Commonwealth of Nations

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Commonwealth of Nations

Commonwealth of Nations, voluntary association of Great Britain and its dependencies, certain former British dependencies that are now sovereign states and their dependencies, and the associated states (states with full internal government but whose external relations are governed by Britain); Mozambique and Rwanda are the only members never to have been under British authority even in part. At its foundation under the Statute of Westminster (see Westminster, Statutes of) in 1931, the Commonwealth was composed of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), Newfoundland (since 1949 part of Canada), New Zealand, and South Africa. Other sovereign members (in order of entry, with date) are or have been: India (1947), Pakistan (1947), Sri Lanka (as Ceylon, 1948), Ghana (1957), Malaysia (as Federation of Malaya, 1957), Nigeria (1960), Cyprus (1961), Sierra Leone (1961), Tanzania (as Tanganyika, 1961), Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), Malawi (1964), Malta (1964), Zambia (1964), The Gambia (1965), Singapore (1965), Guyana (1966), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Barbados (1966), Mauritius (1968), Eswatini (as Swaziland, 1968), Nauru (1968), Tonga (1970), Samoa (1970), Fiji (1970), Bangladesh (1972), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Papua New Guinea (1975), Seychelles (1976), Solomon Islands (1978), Tuvalu (1978), Dominica (1978), Saint Lucia (1979), Kiribati (1979), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1979), Zimbabwe (1980), Vanuatu (1980), Belize (1981), Antigua and Barbuda (1981), Maldives (1982), Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983), Brunei (1984), Namibia (1990), Cameroon (1995), Mozambique (1995), and Rwanda (2009). Ireland, South Africa, Pakistan, Fiji, Zimbabwe, The Gambia, and Maldives all withdrew at some point, but South Africa, Pakistan, Fiji, The Gambia, and Maldives have rejoined. In addition, Nigeria's membership was suspended (1995–99) because of the country's human-rights abuses; Sierra Leone was suspended (1997–98) when it was under military rule; Pakistan was suspended (1999–2004) following a military coup and (2007–8) following the imposition of emergency rule; Zimbabwe was suspended for a year following the widely criticized presidential election of 2002, and when the suspension was extended in 2003, Zimbabwe withdrew; and Fiji has been suspended several times following coups, most recently from 2009 (partially suspended from 2006) to 2014.

The purpose of the Commonwealth is consultation and cooperation. The sovereign members retain full authority in all domestic and foreign affairs, although Britain generally enjoys a traditional position of leadership in certain matters of mutual interest. There are economic ties in the fields of trade, investment, and development programs for new nations. A set of trade agreements (begun at the Ottawa Conference in 1932) between Britain and the other members gave preferential tariff treatment to many raw materials and manufactured goods that the Commonwealth nations sell in Britain, but the system of preferential tariffs was abandoned after Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union) in 1973. Periodically there are meetings of Commonwealth heads of government, but no collective decision made at these meetings is considered binding. In 1965 a Commonwealth secretariat was established, with headquarters in London.

See also British Empire.


See J. D. B. Miller, The Commonwealth in the World (3d ed. 1965); N. Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969); W. R. Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East (1986); The Commonwealth Office Yearbook (annual, from 1987); R. J. Moore, Making the New Commonwealth (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Commonwealth of Nations


(formerly the British Commonwealth of Nations), an association made up of Great Britain and its former colonies that have gained independence.

Legally established by the Statute of Westminster (1931), the Commonwealth of Nations originally consisted of Great Britain and its dominions—Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Newfoundland, and Ireland. All members were equal in legal status and united by “a common allegiance to the crown.” The Commonwealth was founded because the British bourgeoisie wanted to counterpose a “free association of sovereign nations” to the British Empire, which included colonies, protectorates, and vassal states.

The Commonwealth of Nations was originally a personal union—that is, the head of state of every dominion was the British sovereign, represented by his appointed governor-general. After World War II (1939–45) the Commonwealth changed considerably, losing its monarchical character in 1949, when India proclaimed itself a republic but expressed its intention of remaining in the Commonwealth. Later, several countries left the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth now includes not only the former British dominions, each of which recognizes the British monarch as head of state, but also countries with different forms of government and their own heads of state (for instance, Ghana, Kenya, and Sri Lanka). The semblance of common interests among Commonwealth members is maintained through periodic, purely consultative conferences of prime ministers and finance ministers and through several standing committees. Commonwealth members maintain diplomatic relations with each other through government-appointed high commissioners with ambassadorial rank, but diplomatic relations with other states are conducted in the usual manner.

The Commonwealth does not act as a unit in international affairs. The ties between its members are mainly symbolic. The unconditional right of each member to leave the association unilaterally has been exercised by Burma (1948), the Republic of Ireland (1949), and the Union of South Africa (1961). Great Britain’s special status in the Commonwealth is not defined by legal norms but derives from its economic, financial, and political relations with the other Commonwealth nations.


Velikobritaniia. Moscow, 1972.
Speranskii, A. “Sodruzhestvo na sovremennom etape: dal’neishee usilenie tsentrobezhnykh tendentsii (k itogam Ottavskoi konferentsii 1973 g.).” In Mezhdunarodnyi ezhegodnik: Polilika iekonomika. Moscow, 1974.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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