Current Affairs

The new Atlantic charter

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    World Affairs
  • Published
    14th Jun, 2021
  • Context

    President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed a new Atlantic Charter meant to reflect the shifting threats facing the world 80 years after the original document was signed during World War II.

  • Background

    • Before the second world war (WW II), states acted as they wished in international affairs, limited only by their resources and power.
    • These circumstances began to change in August 1941, before America joined the allied cause.
    • On a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland, the US President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issuedthe Atlantic charter at a time when Nazi Germany appeared to be decisively winning the European war.
    • A few months later, America, Britain, the Soviet Union and 23 other governments declared in the name of “United Nations” an intention to regulate the postwar world based on three revolutionary principles:
      • Free trade
      • Non-aggression
      • Democracy
    • Eighty years later, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson have signed a new Atlantic charter, to reflect a world of different threats and one in which the UK is a much diminished power. 
  • Analysis

    What was in the ‘original Charter’?

    • The original Atlantic Charterwas a foundational document in transatlantic relations. It was struck by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1941 after they met on board the USS Augusta in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.
    • It was a way of signalling their intention to work together for the same cause in wartime.
    • The key elements were-
      • a preference for an open international system that would allow for self-determination
      • the removal of trade barriers
      • freedom of the seas, disarmament, and peace
    • Neither side was seeking territorial gains (as had happened in the First World War).
  • What is the revamped Charter?

    • Recognition of new emerging threats: Based on eight shared challenges, the charter will highlight the new threats facing the world such as-
      • cyber-attacks
      • the climate crisis
      • protection of biodiversity
      • preventing future pandemics
    • Good Friday Agreement: The bilateral will also cover the protection of the Good Friday Agreement, a slow opening up of air travel to the US, a pandemic forecasting centre, technology transfer and a negotiated end to the Airbus and Boeing trade disputes.
    • The charter will cement trade, travel and tech ties between the two nations.
    • It vows that “as long as there are nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. 

    G7 Summit

    • The symbolic signing of a new version of the Atlantic charter took place at the first in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders since Biden became president, and comes before the critical summit of G7 leaders in Cornwall.
    • Johnson had invited the leaders of South Korea, Australia and India to the Cornwall summit, hinting at turning the G7 into an alliance of 10 democracies, the D10, ranged against the autocracies of China and Russia, but he came up against resistance from many G7 states, including Italy and France.
  • Where is ‘China’ in the Charter?

    • There is no mention of China in the 604-word charter.
    • But it is the undeclaredtarget of many of the policies regarding debt transparency, freedom of navigation and protecting the west’s “innovative edge”.
    • The rise of China presents both countries with difficulties that are more complex than those posed by the rise of Russia after the Second World War, in the sense that the United States and United Kingdom will remain very closely entangled with China’s economy even as they clash with its political leaders.
  • What are India’s takes in the new charter?

    • The presence of India at the G-7 summit is recognition of the urgent imperative to widen the basis of the West in dealing with global challenges.
    • If the old Atlantic Charter alienated Indian nationalism from the West, the new Charter and the rebooting of western institutions should facilitate a productive phase of India’s cooperation with the US and its allies.
    • Although Indian nationalism had no quarrel with the liberal internationalist framework of the old Atlantic Charter, Churchill insisted that the principle of self-determination highlighted in the charter did not apply to India.
    • Churchill could not stop India’s independence for long, but poisoned the well of India’s engagement with the West.
    • The current Anglo-American effort to institutionalize western consultations with India is a long overdue correction.
  • Conclusion

    In the present world order, international agreements are required to promote and protect nation’s own interests. And such cooperation requires rules.

    In an age when the world is actually becoming less democratic, the new accord makes paramount the defence of democracy, followed by strengthening international institutions, recognising sovereignty and territorial integrity, supporting collective security, and a rules-based global economy. It ends with tackling the climate crisis – a notion unknown in 1941 – and, topically, the catastrophic impact of health crises.