By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The 53rd Munich Security Council meeting (February 17 to 19, 2017) reflected an intensive power struggle which is taking place right now in the West and in many parts around the Globe. The struggle is focused on the future of transatlantic relations after the Trump election, the future of Europe, how to deal with terrorism, how to constructively solve the Ukraine crisis as well as how to bring about a peaceful settlement in Syria.
Two conceptions concerning the future world order emerged. On the one side, the concept of a “multilateral world order” which was reflected in different speeches such as that by German Chancellor Merkel, by German Foreign Minister Gabriel who had just returned from a G-20 Foreign Minister Meeting in Bonn together with his French counterpart Jean Ayrault, as well as by UN General Secretary Gutierrez, Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and by the UN Special Envoy in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, who outlined an optimistic perspective for a political settlement in Syria. On the other side there were statements by traditional “rabble rousers” like Senator Mc Cain (one of the most active Republican supporters of Ukraine) and Republican Senator Lindsey O. Graham, who had a rather narrow unilateralist view and focused his remarks on bashing Russia and blaming entirely Iran for the mess in Syria and the Mideast. The sentiment which however prevails after the conference is that many “uncertainties” will remain; this particularly pertains to the question, what direction will the US administration chose?
“We want a better world”
During her speech, German Chancellor Merkel emphasized the role which Germany intends to play as chairman of the G-20, which does not want to limit itself exclusively to the defense of the Western value system and to the reaffirmation of the transatlantic alliance with NATO and the US. A strong Europe, according to the Chancellor, must at the same time look for “multilateral” solutions in order to fight effectively those causes which have led to the multiple crises around the globe: hunger, mass migration and regional wars. Prevalent in her speech was the appeal to look for “political solutions” rather than follow the “right of the stronger” reflex. This stood in contrast to speeches such as the one given by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liebermann who defended the recent settlement policies (to the dismay of many Europeans) and called for a coalition against terrorists, naming Iran as the main terrorist sponsor (a policy which has the full backing from President Netanyahu and has not been really criticized by President Trump.) Similarly, the Saudi foreign minister Abel bin Ahmed Al Jubeir echoed the Israeli defense Minister line by blaming Iran for being the main sponsor of terrorism and spoiler in the Mideast. There were also statements made by representatives from Ukraine, such as President Poroschenko and former Prime Minister Yazeniuk, who despite their understandable frustration that the Ukraine crisis is persisting, kept reiterating the line that Russia is entirely to blame for the whole Ukraine crisis, showing their unwillingness to look for a constructive approach in the framework of the Minsk II agreement.
Reaffirming the NATO –transatlantic alliance
What the European and US press mostly reported, were statements that were given in Munich by US Defense Secretary Mattis and Vice President Michael Pence. In their attempt to diffuse the European worries concerning the US reliability under President Trump and his commitment towards NATO, Pence made clear that under the new American Administration Donald Trump assures that “the United States strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in (our) commitment to this transatlantic alliance.” As Pence put it, President Trump promised that “we will stand with Europe today and every day, because we are bound together by the same noble ideals – freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law” while Defense Secretary Mattis emphasized that the US wants to see a stronger NATO with the allies engaging in “burden sharing” by a minimum of 2% expenses.”
A panel under the title “A congressional debate” which featured US Senator Lindsay Graham (Rep), Chris Murphy (Dem ) and Jeanne Shaheen, Senator (Dem) from New Hampshire revealed a lot of frustration, anger and disappointment on the side of American representatives, as one Bavarian TV commentator (Professor Hacke) formulated it. Many of them were using an intimidating language concerning the future military role the US has to play as the most powerful nation in the world (in their view). A typical example was Republican Senator Lindsay Graham who in a simplistic and self-righteous view stated that Russia was the problem Number 1 and demanded that more sanctions and military buildup would be necessary to respond to “Russian expansionism” and its meddling in European elections (“they should be kicked in the ass”), while at the same time he described Iran aside Russia as one of the most dangerous spoiler in the Mideast, specifically in Syria. Graham complained that Obama had committed a big mistake by not intervening in Syria and announced that the armed service committee in Congress will deal in a more determined way with the question on how to fight terrorism.
The role of the G 20
Germany, which has the Presidency in of the G-20 now, presented a somewhat different view concerning the shaping of the future world order. Under Germany’s presidency of the G-20, as the German Chancellor emphasized, more emphasis will be given to discuss the causes for mass migration and the need to create a “better world.” Instead of just focusing formally on the 2% burden sharing for NATO, the Chancellor as well as the German Foreign Minister Gabriel made clear that the “concept of security” encompasses something much broader, important, namely the need to focus on preventive measures and spend money for local economic development. In reference to Russia the Chancellor expressed the desire to establish better and stable relations with Russia: “Russia is situated in the neighborhood of the European Union, it is our neighbor. Therefore I will not stop propagandizing that we get in good relations with Russia – despite different opinions. For me this means that we continue to stick to the NATO- Russia Act and don’t give it up – even in the times are difficult.”
