Mixed in with talk of the most recent royal baby is a great deal of chatter about how Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Windsor is now 4th in line for the throne of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. While the UK has clear borders, the Commonwealth remains a bit of a mystery for most of us. So what exactly is the Commonweath? Which nations are part of it? What goals does the Commonwealth strive for?
What is the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth, or The Commonwealth of Nations, is a group of 53 states, all of which (except for two) were formerly part of the British Empire. As nations began the process of succeeding from the British Empire in the early part of the 1900s, it was created, largely, to ease the process of British decolonization. It was seen as a way of maintaining global unity through shared language, history, and culture despite growing independence and self-governance of former British colonies.
Overall, 2.328 billion people belong to the Commonwealth, representing one-third of the world population and one-quarter of its total landmass, at approximately 30 million sq.km. Despite massive geographic and demographic differences, these countries are said to be united through their common values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
The nations entered into the Commonwealth do so voluntarily, and the government of any member nation can withdraw at any time, without consequence or obligation. although they have no legal obligations to one another and are entirely separate entities.
How Do Countries Join The Commonwealth?
For a nation to join the Commonwealth, it must first recognize Elizabeth II as the head of the Commonwealth. Other criteria are equally important - racial equality, and the embrace of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality, and free trade.
A member-state must also be sovereign, accept English as the primary means of communication within the Commonwealth, and have a desire among it's citizens to be a part of the organization.
As of 1997, a nation must have a ''direct constitutional link'' with any current member-state. Usually, countries within the Commonwealth are former British colonies, but some countries, such as Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Namibia, are more closely linked to current member-states such as Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, rather than to any historical allegiance or constitutional tie to England.
The only member-states to have been neither a British colony nor have any link with a current member-state are Mozambique and Rwanda, two controversial cases that the Commonwealth Secretariat called ''exceptional.'' Currently, South Sudan is the only country vying for membership.
Why Join the Commonwealth?
There are certain advantages to being a member-state - for instance, consular services exist for countries in good standing. Commonwealth citizens who are stuck in a country that is not represented at a consulate by their government can get representation and a temporary ''commonwealth citizen'' passport issued at a British Embassy.
In the case of certain nations, like Canada and Australia, bi-lateral agreements exists where citizens of either country in a third nation can get representation by the other country in cases where it is impossible to be served by your own ambassador.
What does the Commonwealth Do?
The Commonwealth aims to create strong links between rich and poor countries, bringing together a variety of religious faiths and demographics in one institution. Although the group has been criticized for being more symbolic than useful, it has helped to create strong diplomatic ties between its oldest members.
The organization has also been criticized for not acting in line with its guiding principles, letting human rights abuses and anti-democratic activities run rampant within its member-states without taking action. It is also said to be more beneficial to Commonwealth countries which are ''in good standing,'' such as Canada and Australia, for instance. It is felt that there are more opportunities and advantages to the citizens of these nations as opposed to those of other Commonwealth nations, although whether these advantages are due to simply being nations that are ''in good standing'' or being strong Commonwealth nations is unclear.
In spite of the organization having very little political or economic clout, it does offer the opportunity for smaller nations to sit down with larger nations at the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which allows them to make their projects and concerns known, something that has shown to bear fruit.
What Are The Commonwealth Games?
Every four years, the Commonwealth of Nations puts together the Commonwealth Games, hosted in a different city and organized by the Commonwealth Games Federation. 71 nations participate, including the 53 Commonwealth Nations as well as some dependent territories.
Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales are the only teams to have participated in every Commonwealth Games since their inauguration. Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland each play under their own banner instead of under the UK.
The next Commonwealth Games will be held in Gold Coast, Australia, in 2018.
An Impressive Political Feat
It is important to remember that the Commonwealth is largely a group of nations with the common goal of promoting democracy and human rights. It has no political or economic power, and former immigration advantages between Commonwealth countries largely cease to exist.
The main advantage of belonging to the Commonwealth is that it is a larger network of countries than any other, save the UN, and that it gives a chance for smaller countries to have their voices heard. On a geo-political scale, the Commonwealth of Nations is an achievement that has surpassed many expectations and continues to be an impressive show of the force of a peaceful alliance.
Who Are The Members of the Commonwealth?
Of the 53 Commonwealth States, the following 32 are republics:
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
5 are monarchies with heads of state other than the Reigning Monarch of England:
16 are Commonwealth Realms, which are presided onver by Queen Elizabeth II (and in the future, her heirs):
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- The United Kingdom
Myanmar and Aden (part of what is now Yemen) are the only former British colonies who elected not to join the Commonwealth. However, Mozambique and Rwanda are the two states currently in the Commonwealth who have never been a British Colony, and do not possess any constitutional ties to the current British government nor to any of the other Commonwealth States.