Biden and Johnson’s ‘New Atlantic Charter’ Has Big Shoes to Fill

Biden and Johnson’s ‘New Atlantic Charter’ Has Big Shoes to Fill
President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson look at copies of the Atlantic Charter during a bilateral meeting ahead of the G-7 summit, in Carbis Bay, England, June 10, 2021 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

Last week U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a bold bid for history’s mantle. Meeting on the eve of the G-7 summit, they released a “revitalized” Atlantic Charter, rededicating their governments to the defense of an open, rule-bound world. Like the original version, drafted by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in August 1941, during a secret wartime rendezvous off the coast of Newfoundland, the New Atlantic Charter seeks to rally the West at a time of global crisis. Whether it has a similar, enduring influence is likely to depend more on domestic U.S. political developments than on global geopolitical trends.

The original Atlantic Charter was not a formal treaty—indeed, it was not even signed—but rather a short statement of principles outlining the political and moral foundations for a just, peaceful and prosperous world. The idea for the charter was Roosevelt’s, born of his acute sense of the dire global context that summer. Continental Europe had fallen to Hitler. Japanese militarism was on the march in the Pacific. And much of the world economy had disintegrated into autarkic blocs. At this moment of peril, FDR wanted the United States and Britain to “jointly bind themselves” to the goal of “a new world order based on … principles … that would hold out hope to enslaved peoples of the world.”

The charter committed the two governments to an open, cooperative postwar world based on principles of collective security, non-aggression, nondiscriminatory trade, freedom of the seas, political self-determination and secure borders behind which peoples could enjoy “freedom from fear and freedom from want.”

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