Her speech was complemented by the German and French Foreign Ministers Jean Ayrault and Sigmar Gabriel who had just returned as host of the G20 foreign Ministers meeting in Bonn. Both Ayrault and Gabriel emphasized the need for a strong German /French tandem which had its root in the remarkable French-German reconciliation after the Second World War, initiated by Robert Schumann. Ayrault stressed the idea of “multilateralism” which regards the nuclear non- proliferation treaty as one of the cornerstone of collective security and the need to fully implement the nuclear test ban treaty. While reassuring dialogue with allies within NATO, he stressed the need for dialogue with Russia in the framework of the NATO -Russia Council and the need to cooperate with Russia in fighting terrorism. According to Ayrault the world needs more multilateral cooperation and dialogue in the framework of Minsk, nuclear non-proliferation for Iran and North Korea as well as solidarity with our eastern partners.
Sergej Lavrov: a non-western centric world
From the view point of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “the Post-cold War order has come to an end, it is neither Western centric nor safer and more stable.” Lavrov made reference to the speech which had been given at the Munich Security Conference 10 years ago, in which the Russian President had warned about the consequences of a one sided “unilateralist” world and the consequences of NATO expansion. He pointed to this year’s 20th anniversary of the signing of the Russian/ NATO founding Act in Paris (1997) and reminded that 15 years have passed since the Rome declaration( 2002) defining a new quality in Russia-NATO relations was adopted. These documents’ basic premise was that Russia and the West took on a joint commitment to guarantee security on the basis of respect for each other’s interests, to strengthen the mutual trust, prevent a Euro –Atlantic split and erase dividing lines, the Minister said. He pleaded for building a democratic and fair world order, “a post-West world order, in which each country develops its own sovereignty within the framework of international law, and will strive to balance their own national interests with those of their partners, with respect for each country’s cultural, historical and civilizational identity” and added that Russia has never hidden its views and has always been sincere in advocating work based on equal footing in order to create a common space of security; good-neighborliness and development from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
China’s role in World Affairs
Almost no attention was given by the European press to the interesting speech given by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who spoke about the contribution which China as one of the most important economic powers in the world intends to make in shaping the future World Order. He outlined some key principles on which China’s future foreign policy will be based: This involves China’s commitment to multilateralism, since “unilateralism” will only heighten tensions, he stated and multilateralism is the condition for peace with the UN being the core and pillar of that system. Wang Yi emphasized the need to strengthen cooperation among nations. In respect to the US/ China relation he stated that “we are ready to cooperate with the US on the basis of mutual benefit.” At the same time he pointed to the importance of the “comprehensive China / Russia partnership” and the need to further strengthen the Russia/ China / US relations. He also spoke about the need to advance all forms of regional cooperation processes “since regional cooperation is conducive to world development.” China, the Foreign Minister underlined, wants to see “a united Europe.” He identified the “One Belt and One Road Initiative” (Silk Road initiative proclaimed by the Chinese President in 2015) as specific illustration for an enhanced future regional cooperation and international dialogue. The concept “One Belt / One Road” was positively reflected during a panel “Fault lines in Eurasia”, in particular by a leading representative from Kazakhstan (Tokayev) as well as by the Azeri President Aliyev and the President from Georgia.
Further “Schlamassel” in the Mideast
“We don’t have a multipolar but a chaotic world” UN General Secretary Gutierrez stated in his speech in Munich, urging the UN to play a leading role in order to overcome the Syria as well as Iraq conflict: What is needed, is a strategy to fight the causes for conflict, a sustainable peace. Huge inequalities among populations and high unemployment, he emphasized, lead to upheavals; hence the need to find political solutions and become active in preemption and peace keeping.
A very constructive intervention was made by UN special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura who just in these days is presiding the Geneva talks – in an effort to find a viable political solution for bringing the Syrian war to an end. He gave a quite impressive account by showing how twice, during the year 2016, efforts made by US foreign State Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to bring about a ceasefire had been sabotaged, among others by the Pentagon and terrorist attacks against humanitarian convoys, that had been previously agreed upon. According to de Mistura what during the last months turned the situation around in the Mideast was a “Game changer”, namely when Russia and Turkey started to talk to each other and when Realpolitik began. Both countries, he stressed, have access on the ground and leverage, as was seen in the negotiations in Astana between the three guarantor powers Iran, Russia and Turkey. Astana only focused on the cessation of hostilities while in Geneva the UN sees space for a political solution along R 2254, which involves the issue of governance, a constitution which is newly written by the Syrians and elections and which needs momentum in order to be implemented.
One should add some constructive remarks which were made by the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zaarif who unlike a year ago, when the MSC featured a panel with him and Federica Mogherini in which both spoke about the successful nuclear agreement that brought the years long P5 plus 1 negotiations to a conclusion, paving the way for the lifting of sanctions against Iran. Zaarif stressed that what is today needed is a “cognitive transition which is commensurable with the global transition of the global order.” “No single power or concert of major powers can address regional problems, by excluding others.” He traced back the emergence of Daesh to the beginning 2000: The fall of Saddam Hussein which had produced anxieties in some countries to reverse the disequilibrium which was created in the region and he emphasized that Iran wants a regional dialogue with Persian Gulf governments in the search for peaceful solutions in the ground.