The United States and Britain announced a new strategic agreement on Thursday, as their leaders renewed their commitment to a “special relationship” to counter Russia, China and economic instability.
At a White House summit, U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the lightning-fast development of artificial intelligence.
But Sunak dismissed Britain’s ambitions for a post-Brexit free trade deal with Washington empty-handed, instead embracing Biden’s plan to create a new green economy through heavy industrial subsidies.
The leaders adopted an “Atlantic Declaration” aimed at fostering ties between the defense and renewable energy industries in the face of growing competition from China.
“We face new challenges to international stability — from authoritarian states like Russia and the People’s Republic of China; disruptive technologies; non-state actors; and transnational challenges like climate change,” the statement read.
In welcoming Sunak to the Oval Office, Biden was asked by reporters if the “special” transatlantic relationship was good. He gave a thumbs up and replied, “It’s really good.”
The two leaders agreed that the world economy is undergoing the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution, in part because of artificial intelligence, which has brought doomsday warnings that sentient machines could wipe out humanity unless governments coordinate their response. .
Sunak said Biden supported his plan to bring together “like-minded” countries to the world’s first artificial intelligence summit in the UK later this year – and the prime minister also wants the UK to host a future AI regulator.
However, Sunak’s ambitions have also run into headwinds, as industry figures call for regulation and the US and EU have opened up talks on AI codes of conduct.
“The one thing that I believe will not change is the strength of our partnership, our friendship, that we will put our values front and center, as we have always done, to serve the people of the UK and the US,” He told Biden.
Sunak said the Atlantic declaration would help allies deal with long-term instability in energy markets caused by Russia’s actions – even though they were reluctant to blame Moscow for this week’s catastrophic failure of a dam in Ukraine.
But Sunak’s first White House summit also came after Britain changed its prime minister three times last year, and after Biden made clear his displeasure with his handling of Northern Ireland.
On Ukraine, the U.S. and U.K. governments are moving closer to supplying advanced fighter jets to help Kiev fight a Russian incursion.
Sunak said the dam breach was an “appalling act that affected hundreds of thousands of people” and promised that Britain would provide aid to the victims.
But while giving up hope of a trade deal with the US for now, Sunak told the summit that the war in Ukraine had demonstrated the need for a transatlantic economic alliance.
“Just as interoperability between our militaries gives us an advantage on the battlefield, greater economic interoperability will give us a vital advantage for decades to come,” he said.
Sunak did win a pledge from Biden to discuss U.S. concerns over the U.S. through greater access to a key mineral used in batteries after the president’s Lower Inflation Act provided new subsidies for companies doing business in the U.S. Relief for British carmakers.
Meanwhile, Sunak has been talking up British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace as a candidate to lead NATO ahead of the Western military alliance’s summit in Lithuania next month, with the prime ministers of Denmark and Estonia also seen as contenders.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends in October.
For now, Biden has not indicated whom he supports – his vote will be decisive in a coalition in which the US is by far the biggest player.