Joe Biden sees an increasingly dangerous world which in some ways resembles the 1930s. He’s right to update the way democracies cooperate

Before the second world war, states acted as they wished in international affairs, limited only by their resources and power. These circumstances began to change in August 1941, before America joined the allied cause. On a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland, the US president Franklin Roosevelt and the British prime minister Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic charter at a time when Nazi Germany appeared to be decisively winning the European war. A few months later, America, Britain, the Soviet Union and 23 other governments declared in the name of “United Nations” an intention to regulate the postwar world based on three revolutionary principles: free trade, non-aggression and democracy.

Eighty years later, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson have signed a new Atlantic charter, to reflect a world of different threats and one in which the UK is a much diminished power. Mr Biden looks out and sees an increasingly dangerous world. In some ways the vista resembles the 1930s – with populists, nationalists and demagogues on the rise, European powers divided, and democracy vulnerable to foreign manipulation. There’s no mention of China in the 604-word charter, but it is the undeclared target of many of the policies regarding debt transparency, freedom of navigation and protecting the west’s “innovative edge”.

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