British Commonwealth

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, the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), Canada, Newfoundland (since 1949 part of Canada), Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Other sovereign members (with date of entry) 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), Zambia (1964), Malta (1964), The Gambia (1965), Singapore (1965), Guyana (1966), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Barbados (1966), Antigua and Barbuda (1967), Dominica (1967), Saint Kitts and Nevis (1967), Saint Lucia (1967), Nauru (1968), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1969), Samoa (1970), Tonga (1970), Bangladesh (1972), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Papua New Guinea (1975), Seychelles (1976), Solomon Islands (1978), Tuvalu (1978), Kiribati (1979), Vanuatu (1980), Zimbabwe (1980), Belize (1981), Brunei (1984), Maldives (1985), Namibia (1990), Cameroon (1995), Mozambique (1995), and Rwanda (2009). Ireland, South Africa, Pakistan, Fiji, Zimbabwe, and The Gambia all withdrew at different times; all but Ireland, Zimbabwe, and The Gambia 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 in 2009 (partially suspended beginning in 2006).

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth
K. C. Wheare.
Clarendon Press, 1960
Economic Systems of the Commonwealth
Calvin B. Hoover.
Duke University Press, 1962
The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources
Robin W. Winks.
Duke University Press, 1966
The Problem of the Commonwealth
Lionel Curtis.
MacMillan, 1916
The British Commonwealth: An Experiment in Co-Operation among Nations
Frank H. Underhill.
Duke University Press, 1956
Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs
Nicholas Mansergh.
Oxford University Press, 1952
The British Commonwealth and International Security: The Role of the Dominions, 1919-1939
Gwendolen M. Carter.
The Ryerson Press, 1947
Documents and Speeches on Commonwealth Affairs, 1952-1962
Nicholas Mansergh.
Oxford University Press, 1963
Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Builder of the British Commonwealth
Paul Bloomfield.
Longman, 1961
Britain: Commonwealth and Empire, 1901-1955
Paul Knaplund.
H. Hamilton, 1956
Empire & Commonwealth: Studies in Governance and Self-Government in Canada
Chester Martin.
Clarendon Press, 1929
The Dependent Empire and Ireland, 1840-1900: Advance and Retreat in Representative Self-Government
Frederick Madden; David Fieldhouse.
Greenwood Press, vol.5, 1991
The Dependent Empire, 1900-1948: Colonies, Protectorates, and the Mandates
Frederick Madden; John Darwin.
Greenwood Press, vol.7, 1994
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