CARBIS BAY, UK – President Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed a new version of the 80-year-old Atlantic Charter on Thursday, using their first meeting to redefine the Western alliance and what they see as the growing gap between troubled democracies and their autocratic rivals, led by Russia and China.
The two leaders unveiled the new charter as they tried to draw the world’s attention to emerging cyber-attack threats, the Covid-19 pandemic that has turned the global economy on its head, and climate change it would hoped make clear that America First’s Trump era was over.
But the two men continued to grapple with old world challenges, including Mr Biden’s private admonition to the Prime Minister to take action that could spark sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
The new charter, a 604-word declaration, was an attempt to outline a grand vision for global relations in the 21st century, just like the original, first drafted by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, a declaration for a western one Commitment was to democracy and territorial integrity just months before the United States entered World War II.
“It was a policy statement, a promise that the UK and United States will meet the challenges of their time and that we will meet them together,” said Biden after his private meeting with Mr Johnson. “Today we are building on that commitment with a revitalized Atlantic Charter that has been updated to reaffirm that promise while addressing directly the key challenges of this century.”
The two men met at a seaside resort on the Cornish coast in England while Royal Navy ships were patrolling to protect the in-person meeting of the Group of 7 Industrialized Leaders, clearly trying to get into Churchill and F.D.R. Mould. Looking at a small display of the original Atlantic Charter agreed on aboard a ship off Newfoundland in August 1941, less than four months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Johnson noted that “this was the beginning of the alliance and “NATO.”
But Mr Biden’s advisors said they thought the charter had grown musty and did not reflect a world of diverse challenges – from cyberspace to China – in which Britain is a greatly reduced power.
Where the original charter provided for the “ultimate destruction of Nazi tyranny” and demanded freedom “to cross high seas and oceans unhindered”, the new version focused on the “climate crisis” and the need to “protect biodiversity”. It is peppered with references to “emerging technologies”, “cyberspace” and “sustainable global development”.
As a direct reprimand for Russia and China, the new agreement calls on the Western allies to “resist interference through disinformation or other malicious influences, including in elections”. She assesses the threats to democratic nations in a technological age: “We reaffirm our shared responsibility for maintaining our collective security and international stability and resilience against the full spectrum of modern threats, including cyber threats.”
And it promises that “NATO will remain a nuclear alliance as long as there are nuclear weapons. Our NATO allies and partners will always be able to rely on us, even as they continue to strengthen their own national armed forces. “
It would be hard to imagine that Mr Johnson, who maintained his relationship with President Donald Trump, would sign such a document in the Trump era. Nonetheless, he is clearly addressing Mr Biden, who was born barely two years after the first charter was signed and who throughout his political life embraced the alliance it created.
The new charter specifically calls on both countries to abide by “the rules-based international order,” a phrase that Mr Trump and his staff tried unsuccessfully to banish from previous statements by Western leaders, believing it posed a globalist threat Mr. Trump’s America First Agenda at home.
Mr Biden also used his first full day abroad to officially announce that the United States will donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech Covid vaccine to 100 poorer countries, a program that, according to official figures, will donate US $ 3.5 billion. Would cost $ 2 billion, including $ 2 billion in donations to the previously announced Covax consortium.
“At this moment, our values are calling us to do everything we can to vaccinate the world against Covid-19,” said Biden. He brushed aside concerns that his government would use vaccine distribution as a diplomatic weapon in the world market.
“The United States is making those half a billion doses available without any conditions,” he said. “Our vaccine donations do not involve pressures for favors or potential concessions. We do this to save lives. To end this pandemic. That’s it. Period.”
But the donation, which is presented as a humanitarian action that was also in the US’s own interest, also carries a political message. Mr Biden’s advisors say this is a strong demonstration that democracies – and not China or Russia – are able to respond to the world’s crises, faster and more effectively.
By taking the lead in efforts to vaccinate the world and make resources available to meet its biggest public health challenges, officials said the United States is regaining a role it has been playing since the end of World War II tried to play.
Desperate to use the summit as a showcase for a post-Brexit identity with the Global Britain brand, Mr Johnson has also outlined ambitious plans to end the pandemic. Ahead of the summit, Mr Johnson urged leaders to commit to vaccinating everyone in the world against the coronavirus by the end of 2022.
Public health experts applauded Mr Biden’s announcement. If previous donations had been little more than patching up a huge global vaccine deficit, the 500 million doses were more in line with the scale of the challenge, they said.
The announcement came when Covax, the vaccine-sharing partnership, struggled to deliver enough doses, especially as India blocked supplies from a large factory there to speed up its domestic vaccination campaign. Covax has shipped 82 million cans, less than a fifth of the shipment it expected by June.
But it continues to be difficult to get doses into people’s arms. Public health officials around the world have urged wealthy nations to start distributing their donations soon, rather than releasing additional doses at once later this year so that countries can administer the doses when they arrive.
In his meeting with Mr Johnson, Mr Biden also dealt with an old subject that he knows well: the British Territory of Northern Ireland. It first flared as a source of tension between Mr Biden and Mr Johnson during the 2020 presidential campaign when Mr Biden warned Twitter that “we cannot allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to fall victim to Brexit.” He added that any trade deal between the United States and Britain would depend on preventing the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that lies within the European Union.
As a proud Irish American who loves to quote poetry by Yeats, Mr. Biden’s allegiances on this matter have never been in question. They are in stark contrast to Trump, who campaigned for Brexit and once urged Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May to sue the European Union. Mr Biden, on the other hand, called Brexit a mistake.
The problem is that post-Brexit trade tensions in Northern Ireland have only increased since the election of Mr Biden. The UK has blamed the European Union for trade disruptions that resulted in some supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland being empty after the UK officially exited the bloc in January.
Negotiations over the arrangements, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, are increasingly controversial, with Britain threatening to pull the plug if Brussels does not make concessions. Last week, senior American diplomat in London, Yael Lempert, bluntly expressed government concerns over mounting tensions over UK chief Brexit negotiator David Frost.
News of the meeting surfaced in the Times of London on Wednesday evening when Mr Biden arrived in the country. While some analysts predicted it would overshadow Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Johnson, others indicated that it served a purpose – publicly registering American concerns in a way that saved Mr. Biden the need to highlight the point in person.
White House officials have gone out of their way to say they do not want to be drawn into a dispute between London and Brussels. At the same time, they leave no doubt as to the depth of Mr. Biden’s feeling for the Good Friday Agreement conveyed through one of his Democratic predecessors, Bill Clinton.
“He’s not making threats or ultimatums,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Air Force One reporters. “He will simply convey his deep conviction that we stand behind this protocol and must protect it.”
Mark Landler contributed the coverage from Falmouth, England, and Benjamin Mueller from London.