The Commonwealth is a voluntary coalition of 53 states representing a global population of 2.2 billion people, almost a third of the world’s population, bringing together people of many faiths, races, languages and incomes. Most members have an historic relationship with the British Empire. However, the Commonwealth has also expanded to include independent countries such as Rwanda and Mozambique. Originally a “British Commonwealth of Nations,” the Commonwealth is an acknowledgement of a shared history and traditional trade links between member states. The relationship is acknowledged every four years with the Commonwealth Games, and every two years with meetings of political leaders. The Commonwealth differs from the UN in that each member state is considered equal in that each member state has a vote and there is no right to veto, unlike that seen at the UN.
The Commonwealth is a way for nations staying in touch without binding formal obligations, but rather through goodwill, friendship and historical ties. It is not a formal group like the UN and allows instead for a relaxed and enriching meeting of minds and cultures. While there is no formal trade agreement between member countries, these informal meetings of prime ministers and trade ministers, provide positive benefits for trade. As the world evolves into more of a network system, relationships of the kind that the Commonwealth promotes really matter.
The Commonwealth also imposes very few sanctions. It means that as an entity they work to communicate and negotiate as opposed exert power through force. Through history, the Commonwealths soft-power can be credited with helping end military rule in Pakistan in 2007 and playing a pivotal role in championing the boycott of apartheid South Africa. The Commonwealth’s structure also ensures that smaller states get a say in international politics, giving many nations access to diplomatic circles for a relatively small cost.
In March 2013, Queen Elizabeth signed the Commonwealth Charter, which acknowledged 16 core values of Commonwealth countries, including democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination. The charter is more of an aspirational document, making the Commonwealth a diplomatic coalition.
It is in celebration of this that Commonwealth Day, an annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations, is held on the second Monday in March, with a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey. Commonwealth Youth New Zealand will be celebrating this day with a reception at Parliament.