The summer of 2011 has certainly tried the faith of committed optimists such as myself. After an inspiring start to the calendar year, with the blossoming of democracy in the so-called Arab Spring and cautious indications that the world economy was regaining in footing, things have taken a decided turn for the worse. The democratic revolutions in the Arab world have stalled in a tragic, if not entirely unexpected, bloody quagmire, and the global economy hasn’t just stalled; it appears to be imploding in a fantastic mess of market fears and political ineffectiveness. Add riots on the streets of London, famine in East Africa, continuing nuclear catastrophe in Japan, a Euro zone on the brink of collapse, and crisis in any number of other forms just about anywhere one looks, and it’s safe to say we live in challenging times.
Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Professor of International Political Economy at Switzerland’s International Institute for Management Development, reminds us this week that 70 years ago, in another time of intense global crisis, one of the 20th century’s most significant global documents was crafted: the Atlantic Charter. Initially an agreement between the heads of just two national states—the UK and the USA—it became one of the founding documents of NATO and a statement of principles that would come to be embodied in a wide variety of post-war global institutions, most notably the UN.
Professor Lehmann urges us to remember the Atlantic Charter and to envision a more global, 21st-century replacement. For all of our current crises, he argues, perhaps none is more concerning than the crisis of confidence in the post-war global project envisioned by world leaders during the 1940s.
There is a depressing feeling, especially among the youth of the world — such a high proportion of whom are unemployed — that things may be getting worse and the future looking bleaker.
The world has made no real progress with respect to the three most vital priorities on the global policy agenda: nuclear non-proliferation, trade and climate change. While globalization in the last two decades has brought down multiple barriers and opened the world to an unprecedented degree, it has not brought about a spirit of collaboration among states.
It is that last point—the eroding “spirit of collaboration among states” (and, I would add, among competing political parties within states)—that most worries Professor Lehmann and leads him to call for a new “post-Atlantic Global Charter”. If nothing else, please take some time to read the original Atlantic Charter, as well as the other comparable documents I’ve linked below. Together they lay out principles that are no less inspiring and relevant today than they were when originally written—in part because we have, at times, strayed rather far from these values. Indeed, it seems that now, more than ever, is a time when the U.S. and the rest of the world need to make a (re)new(ed) pledge of global cooperation, as well as the political leadership to realize that vision. As President Roosevelt himself said, just one year after the Atlantic Charter’s signing, “We reaffirm our principles. They will bring us to a happier world.”
Some more inspiration: