The modern Commonwealth of Nations is a free and voluntary association of 54 independent and co-equal member countries who cooperate and work with one another to promote mutual interconnectivity, shared values, and joint prosperity. Together they comprise a population of 2.4 billion people with a shared GDP of US$ 13 trillion. The Commonwealth also includes several smaller associated territories and dependencies, and aims to provide a voice for all, regardless of their size, and to encourage common association between its members in the interests of cultural exchange, peace, diplomatic cooperation, good governance, trading links, economic development, and environmental sustainability.
The Commonwealth emerged early in the twentieth century as political power and democratic law-making was increasingly devolved to several territories within the British Empire, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose settler populations enjoyed close ties of kinship and ongoing migratory links with the United Kingdom and began by sharing a common civic status as British subjects.
As the century progressed these countries achieved an ever increasing degree of self-government, whilst still retaining their allegiance to the British monarchy, upholding common security interests and commitments with Britain, and valuing their sense of shared history and institutions – such as common law legal systems and parliamentary democracy adapted from the Westminster model.
A landmark event in world history and in shaping the future direction of the Commonwealth came with the success of India’s long freedom struggle in 1947, initially resulting in the creation of two new Dominions of India and Pakistan. As Indian leaders and members of its Constituent Assembly framed the constitution of a new Republic of India.
Inaugurated in 1950, the governments of Jawaharlal Nehru and Clement Attlee worked to find a formula to admit the new nation without the original requirement of common allegiance to the Crown. It was also decided that the Commonwealth would no longer be referred to as ‘British’ in order to reflect the common desire to achieve a more genuinely co-equal forum for cooperation between its members and a shared vision for the future.