The 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) took place in Munich, Germany last week. The conference’s focus was on the concept of “westlessness”, which has emerged due to differences and uncertainties of the West in their values and strategic orientations. In his address at the Conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted that Washington had disengaged from allies and global concerns. Seeking to assure European sentiments, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the death of the transatlantic alliance was highly overemphasized. The West, according to him was “winning” and in fact winning together. He said that Washington is playing a key role in defending Europe’s borders through NATO, as well as leading a multinational effort to defeat the Islamic State. His comments were also seen as a response to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier who said that the US had rejected “even the idea of an international community” and was acting “at the expense of neighbours and partners.” French President Emmanuel Macron also warned of the ‘weakening of the West’.
While supporting NATO, President Macron underlined the need to act independently of the US in matters of defence. Conference Chairman Ischinger welcomed Mr. Macron’s vision of a European strategy with new military power. Despite the European Union slapping sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, the French President advocated more dialogue and reengagement with Russia. The organizers of the Munich Security Conference listed Ukraine as one of 2020’s potentially dangerous regions because of the possibility of resumption of hostilities in Donbass.
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer noted that the ideals of the West was being challenged today. While appealing for coordinated efforts internationally to bolster security, the Minister called on Germany to become more active in its overseas missions, including in Africa’s Sahel region.
The US and Europe were constantly at odds throughout the Conference due to their differences over the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, which the US considers a ‘spy’ for Beijing. US Secretary of Defence pointed out that Huawai was the ‘poster child’ for China’s ‘nefarious strategy’ to infiltrate western infrastructure and warned Britain to reconsider its decision to allow Huawei a limited role in building 5G networks. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, however dismissed any chances of conflict between the US and Europe, citing the need for NATO reforms and a consensual approach of Europe.
An important observation amidst US-Europe rift was that the West unanimously decried Chinese ‘actions in South China Sea’ and its ‘militarisation’. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi defended his country’s actions by saying that China stands for peaceful development and will not copy the ‘Western model’ and instead called out for cooperation towards maintaining peace and stability in the world.
The participants also deliberated on tackling the implications of the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak. The Chinese vice-foreign minister Qin Gang praised his government’s handling of the disease and claimed that as far as containment was concerned, only 1% of diagnosed cases have been outside of China’s borders.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, during the ongoing Munich Security Conference 2020, indicated that the best way to sell democracy will be to settle the Kashmir issue in a democratic way. In reply, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar told the US Senator’s that the Indian democracy can “settle that issue on its own”. At Munich, Dr. Jaishankar also met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and discussed the modalities of President Donald Trump’s upcoming India visit. The Indian Minister also met with the Saudi and Omani foreign ministers on the side-lines of the Munich Security Conference.
The MSC 2020 was significant as it reflected the opposing views that the world leaders had on the idea of the Western Alliance itself. Divergence of opinions and debates on threats and issues are imminent on a platform like MSC; however it would be pertinent to remember that it would do more good for the international community to share convergent views on common security and defence problems so as to jointly tackle them and make the world a safer and secure place.
Script: Dr. Sanghamitra Sarma, Strategic Analyst on European Affairs