28 February 2019

The security conference from München- “America first” versus multilateralism

Sergiu Medar

Image source: Mediafax

Between 15-17th of February, München has hosted the Annual Security Conference which, basically, has analyzed all the current political and economic aspects which could affect or influence the international security. A great interest was world’s great powers stances, supported by first class policy makers, able to present their states’ perspectives against those issues directly affecting states’ security. It was carefully analyzed Europe-US’s relation, which has suffered from major changes since Donald Trump won the White House. The discussions were not contained at all, on the contrary, states’ representatives present at the conference have firmly expressed their stances on the debated subjects.

The security conference from München, held between 15-17th of February 2019, marks an important moment in North-Atlantic’s relations evolution. As mentioned in the report presented before the conference, the world is entering a new era, passing from society’s democratic-liberal organization form, which have been confronting communism for a long period of time, and created after World War II, to a world wherein liberalism, illiberalism, authoritarianism and radical nationalism are all present. The difficulty in managing such world has emerged during these three days when world’s leaders had the chance to present and support their perspectives.

This new era is marked and stimulated, sometimes contradictory, by Donald Trump’s leadership of the US Administration. Even if he did not participate at the conference, he was represented by vice-president Mike Pence, whose speech was, somehow unusual in Europe, full of eulogies and superlatives to US’s president, to which the public did not respond.

Talking about the new world, in an interview for Financial Times in 20th of July 2018, Henry Kissinger was saying: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of era an to force it to give up its old pretences.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident”. Actually, by the way he chose to apply “America Frist” in foreign policy, the US president has completely changed the relations between the main international actors.

The same perspective was presented by ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger as well, conference’s chairman: “The whole liberal world order appears to be falling apart – nothing is as it once was. We are experiencing an epochal shift; an era is ending, and the rough outlines of a new political age are only beginning to emerge”.

The founders of the Security Conference from München has named it, as it was going to be proved during time, the “reunion of the transatlantic family”. The capital of the Bavarian land was the place wherein world’s security and transatlantic’s relation premises and new valences situation were analyzed, placing NATO in the center of it. This year, this relation seems to be placed on the second plan, the whole conference being marked by critics, responses and allusions to US and president Trump, without always naming states’ names or people. There were especially highlighted the current disputes between West European concepts and US’s ones on the principles world’s states relations are based on.

Mike Pence’s speech, typically american, was full of eulogies to Donald Trump, in front of an aloof public, who did not react accordingly with speaker’s expectations. On the most important subject of transatlantic’s relations, related to US respecting art. 5’s commitment, from NATO’s foundation Washington Treaty, the US vice-president has underlined the firm decision of American administration’s chief to remain dedicated to collective defence across the North-Atlantic Alliance.  Pence, who sees Trump as the “leader of the free world”, has mentioned how only after US’s president intervention at the last NATO summit the investments for defence of the other North-Atlantic Alliance member states have doubled, already existing positive premises for the continuation of this process. It was reaffirmed US’s commitment, as global leader, through the quote “America first does not mean America alone”.

Shortly analyzing the security situation in world’s main areas, US’s vice-president has called on the European states, signatories of the nuclear agreement with Iran to pullout from this treaty, ignoring the already declared European position to respect treaty’s terms. Nord Stream 2 is another controversial subject between Atlantic’s two rims. US wants to convince all EU member states to not become vulnerable and to keep being dependent on one energy source only. EU’s Council recent position, based on France-Germany’s compromise, has solved the majority of the European controversial perspective on this topic.

Mike Pence has mentioned Russia’s intention to create new borders in Ukraine’s South-East, as well as US’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty. As some militaries present at the conference were remarking, US’s vice-president did not criticize Russia, instead, he mentioned some regional security aspects without firmly underlining that it would be a security threat against US and NATO.

A couple of hours after his speech, Joe Biden entered the scene, US’s ex-vice-president, from the Obama administration, who has started to criticize Trump. US’s Congress members, democrats and liberals, had the same position, presenting opposed perspectives to current American administration’s ones. It is unusual for the US delegations who, normally, when being outside the US territory, are not that critical regarding their own administration. Joe Biden has drawn the attention on multilateralism, cooperation with allies and the participation at the common decisional process, a rhetoric the Europeans were used with coming from the US, before electing Trump. Biden, who’s probably going to run the US presidency for the democratic party, has a different vision, opposed to Trump’s administration one: “The America I see does not wish to turn our back on the world or allies, our closest allies”. On Russia’s threat, Biden said: “I am not concerned with the Russian influence in Europe. I am concerned with the Russian influence in the US!”. As if to say, the future candidate for the US presidency is highlighting not only the current differences of opinion between US and Europe, but also the ones inside US regarding Trump’s administration foreign policy.

Talking, as stated, as a simple citizen, the american ex-vice-president wanted to say that Trumpism will not last forever and “as my mom would say: this too shall pass. We will be back! We will be back! Don’t have any doubt about that!”. This speech was applauded standing ovation.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham, in his speech, has stated that Trump has shaken US’s foreign policy, but he criticized him for communicating the decision on the US troops pullout from Syria and Afghanistan without consulting his allies.

Europe’s responses to US’s critics and arguments were given by German chancellor Angela Merkel. She had an extremely firm presentation, free of any chancellor diplomatic constraints, that she will leave in 2020, when the future federal elections will take place, given that she already announced she will not run anymore. During the years, across the Munich conferences, European allies had a defensive support attitude against US’s policies in Europe. In the last 2-3 years, Europeans attitude was starting to change. However, given Trump’s administration attitude, sometimes brutal, against Europe, Mrs. Angela Merkel firmly responded to this position.

Through Angela Merkel’s voice, Europeans, most of them, are supporting multilateralism and, implicitly, world’s liberal order, calling on unity, meanwhile the US are rather supporting bilateral relations and sees the world as a competition and confrontation zone. Mrs. Merkel has underlined that US succeeded, through the global order imposed in international economic policy, to push the liberal global order, which was governing states’ relations, to collapse and to divide them into bilateral relations where it tries to put its feed down.

Criticizing US, Mrs. Angela Merkel has underlined the importance of analyzing the divergences elements step by step, especially due to Trump’s administration tendency to see its allies as enemies.

Answering the general question of conference’s motto “The great puzzle. Who will pick up the pieces?” the German chancellor has strongly stated: “Only all of us, together!”, receiving lots of applauses.

On US’s insistencies to be followed by the other signatories’ states of the nuclear treaty with Iran and withdraw from the treaty, the German chancellor has defined US’s attitude as “depressing”, firmly refusing Washington’s demand transmitted through Mike Pence.

Merkel has accused that by announcing troops withdrawal from Syria, Trump will contribute to a stronger relation between Russia and Iran.

On Europe’s position against Russia, Merkel has stated that Europe always received gases from Russia, even during the Cold War. If she receives Russia’s promise to use the pipeline that passes through Ukraine, Germany will totally respect the European legislation on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, forcing Russia to do the same.

As an answer to Trump’s Administrations critics against Europe and admitting that the European security depends on the US, the German chancellor is asking the Europeans to “take destiny in our hands”.

As Mrs. Merkel has presented her perspective before Mike Pence, we could clearly saw the opposed positions Europe and US have regarding the main aspects related to international security. Luckily for the European security, the only field these two powers agree on is the commitment regarding NATO’s states collective security assurance.