In August 1941, Winston Churchill climbed aboard the USS Augusta, anchored off the southeast coast of Newfoundland, ready to talk with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who awaited him on deck. The British and American leaders began lengthy discussions about the shape of a postwar world. Their eight principles for “a better future” included self-determination, open trade, freedom of the seas, and a rejection of territorial aggression. The Atlantic Charter, as the statement was eventually called, was a precursor to many collective arrangements, including the United Nations, NATO, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
The Atlantic Charter may have seemed quite premature. After all, the United States was not even at war in August 1941, and Pearl Harbor was still four months away. Yet FDR and his team could feel the geopolitical tectonic plates shifting. As war spread across the globe, they sought to wrest a better future.
Hopefully, the coronavirus pandemic will prove far less destructive and disruptive than world war. Yet UN Secretary-General António Guterres has already called the coronavirus the most challenging crisis since World War II. Henry Kissinger has written that once the pandemic has run its course, the world will never be the same. If such predictions are even partially correct, we are living through extremely rapid, possibly epochal change. This moment presents a once-in-a-century opportunity for American leaders to wrest, as in 1941, a better future: We need an Atlantic Charter for the pandemic. And as FDR and Churchill demonstrated, the time to think and plan is not at the end of a crisis, but as it unfolds.
Read the full article in The Atlantic.
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