Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for 16 members of the United Nations and also heads the British Commonwealth:
OriginsLord Rosebery described the changing British Empire, as some of its colonies became more independent, as a "Commonwealth of Nations". Conferences of British and colonial prime ministers occurred periodically from the first one in 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in 1911. The commonwealth developed from the Imperial Conferences. A specific proposal was presented by Jan Christiaan Smuts in 1917 when he coined the term "the British Commonwealth of Nations," and envisioned the "future constitutional relations and readjustments in essence at the all-important Versailles Conference of 1919 by delegates from the dominions as well as Britain. In the Balfour Declaration at the 1926 Imperial Conference, Britain and its dominions agreed they were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". These aspects to the relationship were formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. The statute applied to Canada without the need for ratification, but Australia, New Zealand, and Newfoundland had to ratify the statute for it to take effect. Newfoundland never did, as on 16 February 1934, with the consent of its parliament, the Government of Newfoundland voluntarily ended, and governance reverted to direct control from London. Newfoundland later joined Canada as its tenth province in 1949. Australia and New Zealand ratified the Statute in 1942 and 1947 respectively.
 Remaining members gain independenceAfter World War II ended, the British Empire was gradually dismantled to the 14 British overseas territories still held by the United Kingdom. In April 1949, following the London Declaration, the word "British" was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature. Burma (also known as Myanmar, 1948) and Aden (1967) are the only states that were British colonies at the time of the war not to have joined the Commonwealth upon independence. Former British protectorates and mandates that did not become members of the Commonwealth are Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), Transjordan (1946), British Palestine (part of which became the state of Israel in 1948), Sudan (1956), British Somaliland (which united with the former Italian Somaliland in 1960 to form Somalia), Kuwait (1961), Bahrain (1971), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), and the United Arab Emirates (1971).
 Members with heads of state other than the SovereignThe issue of countries with constitutional structures not based on a shared Crown but that wanted to remain members of the Commonwealth came to a head in 1948 with passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, in which Ireland renounced the sovereignty of the Crown and thus left the Commonwealth. The Ireland Act 1949 passed by the Parliament of Westminster offered citizens of the Republic of Ireland a status similar to that of citizens of the Commonwealth in UK law. The issue was resolved in April 1949 at a Commonwealth prime ministers' meeting in London. Under the London Declaration, India agreed that, when it became a republic in January 1950, it would accept the British Sovereign as a "symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth". Upon hearing this, King George VI told the Indian politician Krishna Menon: "So, I've become 'as such'".
The other Commonwealth countries recognised India's continuing membership of the association. At Pakistan's insistence, India was not regarded as an exceptional case and it was assumed that other states would be accorded the same treatment as India.
The London Declaration is often seen as marking the beginning of the modern Commonwealth. Following India's precedent, other nations became republics, or constitutional monarchies with their own monarchs, while some countries retained the same monarch as the United Kingdom, but their monarchies developed differently and soon became fully independent of the British monarchy. The monarch of each Commonwealth realm, whilst the same person, is regarded as a separate legal personality for each realm.
 New CommonwealthAs the Commonwealth grew, Britain and the pre-1945 dominions became informally known as the "Old Commonwealth", and planners in the interwar period, like Lord Davies, who had also taken "a prominent part in building up the League of Nations Union" in the United Kingdom, in 1932 founded the New Commonwealth Movement, of which Winston Churchill was the president. The New Commonwealth was a society aimed at creation of an international air force to be the arm of the League of Nations, to allow nations to disarm and safeguard the peace. Some of these ideas were reflected in the United Nations Charter, drafted in Dumbarton Oaks (21 August to 7 October 1944) and San Francisco (25 April to 26 June 1945).
The term "New Commonwealth" has also sometimes been used in the United Kingdom (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) to refer to recently decolonised countries, which are predominantly non-white and developing. It was often used in debates about immigration from these countries.
 Objectives and activitiesThe Commonwealth's objectives were first outlined in the 1971 Singapore Declaration, which committed the Commonwealth to the institution of world peace; promotion of representative democracy and individual liberty; the pursuit of equality and opposition to racism; the fight against poverty, ignorance, and disease; and free trade. To these were added opposition to discrimination on the basis of gender by the Lusaka Declaration of 1979, and environmental sustainability by the Langkawi Declaration of 1989. These objectives were reinforced by the Harare Declaration in 1991.
