For the 55th time, international leaders and representatives came together in Munich to seek dialogue in order to resolve international conflicts, prevent military escalations and find solutions to global challenges.
Last year’s conference concluded that the world was still on the brink, so this year the organisers posed the theme “The Great Puzzle: Who will pick up the pieces?”
The shocking state of transatlantic relations had analysts and security-watchers concentrating on speeches delivered by American Vice-President Mike Pence and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The latter surprised with a bold, direct and enthusiastic speech—clearly working on her legacy with the end of her career approaching. Merkel included various aspects of security, ranging from climate change to national defence spending. Merkel also pleaded for multilateralism and reminded the audience that it is easier to find solutions to common challenges together than to find solutions unilaterally – rebuking a trend propagated by the current US government.
However, her plea towards more international cooperation was contrasted by Vice-President Pence. His remarks made the deep divide between the Atlantic neighbours obvious - a constant adulation of Trump and his policies as he referred to the president as the ‘champion of freedom’ and the US as ‘leading on the world stage’. Furthermore, Pence also threatened the US would fight any opposition towards their policies and expects the Europeans to follow suit on withdrawing from international treaties.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan also contributed to the rhetoric divide between the White House and its NATO and European allies: he announced that the US might pull out all its troops from Afghanistan, and apparently also expects coalition partners to secure a zone in north Syria following the withdrawal of US troops there.
European countries, on the other hand, are trying to find their place in this changing world of decreasing US leadership and to take more initiative - as High Representative Federica Mogherini called for in her remarks. She highlighted recent developments and steps taken that are realising a ‘Europe of defence’ that will overall contribute to an ‘EU of security’.
Many speeches also touched upon the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, in Ukraine, and instability across the African continent. The trade war and the general US-China relationship also received attention as both countries sent their ‘largest-ever delegations’.
After last year’s Munich Security Conference, I argued that Australia needs to attend this annual meeting as a middle power with international responsibility and global interests. Distance cannot be used as an excuse. Likewise, Australian media should increase coverage of the conference to inform the Australian public of developments, as the conference is growing in stature and expanding its focus beyond transatlantic relations.
Official representatives came from China, Russia, African nations, Bangladesh and many more. They all attested that the world has not moved from the brink, and agreed that it is upon all of us to pick up the pieces— including Australia.