Commonwealth of Nations

Commonwealth of Nations
Commonwealth of Nations
 The Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth, is a loose cultural and political alliance of former British Empire territories. The idea of the commonwealth continually evolved after its origins in the mid- to late 19th century. The term referred to the settler colonies: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Newfoundland, and South Africa.

But in the 1920s the settler colonies and Britain began to meet in Imperial Conferences, which provided the structure for the later Commonwealth of Nations. The commonwealth shifted from a community of British-populated independent nations to a proposed economic bloc, and finally to a multicultural community of nations.

The concept of commonwealth described the unique constitutional relationship between Great Britain and the settler colonies; Parliament and the Foreign Office presided over foreign affairs that involved the colonies, but the colonial parliaments controlled their own internal affairs. In the 1926 Imperial Conference, the Balfour Declaration acknowledged that Britain and the settler dominions were “equal in status” to Britain.


After the Statute of Westminster in 1931—which gave the dominions of Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, and Ireland legislative independence—the commonwealth officially became a political organization consisting of the United Kingdom along with its former colonies.

The British tried to make the commonwealth work as a large trading bloc, with trade preferences between the former colonies as well as the formal colonies. Britain’s imports and exports to and from the colonies never amounted to more than a third of Britain’s trade. Also, such countries as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada became more dependent upon the United States for trade, especially after World War II.

Commonwealth map
Commonwealth map

The sudden decolonization of the British colonies in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s created the foundations for the current commonwealth. India’s decision to stay in the commonwealth in 1949 provided a precedence for later nonsettler colonies to join the commonwealth after independence.

In order to keep its political sovereignty while still allowing for cultural ties, India accepted the king of England as the symbolic head of the commonwealth. In 1949, when India accepted the king as the symbolic head of the commonwealth, the British Commonwealth of Nations changed its name to the Commonwealth of Nations, so as not to imply that its peoples were all of British ethnicity.

As a number of newly independent countries applied to join the commonwealth after they gained independence, the composition of the commonwealth shifted from a meeting of predominantly white countries to a multicultural organization.

At the Heads of Governments Conferences in Singapore in 1971 and in Ottawa in 1973, the general consensus was that the commonwealth should be a loose political association of the former British Empire. The Commonwealth of Nations continued to uphold these principals into the 21st century.

As of 2006 Queen Elizabeth II, the queen of England, held the title head of commonwealth. The commonwealth heads of government decide who will be the next commonwealth secretary-general, the official who leads the Commonwealth Secretariat, the decision-making body of the Commonwealth of Nations. Every five years the heads of government elect a new secretary-general at the Commonwealth Secretariat meeting.

Members as of 2006 included Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.