Relevance of Commonwealth of Nations

SEP 29

Mains   > International relations   >   International Institutions   >   Int'l organisations & conventions


  • Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who was also the head of the Commonwealth and played a key role in nurturing the organisation, questions on the relevance of the Commonwealth of Nations are being raised.


  • The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political associations of states. It was founded in 1931. But its present character came about in 1949.
    • India wanted to become a republic which didn't owe allegiance to the British crown, but it also wanted to stay a member of the Commonwealth.
    • Hence, the modern Commonwealth was formed in 1949, after "British" was dropped from the name and allegiance to the Crown was removed.



  • Since 1949, independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth.
  • Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation.
  • Today, the Commonwealth consists of 56 independent countries.
  • The last four countries to join the Commonwealth - Rwanda, Mozambique, Gabon and Togo - have no historical ties to the British Empire.
  • Members of the Commonwealth send "high commissioner" to fellow member states rather than "ambassadors".

Commonwealth Charter:

  • The Commonwealth Charter was adopted in 2012, and commits members to the values of democracy, gender equality, sustainable development and international peace and security.

Governance structure:

  • The British king or queen is not automatically Head of the Commonwealth. Commonwealth member countries choose who becomes Head.
  • The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) brings the group’s leaders together every two years to discuss policy priorities.
  • Its day-to-day operations are headed by a secretary-general from its headquarters in London.
  • The Commonwealth Secretariat acts as a central intergovernmental organisation to manage the Commonwealth's work.
  • The Commonwealth is supported by a network of more than 80 accredited organisations working in specialist areas.

Note: The Commonwealth should not be confused with the "Commonwealth realms" which is a separate term referring to the 14 countries besides the United Kingdom which still have the UK's ruler as their head of state, such as Canada and Australia.


  • The combined GDP of Commonwealth countries in 2021 was USD 13.1 trillion and is estimated to reach USD 19.5 trillion in 2027.
  • It is home to 2.5 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries.
  • 1 in 3 young people aged between 15 and 29 live in Commonwealth countries.
  • India is the most populous member country in the Commonwealth.



  • Suits India’s interests:
    • India has been actively involved in the Commonwealth network of institutions, and is one of the top sources of funds, experts, and training. It also accounts for a large share of trade among the member states.
    • Commonwealth has also been an avenue for India to showcase its diplomatic and organizational capabilities by hosting a Commonwealth Summit as well as the Commonwealth Games.
  • Platform for smaller nations:
    • 32 of the commonwealth members are small states, including many island nations. The Commonwealth amplifies the voice of these nations, especially in matters such as sea level rise and climate change.
  • Development of Africa:
    • The group provides underdeveloped countries a means to lobby major donors and diplomatic players for investments. It also provides a potential framework for resolving disputes between African members.
  • Upholder of human rights:
    • The organisation is relevant in telling the world that human rights are non-negotiable, as was seen when Fiji, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and the Maldives were either suspended or themselves withdrew from the organisation over poor human rights records.
  • New opportunities:
    • The Commonwealth may have a good future as the UK is looking to expand economically beyond the Europe after Brexit.
    • Also, considering its young population, the commonwealth will be a major supplier of workforce to the world in the coming years.
  • To further social change:
    • The organisation consists of a variety of networks like the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. Campaigners have used these networks to raise awareness around climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, and other global issues.


  • Outmoded:
    • The Commonwealth is criticised for being a remnant of the colonial past. In 2022, the sentimental links to the UK are inevitably less pronounced.
  • Absence of major powers:
    • Unlike institutions such as the United Nations, major global powers such as USA, Russia and China are not part of the commonwealth. Hence, the group has limited influence over global geopolitics.  
  • Weak enforcement capabilities:
    • It has few concrete mechanisms to influence its members’ behavior and often relies on peer pressure and moral authority.
  • Absence of strong leadership:
    • The group has become increasingly outmoded as the UK’s global leadership has waned.
  • Overlooked violations:
    • Human rights watchdogs have criticised that the body has a record of overlooking rights abuses, including anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Gambia and Malawi and widespread atrocities over the course of the civil war in Sri Lanka.


Today’s world is increasingly interconnected and the need to stand in solidarity with allies is particularly evident considering the recent aggressions from Russia and China. However, to remain relevant, the Commonwealth need to adapt and reform itself.


Q. Critically analyse the relevance of Commonwealth of Nations in the 21st century?