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After 80 years, Atlantic Charter 2.0 is agreed

The U.S. and the U.K. signed a "revitalized" version of the 1941 Atlantic Charter to focus on 21st century risks such as cyber attacks and rising temperatures.

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, seated, at the Atlantic Conference in Newfoundland
President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, seated, at the Atlantic Conference in Newfoundland on August 10, 1941 (AN/FDR Presidential Library & Museum)

U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed a new and "revitalized" version of the 1941 Atlantic Charter on Thursday, updating it to focus on 21st century risks such as cyber attacks and rising global temperatures.

Eighty years earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the non-binding treaty at a meeting in Newfoundland.

Their joint declaration — meant to demonstrate Americans' solidarity with the British and preserving freedom — came less than four months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor attack that brought the United States into World War II. It also served as a blueprint for a post-war international system of multilateral institutions to build peace and prosperity.

"It was a statement of first principles, a promise that the United Kingdom and the United States would meet the challenges of their age and they would meet it together," Biden told reporters on the eve of the Group of Seven summit, during a visit to the Carbis Bay seaside resort along the Cornwall coast of England.

"Today we build on that commitment with a revitalized Atlantic Charter," he said, "updated to reaffirm that promise while speaking directly to the key challenges of this century: cybersecurity, emerging technologies, global health and climate change."

The updated version between Biden and Johnson contains eight main points.

They pledged to defend democracy and open societies, strengthen international cooperation and peacefully resolve disputes with respect to sovereignty. They espoused harnessing science and technology for the greater good, sharing responsibility for military defense and cybersecurity, and building a fairer, sustainable global economy. They also prioritized the climate and nature crises, and vowed to strenthen global health systems.

Overall, the 2021 charter is intended "to deepen cooperation in democracy and human rights, defense and security, science and innovation, and economic prosperity, with renewed joint efforts to tackle the challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and emerging health threats," according to a joint statement.

'A very different place'

Among the factors for updating the treaty was a shared goal of building international cooperation to counter the influence of autocratic governments such as China and Russia. Biden emphasized that the "America First" policies of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, no longer drive U.S. foreign policy, while Johnson rebranded his post-Brexit policies to focus on a "Global Britain."

The new charter says the U.K. and U.S. will adhere to the “the rules-based international order" and help others to "oppose interference through disinformation or other malign influences, including in elections."

It says the 30 European and North American countries that are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can rely on them to keep it nuclear-armed “as long as there are nuclear weapons." Nine nations — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons.

Johnson's office called the updated charter "a fitting testament to the sheer breadth and depth of the cooperation between our countries." The original charter was created to figure out how the world could recover from the devastation of a world war, but that it also "forms the basis, not just of NATO, but of the United Nations as well," he said in a video from 10 Downing Street.

"The world is a very different place in 2021, but the values we share are the same," said Johnson. "And I'm pleased that today, with President Biden we've agreed a new Atlantic Charter to address the greatest challenges of our time. Building back better from the pandemic. Defending our democracy. Stopping climate change. And protecting our security."

In his comments to reporters, Biden drew attention to the next U.N. climate summit that the U.K. is scheduled to host from November 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland. "We discussed our common goals for driving ambitious global action to address the climate crisis," Biden said.

The agreement on a new charter came at the start of Biden's participation in the G-7's weekend summit in Cornwall. The G-7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — are focused this year on how to launch a global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden also plans to attend a NATO summit and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face at a Swiss-hosted summit in Geneva.