Given how quickly the strategic situation is changing, it’s worth taking a look back at the original Charter to see what is at risk—and what can still be done to protect its central tenets.

 

Washington, D.C. :On 10 June 2021, President Joseph Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed “The New Atlantic Charter”, an update of the original Atlantic Charter signed 80 years ago this week by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Among other points, the New Charter promised: “We will champion transparency, uphold the rule of law, and support civil society and independent media.We will also confront injustice and inequality and defend the inherent dignity and human rights of all individuals.”

They forgot to add “except in Afghanistan, and maybe a few other places”.

TheUK forces areat leastfighting to evacuate those at risk in Afghanistan,in spite of reported disagreements with American military leadership (US rank and file tend to be more in favour of the UK position than the position of their own commanders).

However, the actions taken by Washington are so overtly appalling they have the potential to crack the core not only of what was agreed in June, but more importantly what was agreed 80 years ago.

Given how quickly the strategic situation is changing, it’s worth taking a look back at the original Charter to see what is at risk—and what can still be done to protect its central tenets.

The original Charter was signed months before the US entered World War II.It was a blueprint for what the two leaders wanted the world to look like once the war was over. If a war had to be fought, this is why they were fighting.

The Charter contained eight points. Point Six clearly identified the threat, and the broad goal: “after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want”.

There were specific points to make that happen, including: countries should not seek territorial aggrandizement (Point One); access for all States to the trade and raw materials needed for economic prosperity (Point Four); and freedom of navigation (Point Seven).

By January 1942, 26 countries had agreed to the Charter. It is considered to have been a foundational document in the creation of several post-War institutions including the United Nations and NATO, as well for decolonisation.

However, today, many of the commitments made in the Charter are crumbling, mere months after the two founding countries signed its renewal.

Washington is failing even at retreating and General Sir David Richards, former Chief of the UK Defence Staff, said: “What price the UK’s promises and commitment to people in jeopardy? Along with the US, I fear, pretty worthless. The impact of this tragedy on Britain’s influence and reputation and ability to do things globally will last for a long time.”

This is just the most recent blow to the credibility of the leadership underpinning Atlantic Charter(s), that itself underpins Western post-war institutions.

Especially among non-Western democracies, the financial crisis of 2008 damaged the West’s credibility on economic issues.

The lack of US backing for treaty partner Philippines on the Scarborough Shoal issue in 2012, and again in 2016, damaged American credibility on alliances and enforcement of international law.

The politicized response to the Covid health crisis damaged the West’s credibility on academic and scientific issues.

And Afghanistan (coming on top of other event, such as the abandonment of the Kurds) damaged the West’s credibility on security commitments.

Point after point of the Charter have been abrogated, either by the West, or without pushback by the West.

Meanwhile, China and others (including those currently taking selfies in Kabul) seek to recreate the world in their image, and new technologies have created new threats.

So, what now?

The Atlantic was the strategic and economic ocean linking the powers of the 20thcentury.The 21stcentury belongs to the Indo-Pacific.If the free world—and those who want to be free—has a hope, it will be in working together.

The enduring lesson from the original Charter is that it is a good idea to make the threats and the goals clear at the highest levels.If adhered to, that clarity can act as a guiding star in rough waters.

It may now be time for Indo-Pacific Charter, fit for purpose for the 21st Century, and shaped and led by the countries of the region.

Thought leaders in India have already put forth proposed elements for an Indo-Pacific Charter. As starting points, M.D. Nalapat suggested in an article in Japan Forward:

  1. No territorial gains to be sought by any major power.
  2. No creation of artificial territories in the open seas.
  3. No acquisitions by force or lease of new territories within sovereign nations.
  4. Re-formation of the UN Security Council or formation of a new Indo-Pacific security council.

5: Signatories will work towards freedom and sovereignty of data.

6: Signatories will work towards a unified approach to using Artificial Intelligence for the good of humanity.

7: Formation of a Space Security Council.

8: Signatories to work together to promote democracy and participatory government.

  1. Nations that are democracies, stay democracies.

While far from set in stone, and still being discussed, refined and tested, they begin to give an idea of the threats, and the goals.

As for which countries would lead—if you had asked even three months ago, I might have suggested starting with the Quad members.But given recent events, India, Japan and Australia—all three of which, in their own ways, have been putting up increasingly focused defences against CCP aggression—might be more credible, at least for the moment.

To be clear, a Charter doesn’t replace a Quad, an ASEAN or others, but it could help focus them.And once it’s set up, any country that is willing to follow that guiding star, no matter how small, can sign on.There is room for countries like Palau that, though small in population, has been large in its courage in standing up for Taiwan.And each signatory brings their own tools to help build the way forward.

Once it’s in place, hopefully other countries that have lost their way can—if they decide to look up from their shuffling feet—follow the star home.

But, even if they don’t, the chart(er) for the 21st century can give hope again that if we have to fight, we know what we are fighting for. And why—like last time—it’s a fight that needs to be won.

Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian Special Correspondent and a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.