The Commonwealth of Nations, known simply as the Commonwealth, is a political association of former British Empire territories.
The Commonwealth stemmed from the decolonization of the British Empire through increased self-governance of its territories. The member states have no legal obligations to one another but are connected through historical ties and use of the English language. Members states also have shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, as outlined in the Commonwealth Charter.
The Charter describes the Commonwealth as “a voluntary association of independent and sovereign states, each responsible for its own policies, consulting and co-operating in the common interests of our peoples in the promotion of international understanding and world peace, and influencing international society to the benefit of all trough the pursuit of common principles and values.”
- The Commonwealth is made up of three intergovernmental organizations:
- The Commonwealth Secretariat: supports member countries to achieve the commonwealth’s goals.
- The Commonwealth Foundation: supports participation in democracy and development.
- The Commonwealth of Learning: promotes open learning and distance education.
In addition to these three main organizations, member states are also supported by an additional 80 intergovernmental, professional, civil, and cultural organizations.
History of the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth was created in 1926 through the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference, originally called the British Commonwealth of Nations, and was formalized by the United Kingdom in 1931. The modern Commonwealth was constituted in 1949 by the London Declaration, which was signed by eight countries: the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Canada. The London Declaration established the member states as “free and equal.”
The Commonwealth was first headed by King George VI. After his passing, Queen Elizabeth II became the Head of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth member countries choose who becomes the Head of the Commonwealth, it is not automatically passed between the British Royal Family.
Since its establishment, the Commonwealth has signed several declarations.
Membership requirements have changed several times since the establishment of the Commonwealth. While the Commonwealth originally required dominionhood for membership, it changed to requiring new members must have a direct constitutional link to current members, “as a general rule.” Despite this, in 1995, Mozambique became the first country to join the Commonwealth without having a direct link to a member.
Today, requirements for membership are that the member countries must:
- Accept and comply with the Harare principles.
- Be fully sovereign states.
- Recognize the Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth.
- Accept the English language as the means of Commonwealth communication. Respect the wishes of the general population vis-à-vis Commonwealth membership
The leaders of each member country meet every two years at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The meetings are used as a way to discuss policies and problems affecting the member countries.