Home » Policy Brief: New Atlantic Charter Renews “Special” U.S.–British Relationship | SDG Knowledge Hub

The new Atlantic Charter signed by U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on June 10 cements trade, travel, and tech ties between the two countries. It also renews the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom, speaking to commonalities between the longtime allies that may have been lost in recent decades. For instance, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower refused to support the British invasion of the Suez Canal and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson came under enormous pressure from the United States to send troops to Vietnam, a directive he repeatedly ignored. More recently, following a strong partnership during the second Gulf War, ties between the two countries became strained over foreign policy issues.

The renewed charter reflects the shifting threats facing the world 80 years after the original was signed during World War II, such as cyberattacks and climate change.

The agreement, signed during the first face-to-face meeting between Biden and Johnson at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, has eight goals. However, it prioritizes the self-determination of sovereign nations, ensuring a fair and open global trading system and the reduction of trade barriers, the disarmament of hostile nations, and a united drive to ensure better economic and social conditions for all people.

The new Atlantic Charter commits the two nations to defend the principles, values, and institutions of democracy and open societies; strengthen and adapt the institutions, laws, and norms that sustain international cooperation; remain united behind principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and peaceful resolution of disputes; harness and protect the countries’ innovative edge in science and technology; affirm the shared responsibility to maintain collective security and international stability, including against cyber threats; and to declare the countries’ nuclear deterrents to defend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; continue building an inclusive, fair, climate-friendly, sustainable, rules-based economy; prioritize climate change and biodiversity protection in all international action; and continue collaborating to strengthen health systems and advance health protections.

“Like the original version … the new Atlantic Charter seeks to rally the West at a time of global crisis,” Stewart M. Patrick, director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in his weekly column for World Politics Review. “Whether it has a similar, enduring influence is likely to depend more on domestic U.S. political developments than on global geopolitical trends.”

Its signing came as many question the value of global economic rules and amid an increase in protectionist trade barriers.

The original Atlantic Charter was “the genesis of several remarkable achievements of multilateral international economic rule-making, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and Bretton Woods institutions,” wrote Hunter Nottage, trade law manager for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

After his meeting with Johnson, Biden called the charter a “statement of first principles, a promise that the United Kingdom and United States would meet the challenges of their age and would meet it together.” But the U.S. president, who has always opposed Britain’s departure from the EU, also warned Johnson not to let Brexit jeopardize peace in Northern Ireland.

John Ross, a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, says the new Atlantic Charter signals that “the Johnson government, after Brexit, has decided to attempt to make up for powerlessness in relation to the U.S. by attempting to gain favour by supine agreement to U.S. demands even when these are against the interests of the British people and the British economy. In particular, this means agreement to the U.S. ‘cold war’ against China.”

This article was originally published in IISD’s Trade and Sustainability Review, Volume 1, Issue 3.

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