The Atlantic Charter
Two months after the London Declaration came the next step to a world organization, the result of a
dramatic meeting between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.
In August 1941, the Axis was still very much in the ascendant, or so it seemed, and the carefully stage-managed meetings between Hitler and Mussolini, inevitably ending in “perfect accord,” sounded grimly foreboding. Germany had flung herself against the USSR but the might of this new ally was yet to be disclosed. And the United States, though giving moral and material succor, was not yet in the war.
Then, one afternoon, came the news that President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill were in conference “somewhere at sea”—the same seas on which the desperate Battle of the Atlantic was being fought— and on August 14 the two leaders issued a joint declaration destined to be known in history as the Atlantic Charter.
This document was not a treaty between the two powers. Nor was it a final and formal expression of peace aims. It was only an affirmation, as the document declared, “of certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world.”
Of the eight points of the Atlantic Charter, two bear directly on world organization.
“After the final destruction of Nazi tyranny,” reads the sixth clause, “they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.”
The seventh clause stated that such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas without hindrance, and the eighth concluded the document with this outline of peace organization:
“They believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential.
They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.”
Other points of the Atlantic Charter also affirmed the basic principles of international justice: no aggrandizement; no territorial changes without the freely-expressed wishes of the peoples concerned; the right of every people to choose their own form of government; and equal access to raw materials for all nations.
A constructive purpose for the future international organization was also foreshadowed in the fifth clause, which declared that the two statesmen desired to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security.
Coming from the two great democratic leaders of the day and implying the full moral support of the United States, the Atlantic Charter created a profound impression on the embattled Allies. It came as a message of hope to the occupied countries, and it held out the promise of a world organization based on the enduring verities of international morality.
That it had little legal validity did not detract from its value. If, in the ultimate analysis, the value of any treaty is the sincerity of its spirit, no affirmation of common faith between peace-loving nations could be other than important.
Support for the principles of the Atlantic Charter and a pledge of cooperation to the utmost in giving effect to them, came from a meeting of ten governments in London shortly after Mr. Churchill returned from his ocean rendezvous. This declaration was signed on September 24 by the USSR and the nine governments of occupied Europe: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and by the representatives of General de Gaulle, of France.