There is no known signed copy of the wartime Atlantic Charter negotiated in 1941 between US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill.

Churchill joked that FDR claimed to have a copy signed by both leaders. Unfortunately, both signatures were in FDR’s personal hand. Nor was the charter first named after the ocean that linked the two democracies.

It was the British Labour Party newspaper, The Daily Herald, in London that coined the term the Atlantic Charter, setting out wartime aims and principles. Churchill embraced the name and used it during debates in the House of Commons.

The charter established a framework for wartime co-operation in August 1941, months before the US was formally a combatant nation. True, the US Navy was supporting the British and Canadian navies in wartime Atlantic convoys, which constituted the lifelines of continuing democratic resistance to the Axis.

The co-operation was evident in the fact the Atlantic Conference that adopted the charter, involving Roosevelt and Churchill, was held at a US naval base at Argentia in Newfoundland. US bases on British and Dominion soil had been agreed as a consequence of the US giving 50 World War I era destroyers to the Royal Navy.

The prime minister arrived aboard HMS Prince of Wales. Tragically, this battleship would be sunk by the Japanese off Malaya on the outbreak of the Pacific War.

Roosevelt welcomed his British visitor aboard the USS Augusta. FDR was crippled by polio as a result of swimming off Campobello Island, off New Brunswick, Canada, 20 years earlier. But the American people were largely unaware of his disability. This was because the Secret Service detail surrounding the president forbade film footage or photographs of FDR being carried by one of his orderlies or moving in a wheelchair. For the initial meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt, Captain Elliott Roosevelt supported his father, who was braced against the railing of the Augusta.

Of all the wartime meetings between the Allies, whether at Casablanca, Tehran, Yalta or Potsdam, the meeting between the US and British leaders at Placentia Bay in August 1941 offered the most hope for humanity’s future.

The charter had its critics, but after the major Allied powers – the US, Britain, the Soviet Union and China – had agreed on its terms, 22 other nations also endorsed its principles on January 1, 1942. It formed the basis of the UN.

The ideals of the charter are ones with which we still can identify: no territorial gains to be sought by the victorious powers and no territorial adjustments without the agreement of the people concerned; self-determination; lowering of trade barriers; global economic co-operation and better social welfare; freedom of the seas and ultimately a world free of want and fear.

These ambitious hopes were not realised after the end of World War II, given the tensions of the first Cold War, but the charter set a framework for the aspirations of people everywhere that remain constant today.

Given the foregoing, it is beyond time for the democratic powers and the democratically aligned to forge an Indo-Pacific charter that reflects the values of 2023.

It is not the first attempt. Mike Green, now chief executive of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, noted in his book By More Than Providence, that attempts to create a post-war Pacific charter were stillborn.

The Atlantic Charter, on the other hand, was renewed by US President Joe Biden and British prime minister Boris Johnson in 2021. It still can serve as a model.

The countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – Australia, India, Japan and the US – can form the nucleus of those nations wanting to endorse such a charter.

They are all vigorous democracies and have the experience and history to draft what is required by way of a tapestry of values and objectives to govern relations between nations across the world from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Seychelles.

The core principles of an Indo-Pacific charter should be unambiguously democratic, with an emphasis on a free and open global commons and the right of all people to determine their own future in a world enlightened by the rule of law and not befouled by the rule of the dictatorial oppressor.

An Indo-Pacific charter should embrace basic liberties, including environmental and labour standards, and clarify the ambitions of the countries of the two oceans.

For a better world, this century is not aimed at any one or any other country. But it does draw a line for an international democratic framework explicitly rejecting the use of force, by any power, to advance its interests. The document should provide, in the words of US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, a latticework – a latticework for greater co-operation.

An Indo-Pacific charter can prove attractive to other democracies beyond the Quad, especially South Korea, Indonesia, New Zealand and The Philippines as well as the South Pacific states.

It would serve to bind the democracies together and serve as a series of interlocking reasons why autocracy is being rejected vigorously. It is more than the formation of the Quad or the calibration of AUKUS, both of which are designed to deter and deny aggression in our region.

The best means of stabilising the Indo-Pacific is to have not only the hardware of denial but also the software of belief and language as motivation.

Language matters. Hawke government foreign minister Bill Hayden, was fond of reminding colleagues that, in foreign policy, “words are bullets”. He was right.

An Indo-Pacific charter is neither readily nor easily achieved. But it is worth embarking on this journey. The Quad represents the first lighthouse and there should be no hesitation in following the beacons. The Atlantic Charter is still a useful tool for navigation.