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The Munich Security Conference and the international situation

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US vice president Michael Pence are pictured during a photo call ahead of bilateral talks during the 55th Munich Security Conference (MSC) on 16 February 2019 in Munich, Germany. [Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and US vice president Michael Pence are pictured during a photo call ahead of bilateral talks during the 55th Munich Security Conference (MSC) on 16 February 2019 in Munich, Germany. [Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images]

The Munich Security Conference was supposed to be an occasion for important countries to present their strategies and to identify the most critical challenges and threats to global security and peace.

For this reason, the Munich Security Conference had been an important event for the world leaders, as well as the global media and those who want a deep understanding of international policies. However, over the past five years, at least, we are witnessing a decline in its importance, both in terms of substance and form. This is a reflection of the state of confusion and misperception in America’s and Europe’s strategies and policies. The decline has reached the point of not being able to propose well thought out strategies. This is simply due to the lack of strategies, as there were in the past unless any policy can be called a strategy.

If we were to ask, for example, what is the US’s strategy with regards to Russia, China and Europe? This should have been outlined in Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the conference, but instead, his speech focused on justifying the decision made by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria and to respond to objections by Germany and France to this move. He also focused on launching an attack on Russia, China, Iran and Germany. His only concern was to echo the statements and positions of Donald Trump.

If this speech was placed alongside that of Chancellor Angela Merkel, it would seem flimsy, even in terms of the reaction of the conference attendees, who all warmly applauded Merkel’s speech, while Mike Pence’s speech was received coldly, and no one but Ivanka, the president’s daughter and Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State stood to applauded him. That in itself is a scandal indicative of the isolation experienced by the US as well as the shallowness and superficiality of the discourse.

Thus, the Munich conference reflected the US-European differences more than that reflected in the recent Warsaw Conference, which also witnessed the US fail miserably. US Vice President Mike Pence was only concerned with criticising the European position because it did not pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran. He considered this an undermining of the economic sanctions campaign. Meanwhile, Merkel responded by saying that the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal “is not the best way to face any danger posed by Iran”. It was also noted that the US contradicted itself when it pulled out of the nuclear deal and then, at the same time, withdrew from Syria to leave the arena open to Russia and Iran. Last but not least, Merkel mentioned the advantages of the coalition formed by NATO when the US viewed Europe as a partner and ally to Washington. This reveals the level of decline reached by the European-American relations, as well as the low level of Mike Pence’s discourse.

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However, the most important thing revealed by the 56th Munich Conference was the escalation of tensions between the major powers, the general disintegration between them, and the growing fears of a renewed arms race. This is especially true after the withdrawal of the US and Russia from the medium and short-range nuclear missiles. All of the speeches have expressed the tension in relations and pointing the finger, reaching the point of Pence threatening that the US will not help protect Europe if Germany continues to import gas from Russia and if Europe does not participate in increasing NATO’s defence budgets. He also attacked Germany for the losses caused by German cars to the American economy and threatened to take punitive measures against it. Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly responded to these accusations and stressed the need for Germany to import gas from Russia and rejected Pence’s argument regarding German cars, which she considered to be a source of pride for Germany. She even reminded him that BMW has a large factory in North Carolina, which contributes major financial gains to the US.

Moreover, the tone used by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister and head of the Russian delegation to the Munich conference, was not less harsh than the tone of Mike Pence in his criticism towards Russia for violating the medium-range missile treaty with the Soviet Union. He also criticised American policies on some Issues including Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia on 29 December 2018 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia on 29 December 2018 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

Of course, the Chinese and American speeches were firm and hostile towards each other. There was apparent tension between Russia and the UK, as well as amongst the Western countries in general and Russia regarding Ukraine. Furthermore, Rome and Paris did not hide the great tension amongst the two, which allows us to say that the international situation with regards to the major powers has never been as fragmented, hostile, and discordant as it is now. The international relations are in a state of chaos, which means we should be reading them within new subjects and topics that are not a burden on the relations between the countries, which are worse than they were during the Cold War and even compared to the period following the election of Donald Trump. Donald Trump inherited conflicting and tense international relations, which are in disarray, but he made matters worse. This is due to the American-American project he is promoting as well as the foreign project he has adopted in light of his first project.

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Another aspect, which has also added new confusion and chaos to the international situation is the development of Russian military technology that is superior to that of the United States, especially in terms of missiles.

In short, the current international situation, which has been characterized by tense relations amongst the major powers and by escalated disputes and conflicts amongst the Americans and Europeans and the Americans and most of the world countries, especially Russia and China, can give the people and resistance a better shot at confronting the American imperialist aggression. This is especially true regarding Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela and the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine avoiding the sanctions imposed on them.

Finally, there are two incidents I would like to point out that occurred on the sidelines of the Munich conference: the first was the withdrawal of Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir from the conference on its second day. The reason appears to be Germany welcoming the addition of Saudi Arabia to the EU’s list of countries with lax controls on terrorism financing and money laundering. This development was another blow dealt with the Munich conference, and it forced Jubeir to withdraw in this humiliating manner.

The second is the protest that took place outside the conference against militarisation policies, the arms race, and the world being pushed to the edge of a cliff.

This article first appeared in Araic in Arabi21 on 25 February 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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