By: Bill Wellock | Published: | 1:00 pm | SHARE: Share on FacebookTweet

In 1941, the United States and the United Kingdom were already preparing for the aftermath of World War II.

In August of that year, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in Canada for a series of discussions. Those talks became the basis of the Atlantic Charter, a statement from the two nations issued on Aug. 14, 1941, that outlined their goals for the postwar world. It marked a milestone in the so-called “special relationship” between the countries.

Eighty years later, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed that relationship in the “New Atlantic Charter.” That statement, issued in June 2021, set out shared goals for a changing world.

Florida State University Professor of History Kurt Piehler is the director of the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience. He is available to comment on the Atlantic Charter, how it shaped post-WWII history and its effect on the relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

“The Atlantic Charter is a remarkable document. Even though the United States had yet to declare war against Germany, the charter looked forward to the destruction of Nazi tyranny and restorations of sovereignty on nations under German occupation. While restrained in rhetoric regarding the rights of self-determination so as not to alienate Churchill, who wanted to maintain the British Empire, the document makes clear that a new world order must promote freedom from fear and want, as well as promote disarmament. The charter helped shape the international alliance that emerged to fight the Axis powers and the United Nations organization founded in 1945. To Churchill’s dismay, many opponents of British colonial rule drew upon the charter to advance their aspirations for independence over the years. 

The threat of Nazism is the glue that forged the Anglo-American alliance. The New Atlantic Charter names no specific enemy the two nations face, but it notes a number of threats to a secure world, most notably the need to deal with cyberattacks and the growing crisis of global warming. It is a document embodying many of the values of the 1941 charter but with greater specificity. In 1941, Roosevelt treaded carefully to encourage Americans to embrace internationalism. The current charter reaffirms the two nations’ commitment to collective security through NATO.”