18.2b The Commonwealth
By the middle of the nineteenth century Britain had procured a large empire encompassing nearly one-fourth of the land surface and one-fifth of the world population. The Commonwealth today is a voluntary association of the independent states that were initially part of the British Empire. However the membership is not restricted to independent states; the association does consist of about twenty member nations that are still dependencies of Great Britain. The Heads of the governments of the member nations meet every two years. The Commonwealth is unique, as it does not have any Charter or Constitution and is based on custom and sentiment rather than economic, social or even political factors.
The Commonwealth does not imply that the member nations have formed a ’bloc’ relating to Britain; each member nation is free to follow its own particular foreign policy. Whereas the Ambassadors represent non-Commonwealth countries, the Commonwealth countries are represented by diplomats known as High Commissioners.
Commonwealth can be traced to the recommendations of the Durham Commission of 1838, the report of which was published in 1839. The Commission put forward the proposal of granting autonomous rights to some colonies. Eventually Great Britain adopted the foreign policy of conferring autonomy to the colonies. Such territories were called Dominions of the British Empire. 1887 onwards Colonial Conferences, constituting the representative heads of the independent states, have been held. These have been presided over by the British Prime Ministers.
The Balfour Declaration in 1926 witnessed the use of the term ’Commonwealth’ for the first time. It specified the status of the Dominions in these words:
They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any respect of their domestic or internal affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Therefore the nations were conferred with the status of equality with Great Britain in all matters.
Since the emergence of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as independent nations,
the British Commonwealth was called "Commonwealth of Nations."
The Crown was only merely a "Symbolic Head of the Commonwealth."
Hence all the member nations stand united as free and equal members
of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Commonwealth does not have a written constitution. However, its members pledge by several objectives, which were proclaimed in the Singapore Declaration of 1971. Some main ones are:
The promotion of international peace and order.
The promotion of liberty and individual and equal rights for
all citizens regardless of race, color or creed.
The promotion of efforts to overcome poverty, ignorance and
The condemnation of racial discrimination and colonial domination.
The Commonwealth aims at accomplishing its objectives through constant co-operation of its members in social, cultural and economic fields.