What can be expected from Munich Security Conference

Handelsblatt, Vestnik Kavkaza
What can be expected from Munich Security Conference

Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take part in the 55th meeting of the Munich Security Conference. The Munich Forum is considered to be one of the most authoritative and representative discussion “platforms” on topical issues in the field of Euro-Atlantic and global security. This conference is traditionally attended by heads of states and governments, ministers of foreign affairs and defense, representatives of international and regional organizations, as well as prominent political scientists and economists.

During the event, its participants will discuss current state and prospects of European security, issues of arms control and strategic stability, issues of conflict settlement in Euro-Atlantic region, situation in the Middle East. Lavrov is expected to give a speach on February 16 at a high-level plenary meeting. He will also meet with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Bilateral meetings between Sergey Lavrov and foreign ministers of Germany, South Korea, Belgium, Pakistan, Mongolia, Armenia, Croatia, and Japan are also discussed.

As Handelsblatt writes in an article "Germany, France, Britain fail to fill leadership vacuum in European defense", major European countries, and especially Germany, are still far from being able to ensure their own security as US President Donald Trump pulls back from defending Europe, according to a report prepared for this week’s Munich Security Conference.

The annual conference in the Bavarian capital is the world’s largest meeting on security issues. Some 35 heads of state and government will be attending this year, compared to only 20 last year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend, though French President Emmanuel Macron canceled at the last minute. Vice President Mike Pence will head a large US delegation that includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The conference report – which is entitled “The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?” –  warns of a fundamental problem beyond the series of small and big crises. Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the US who chairs the Munich conference, wrote in a foreword: “A new era of great power competition is unfolding between the United States, China and Russia, accompanied by a certain leadership vacuum in what has become known as the liberal international order.”

With this perception of a crumbling world order, the role of stabilizing its own region and neighboring territories falls to Europe’s three biggest countries – Germany, France and Britain. But two years after Trump came to office, these countries are still far from meeting this challenge, Ischinger said at a press conference presenting the report. “We hope that Europe puts itself in a position this year to take over this important role,” Ischinger said.

The report concludes that Germany is a big contributor to this strategic weakness. France, for its part, sees a European defense union as a way to expand military strength, whereas Germany looks at military cooperation as a means to greater European integration. Despite a modest increase in its defense budget, Germany does not seem to have the political will for its forces to fight alongside those of France, the report says.

Britain is the strongest military power in Europe, but it remains fully open what part Britain will play in a European defense strategy after Brexit.

The report also sees risks in the growing loss of confidence among Europeans in political leaders. A previously unpublished survey by the Pew Research Center finds that President Trump comes out worst among major leaders for retaining Europeans’ confidence. In Germany and France, one-third to one-fourth of those surveyed trust Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to make rational decisions. Only 10 percent have the same confidence in Trump.

Merkel and Macron rank well ahead of those three in most countries – including in the US. This confidence places a “huge responsibility” on the two leaders, the report says. In fact, a joint address by the two was planned for Saturday but Macron’s cancellation means Merkel will speak alone. The French president, under pressure from the “yellow vest” protests, said he needed to devote himself to domestic affairs.