Eighty Years Later, Biden and Johnson Revise the Atlantic Charter for a New Era

CARBIS BAY, England — President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain signed a new version of the 80-year old “Atlantic Charter” on Thursday, using their first meeting to redefine the Western alliance and accentuate what they said was a growing divide between battered democracies and their autocratic rivals, led by Russia and China.

The two leaders unveiled the new charter as they sought to focus the world’s attention on emerging threats from cyber attacks, the Covid-19 pandemic that has upended the global economy, and climate change, using language about reinforcing NATO and international institutions that Mr. Biden hoped would make clear that the Trump era of America First was over.

But the two men also continued to grapple with old-world challenges, including Mr. Biden’s private admonishment of the prime minister against taking actions that could inflame sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

The new charter, a 604-word declaration, was an effort to stake out a grand vision for global relationships in the 21st century, just as the original, first drafted by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a declaration of a Western commitment to democracy and territorial integrity just months before the United States entered World War II.

“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 that we’d meet it together,” Mr. Biden declared after his private meeting with Mr. Johnson. “Today, we build on that commitment, with a revitalized Atlantic Charter, updated to reaffirm that promise while speaking directly to the key challenges of this century.”

Meeting in a seaside resort on the Cornwall coast of England, with Royal Navy ships patrolling to protect the in-person meeting of the Group of 7 industrial nation leaders, the two men clearly sought to cast themselves in the Churchill and F.D.R. mold. As they looked over a small exhibit of the original Atlantic Charter, agreed on aboard a ship off Newfoundland in August, 1941, less than four months before the Pearl Harbor attack, Mr. Johnson noted that “this was the beginning of the alliance, and of NATO.”

But Mr. Biden’s aides said they thought the Charter had grown musty and did not reflect a world of different challenges — from cyberspace to China — in which Britain is a much-diminished power.

Where the original charter contemplated the “final destruction of the Nazi tyranny” and called for freedom to “traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance,” the new version focused on the “climate crisis” and the need to “protect biodiversity.” It is sprinkled with references to “emerging technologies,” “cyberspace” and “sustainable global development.”

In a direct rebuke of Russia and China, the new agreement calls on Western allies to “oppose interference through disinformation or other malign influences, including in elections.” It ranks the threats to democratic nations in a technological era: “We affirm our shared responsibility for maintaining our collective security and international stability and resilience against the full…

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