representative of all the self-governing parts of the Empire. The years 191014 saw the issue of a series of ‘Round Table studies’ of imperial affairs, drawing on the reports of working groups scattered around the Empire. The First World War put an end to this activity, and also to any realistic hopes for ‘imperial federation’.
During the course of their ‘studies’, Round Table members hit upon what they claimed to be the distinctive feature of the British Empire: that it was a ‘Commonwealth’, committed to increasing self-government and equality amongst its members.
The new emphasis led to a change in the journal’s sub-title in 1919, to ‘A Quarterly Review of the Politics of the British Commonwealth’. (It became ‘A Quarterly Review of British Commonwealth Affairs’ in 1948, ‘A Quarterly Review of Commonwealth Affairs’ in 1966, and ‘The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs’ in 1983.) It also led to the Round Table’s support for and involvement in moves towards increasing self-government in the empirenotably in connection with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the Indian reforms of 1919 and 1935.
In the 1920s and 1930s, members of the Round Table continued to advocate close co-operation between Britain and the now fully self-governing ‘Dominions’ (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), but also alignment and increasing co-operation with the USA. In the 1930s, largely because of these concerns, some members were prominently associated with the policy of ‘appeasement’ of Weimar and then Nazi Germany. The Round Table itself carried articles both supporting and opposing ‘appeasement’, reflecting a split in the editorial board.
The Second World War marked a watershed for the Round Table, as for the British Empire. A younger generation of editorial board members came to the fore (though the last of the founders, Lord Brand, died only in 1963); and the journal became more clearly a journal for the exchange of opinions and analysis rather than the purveyor of a particular point of view. This trend accelerated with the introduction of signed articles in 1966, and the increasingly ‘academic’ orientation of the journal. Nevertheless, the Round Table’s interest in policy matters has ensured that the worlds of journalism, politics, administration and business continue to be represented among both writers and readers of the journal.
While the time is long past when members of the editorial board let alone writers in the journal can be said to subscribe to a particular viewpoint or to promote a particular set of proposals, the Round Table nevertheless continues to take as its starting-point that the Commonwealth remains an organization of significance in international affairs, and that it deserves to be taken seriously by academics and others interested in contemporary international relations.