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. The Commonwealth was created in the early 1900s when nations that were formerly a part of the British Empire began to secede. Its main goal was 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. 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 who enter into the Commonwealth do so voluntarily, and the government of any member nation can withdraw at any time, without consequence or obligation.
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 and include 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 its citizens to be a part of the organization.
As of 1997, a nation must have a ''direct constitutional link'' with any current member-state. The only member-states that do not technically fit this criteria are Mozambique and Rwanda. The Commonwealth Secretariat called the inclusion of these countries ''exceptional.''
It is possible for states to be suspended from the Commonwealth if they fail to abide by the democratic principles outlined in the Harare Declaration. Countries that this has happened to in the past include Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
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.
In spite of the organization having very little political or economic clout, it does offer the opportunities 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.
How Many Countries Are in the Commonwealth?
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.