The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the President of the United States, Joe Biden, have signed a new Atlantic Charter, expressing the values and objectives that they will defend in common, eighty years after their predecessors, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Chuchill , sealed their pact to rebuild an international system when World War II ended.
In 1941, the two great victors at the end of the war promised not to occupy new territories and to promote trade and free navigation. They endorsed the right to self-determination of the populations that had been taken from them by force. They expressed their desire for “total economic collaboration among all nations” and their hope that all, too, would abandon the use of force.
After a pandemic that has shaken multiple areas of the lives of people and nations, the new letter has 2,783 words when 319 words were enough for its inspiration; 20 points and the pioneer 8. It declares itself in the name of “the strongest defense, security and intelligence association” and promises democracy, human rights, a bilateral summit on cancer, and collaborations of the G7.
Johnson asked his international relations adviser, John Bew, to present the context of the 1941 agreement to Biden. A Belfast-born, Cambridge University-trained historian, he is the author of “Realpolitik,” in which he explores the interpretations that the concept has had throughout history. He wrote the document that designs the international projection of the United Kingdom after ‘Brexit’.
The strategic idea of this G7, according to the prime minister’s office, is “to revitalize cooperation and trust between democracies.” Freed from the presence of Donald Trump, the richest countries in the West want to recreate an international system based on rules, but without moving towards a new “cold war” with China, and not with Russia either.
The G7 was born out of a Franco-German initiative in 1970 to informally bring together the leaders of the Western powers. It was a G6 until the inclusion of the European Union. It included the participation of Russia, in what was renamed the G8, from 1997 to 2014, when the invasion of Crimea led to their expulsion. Trump wanted to recreate the G8.
Without Trump and in a more fractured world, the host, the United Kingdom, has invited the leaders of India, South Africa, South Korea and Australia, emphasizing the idea of democratic alliance. The goal is that, in the absence of legislative power, it will regain its guiding role in the world system, after the 2008 financial crisis led to the creation of the broadest and most politically diverse G20.
A G7 of talks
With complex and debatable calculations it is affirmed these days that the G7 countries represented 80% of world GDP in 1970 and now 40%. In its first relevant announcement – the coordination of a universal corporate tax system, with domestic minimums and international distribution – the G7 faces skepticism from experts and a multilateral negotiation at the G20 in July and within the framework of the OECD .
Nor does it seem easy to translate into concrete acts the commitment of the president of the United States to create a common policy on relations with China. The autumn negotiation of the reform of the World Trade Organization, which will include the reconstruction of the arbitration panel sabotaged by Trump, requires consensus, including China, to strengthen fair trade rules.
Angela Merkel wanted to end her presidency of the EU with the signing of the controversial free trade agreement with Beijing. Unanimity in decision-making has prevented basic agreements due to the blockade of Hungary. Its prime minister, Viktor Orban is now facing local protests over his plan to build a university in Budapest with a loan from China, but community diplomacy over the Asian giant does not have the coherence Washington urgently desires.
If a firm policy against Vladimir Putin is encouraged in eastern EU countries, Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron have their own ‘ostpolitik’, with important economic interests at stake. Boris Johnson, more firm with Russia than with China, recalled this Thursday in an article in ‘The Times’ that the United Kingdom is the European country with the most troops in Poland and the Baltic countries.
In the context of the pandemic, Biden offered the typical American surprise in the hours before a summit, promising to buy 500 million vaccines for distribution in countries that need them. The coordination of criteria and programs for economic recovery and for the summit on climate change, COP26, of which the United Kingdom is also host, will be discussed in the plenary sessions of an agenda that allows time for small and informal meetings.