Munich security conference: US goes it alone

Kamal Uddin Ahmed   | Published: February 18, 2019 20:21:19 | Updated: February 18, 2019 22:19:44

Security is a fundamental human concern. The Munich Security Conference (MSC) has been, since 1963,  the premium global forum for deliberating international security policy issues. Apparently the core purpose of the MSC is to build trust and create hope by discussing current international security challenges.

The three-day MSC 2019 took place from February 15 to 17. The forum focused on the state of security in the world and methods to preserve the international order. Ahead of the conference, MSC chair Wolfgang Ischinger disclosed three main themes. They are: (a) the future of transatlantic relations, (b) the European Union's self-assertion, and (c) the risk of escalating great power competitions.

More than 450 high-profile decision-makers, including 30 heads of state and government, foreign and defence ministers, security professionals, and high-ranking representatives of industries and civil society from all over the world gathered in Munich to engage in intensive deliberation on security issues. Besides, reprenetatives from international organisations namely, the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank attended the conference.

The 55th security conference was held at a time when global conflicts, threats and tensions have been rising, historic security agreements have been terminated, trade disputes are growing, and Europe and the United States are at odds on security issues.

Remarkably, US President Donald Trump announced on  February 02 his intention to terminate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

Washington accused Moscow of violating the treaty with the deployment of new cruise missiles. Political analysts believe the formal dissolution of the treaty would have widespread implications for European security architecture, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) defence strategy, and arms control.

The MSC highlighted the all-inclusive question: Who will pick up the pieces of the disintegrating world order?  Indeed, the rules-based liberal global order, which the US led, appears to be breaking apart along with re-emergence of great power competition between the US, Russia and China.

US Vice President Mike Pence criticised European allies over Iran and Venezuela and called on European partners to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, avoid Chinese equipment for communication networks, and speed up larger contributions to NATO. Pence also criticised US allies - Germany, France and Britain, for allowing European firms to carry on business with Iran despite US overtures.

Thus, a rift between the US and its European allies evidently surfaced in the conference. The major European powers, Germany, Britain and France, remain in favour of retaining the nuclear deal with Iran. Consequently, President Trump's unilateralism came under attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Iran nuclear deal as well as multilateralism. She criticised the US decision to pull out its troops from Syria and warned that it would strengthen Russian and Iran's game plan in the region. She also cautioned against the wearing down of multilateral cooperation and observed that the West must keep up a dialogue with Russia despite differences.

Former US Vice President Joe Biden, who was involved with the Iran nuclear deal, differed with Pence and defended the deal as a "significant agreement." Also speaking at the conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif strongly denounced Washington's efforts to persuade European allies to pull out of the nuclear agreement with his country.

UK defence minister Gavin Williamson outlined UK's commitment to NATO and European security and remarked Russia was a big threat to security since its occupation of Crimea five years ago.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasised that in a more volatile security environment it is crucial to have strong multilateral frameworks, defence, and transatlantic cooperation.

On the sidelines of the conference, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov decided to work together to protect mutual interests.

To recap, MSC again provided an exclusive opportunity for world leaders and foreign and defence ministers to engage in discussions and consultations on global security concerns and risks. With a growing rift between US and its allies, the 2019 conference, like the preceding one, raised more questions than answers to pressing security issues of the world as the global leaders spent more time on censuring each other.

Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.



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