Two months after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, on August 14, 1941, the heads of government of the United States and the United Kingdom issued the Atlantic Charter, a set of principles that were intended to define the world order after the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.
The principles enshrined in the Atlantic Charter inspired a set of organizations and structures that are still in existence today. On January 1, 1942, the nations fighting the 1939-1945 war together gave a call for what was to become, on October 24, 1945, the United Nations Organization.
Four years later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed to deter the Soviet Union from invading and occupying countries in Europe outside the Iron Curtain that laid across the dividing line between Soviet satellite states in Europe and other countries in a continent that had dominated world history for close to six centuries.
Although Winston Churchill, the then-prime minister of the U.K., did not favor giving the freedoms enunciated in the Atlantic Charter to European colonies in Asia and Africa, such a narrow view of human freedom was opposed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt throughout the war years. The torch of liberty that was lit in the minds and hearts of millions in Asia through the Atlantic Charter and the UNO ensured that European colonization was rolled back across the world’s largest continent, ending with the handover of Macau to China by the Portuguese on December 20, 1999.
By then, the balance of geopolitics was shifting from the West to the East, but the organizations and structures weren’t adapting. That same year, India’s first professor of geopolitics enunciated the concept of an “Asian NATO,” a security alliance of countries in Asia determined to resist outside efforts at dominating them. This Asian version of NATO did not find favor with European powers, who were insistent that their own military alliance was sufficient to tilt the balance of forces in Asia, the way they used to during the period of European colonization.
Well after it was clear that Asia was outpacing Europe in the economic and later the technological spheres, they continued to insist on the primacy of the Atlanticist world view, which holds that the Atlantic is still the geopolitical global center of gravity. In fact, by 1999 that honor had returned to Asia.
In the U.S., the powerful Atlanticist lobby sabotaged efforts by a section of the Pentagon to shift Washington’s focus from Europe to Asia. It is an effort that has continued into the Trump administration, where a substantial section of policy makers and the media have teamed up to insist that the Atlantic remain the center of gravity of U.S. foreign and security policy, making it remain Moscow-centric at a time when Beijing has far outstripped that capital in terms of growth and potential for power projection
Enshrining Freedom and Democracy in Asia
Rather than assume that Asians are incapable of looking after their own security without European assistance, what is needed is for Asian countries to come together with North America ― a continent that has never sought colonies ― to form an Indo-Pacific Charter on the lines of the Atlantic Charter.
Japan and India are required to lead such an effort, together with the U.S. The Indo-Pacific Charter would call for the protection of existing boundaries across Asia, opposing efforts at changing such a status quo by force. It would call for the elimination of hegemony and dominance of smaller and weaker countries in Asia by more powerful entities. And it would set up a security and defense mechanism for that purpose which would include Japan, India, the U.S., Australia, and Canada besides other like-minded countries.
This organization would jointly defend any member or allied power in Asia against an effort to change the status quo by the use of force. The Indo-Pacific Charter would enshrine the importance of freedom and democracy, and call for all states to ensure that such universal values are protected within their boundaries and not trampled upon.
Such a charter would recognize that the torch has passed from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific, and that for the U.S. in particular, the most significant allies of the future are no longer France and Germany, but Japan and India.
The countries subscribing to the Indo-Pacific Charter would come to the defense of any other country facing a threat to its sovereignty by force of arms. It would also safeguard crucial sea and air lanes as global commons across the continent so as to ensure free communication and commerce, unhampered by any hostile force.
Keeping the Peace
Such a coming together of great democracies would ensure that a superpower war does not break out in the continent.
Just as war between the U.S. and the USSR was avoided throughout the Cold War, war between China and the U.S. needs to be avoided. This can only happen if a deterrent force is created that will oppose efforts at changing the status quo by force. Peace has been kept in Europe for decades, barring a few smaller and largely internecine conflicts, since 1945.
The task before humanity is to similarly keep the peace in Asia. The time for an Indo-Pacific Charter is now.
Below are the potential points of an Indo-Pacific Charter update of the Atlantic Charter:
- No territorial gains to be sought by any major power.
- No creation of artificial territories in the open seas.
- No acquisitions by force or lease of new territories within sovereign nations.
- Re-formation of the U.N. Security Council or formation of a new Indo-Pacific Security Council.
- Participants will work towards freedom and sovereignty of data.
- Participants will work towards a unified approach to using Artificial Intelligence for the good of humanity.
- Formation of a Space Security Council.
- Participants work together to promote democracy and participatory government.
- Nations that are democracies stay as democracies.
Author: M D Nalapat
Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, India