The Commonwealth's current highest-priority aims are on the promotion of democracy and development, as outlined in the 2003 Aso Rock Declaration, which built on those in Singapore and Harare and clarified their terms of reference, stating, "We are committed to democracy, good governance, human rights, gender equality, and a more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation." The Commonwealth website lists its areas of work as: Democracy, Economics, Education, Gender, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Small States, Sport, Sustainability, and Youth.
The Commonwealth has long been distinctive as an international forum where developed economies (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand) and many of the world's poorer countries seek to reach agreement by consensus. This aim has sometimes been difficult to achieve, as when disagreements over Rhodesia in the late 1960s and 1970s and over apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s led to a cooling of relations between the United Kingdom and African members.
Through a separate voluntary fund, Commonwealth governments support the Commonwealth Youth Programme, a division of the Secretariat with offices in Gulu (Uganda), Lusaka (Zambia), Chandigarh (India), Georgetown (Guyana) and Honiara (Solomon Islands).
 Head of the CommonwealthLondon Declaration, Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth, a title that is currently individually shared with that of Commonwealth realms. However, when the monarch dies the successor to the crown does not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth. The position is symbolic, representing the free association of independent members. Sixteen members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms, recognise the Queen as their head of state. The majority of members (33) are republics, and five have monarchs of different royal houses.
 Commonwealth Heads of Government MeetingThe main decision-making forum of the organisation is the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), where Commonwealth Heads of Government, including (amongst others) Prime Ministers and Presidents, assemble for several days to discuss matters of mutual interest. CHOGM is the successor to the Meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and earlier Imperial Conferences and Colonial Conferences dating back to 1887. There are also regular meetings of finance ministers, law ministers, health ministers, etc. Members in Arrears, as Special Members before them, are not invited to send representatives to either ministerial meetings or CHOGMs.
The head of government hosting the Head of Government Meeting is called the Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office, and retains the position until the following CHOGM. After the most recent CHOGM, in Perth in October 2011, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard became Chairperson-in-Office.
 Commonwealth SecretariatCommonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, is the main intergovernmental agency of the Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and cooperation among member governments and countries. It is responsible to member governments collectively. The Commonwealth of Nations is represented in the United Nations General Assembly by the Secretariat, as an observer.
The Secretariat organises Commonwealth summits, meetings of ministers, consultative meetings and technical discussions; it assists policy development and provides policy advice, and facilitates multilateral communication among the member governments. It also provides technical assistance to help governments in the social and economic development of their countries and in support of the Commonwealth's fundamental political values.
The Secretariat is headed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is elected by Commonwealth Heads of Government for no more than two four-year terms. The Secretary-General and two Deputy Secretaries-General direct the divisions of the Secretariat. The present Secretary-General is Kamalesh Sharma, from India, who took office on 1 April 2008, succeeding Don McKinnon of New Zealand (2000–2008), and was re-elected in 2011 to begin his second term in 2012. The first Secretary-General was Arnold Smith of Canada (1965–75), followed by Sir Shridath Ramphal of Guyana (1975–90) and Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria (1990-99).
 Members After India, the next-largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (176 million), Bangladesh (156 million), Nigeria (154 million), the United Kingdom (61 million) and South Africa (49 million). Tuvalu is the smallest member, with about 10,000 people.
The land area of the Commonwealth nations is about 31,500,000 km2 (12,200,000 sq mi), or about 21% of the total world land area. The three largest Commonwealth nations by area are Canada at 10,000,000 km2 (3,900,000 sq mi), Australia at 7,700,000 km2 (3,000,000 sq mi), and India at 3,300,000 km2 (1,300,000 sq mi). The Commonwealth members have a combined gross domestic product of over $10 trillion, 50% of which is accounted for by the three largest economies: the United Kingdom ($2.2 trillion), India ($1.7 trillion), and Canada ($1.5 trillion).
The status of "Member in Arrears" is used to denote those that are in arrears in paying subscription dues. The status was originally known as "special membership", but was renamed on the Committee on Commonwealth Membership's recommendation. There are currently no Members in Arrears. The most recent Member in Arrears, Nauru, returned to full membership in June 2011. Nauru has alternated between special and full membership since joining the Commonwealth, depending on its financial situation.