By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
This year’s 52nd Munich Security Conference (MSC 12th-14th February) which every year gathers several hundred top European experts from politics, security and military, took place in “stormy times” (Foreign Minister Steinmeier). Europe is facing a dramatic refugee crisis and all efforts which are made in order to find a solution out of the misery of the Syrian war are often blocked by geopolitical obstacles. Influential circles in the West cannot remain in their backward – looking habitual “Cold War Rhetoric”. As EU representative Federica Mogherini underlined in her speech in Munich, “political courage and diplomacy” must be used for a new style of negotiations (a “win- win” situation for all participants). That was the main reason why after more than one decade the nuclear agreement with Iran was pushed through. It was an important step in order to pave the way for a solution to the crisis in the Mideast.
What set the tenor of this year’s conference was the effort made by the Syria contact Group (ISSG), which at the eve of the conference gathered for negotiations including the US, Russia, Europe, regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, trying to negotiate on the basis of the UN Resolution 2254 and the Geneva negotiations, a solution for the conflict in Syria conflict which is acceptable for all sides. In the official communiqué (11th of February) the negotiation partners reaffirm, that within one week aid shipments be delivered to occupied areas in Syria and that a ceasefire should be implemented. According to the UN (Spiegel Online 17th February) aid deliveries have already begun in the region around Damascus as well as in the North, where in defiance of international appeals, Turkey is militarily attacking Kurdish positions in the north of Syria, and is thus possibly contributing to a further escalation of the conflict.
Regrettably there was a one sided and partially distorting report distributed by the German Mainstream Media. In the first press releases of DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur) but also in reports from Wall Street or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the speech given by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was characterized as a “Return of the Cold War” and old prejudices against Russia were warmed up.
The former chairman of the Munich Security Conference Dr. Horst Teltschik wrote a commentary for the German Magazine “Focus Online” under the title “Return to the cold War?” Teltschik correctly stated that the “Russian Prime Minister only once spoke about the Cold war during his speech at the Munich Security Conference: ‘He wanted to bluntly say: we are rapidly rolling into a period of a new Cold war’. He referred to the fact that Russia had been ‘portrayed as the biggest threat for NATO, Europe, the USA and other states.‘”
This catchword “Cold War” was a trigger for many participants, to categorically speak about the “return of the Cold War” or about a “New Cold war”, Teltschik wrote. He further noted that a similar thing happened after Putin’s speech at the MSC in Munich in the year 2007 (at that time Dr Teltschik was the chairman [1999-2008] of the MSC) and had asked Putin to present very openly to the audience which problems he saw from a Russian point of view. Putin spoke about those problems which he perceived in relation with the USA, NATO and the EU, problems which were according to him in contradiction with Russian interests. A lot of conflicts could have been avoided if people had reacted differently then, Teltschik wrote. This time, as he noted, the Foreign Minister Steinmeier and some of his colleagues behaved more rationally, by warning about the use of the term “New Cold War” and by engaging for a constructive solution in Syria.
Steinmeier: Renew dialogue in stormy times!
An important highlight of the conference was the unprejudiced speech given by the German foreign Minister Steinmeier, who in his introductory remarks at the beginning of the conference as well as in his speech during the panel with Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry spoke about Germany’s responsibility and the priorities of German foreign policy. He in particular referred to the significance of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, this year Germany has the presidency of the OSCE) which 40 years after the signing of the final Act of the Helsinki Accords, and 25 years after German reunification and the end of the Cold War, was today needed more than ever, in order to “renew dialogue in stormy times”. “Renew dialogue, rebuild confidence, restore security- these are our priorities for this year”, Steinmeier stated, “not to talk to each other during times of crisis, that cannot be the response !This way we will neither find a solution nor defuse the conflicts.”
An important contribution at the beginning of the conference was also the speech by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He reported to the audience about a discussion that he had conducted shortly before the conference with President Vladimir Putin. During his speech in Munich in the year 2007 Putin had warned , as Medvedev reported, “that ideological stereotypes, double standards and unilateral actions do not ease but only fan tensions in international relations reducing the international community’s opportunities for adopting meaningful political decisions.”
Today, according to Medvedev, “developments have taken a much more dramatic turn since 2007. The concept of Greater Europe has not materialized. Economic growth has been very weak. Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have increased in scale. The migration crisis is pushing Europe towards collapse. Relations between Europe and Russia have soured. A civil war is raging in Ukraine.” In this context, Medvedev emphasized “we need to launch an intensive dialogue on the future architecture of Euro-Atlantic security, global stability and regional threats more than ever before”, and he deplored that mechanisms that allowed us to promptly settle mutual concerns have been cut off. As well as partnership initiatives which took much time and effort to launch are expiring one by one. “The proposed European security treaty has been put on hold. The ideas of a Russia-EU Ministerial Committee on Foreign Policy and Security, which I discussed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Meseburg [Germany 2010], have not materialized. We believe that NATO’s policy towards Russia remains unfriendly and generally obdurate. Speaking bluntly, we are rapidly rolling into a period of a new cold war”, Medvedev stated.
Sharing the panel with French Prime Minister Valls, Medvedev during the discussion positively referred to the role of France, emphasizing that the French-Russian dialogue never really stopped and that France had taken a balanced approach in the Ukraine conflict. He also emphasized that German Foreign Minister Steinmeier had been positive concerning the proposal for a special status given to East Ukraine, after elections will have taken place under OSCE surveillance. From Medvedevs point of view a lot should be still done in order to implement the Minsk II agreements. He also pointed to the initiatives taken by the Syria contact group ISSG that wants to secure aid deliveries to the Syrian civilian population and negotiate about the conditions for a ceasefire. The implementation of these measures should “be guaranteed by both Russia and the United States.” According to Medvedev it is however absolutely essential that on a daily basis there is “close cooperation between American and Russian Military.” He was confident that the big challenges for Europe can be solved together. This refers in particular to the refugee crisis, where Russia could help constructively. In order to give an example for “constructive dialogue” Medvedev made reference to the meeting between Russian- Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, “who after hundreds of years during which the churches did not communicate, met in Cuba.”
Lavrov, Kerry and Steinmeier: Solution for Syria?
During a panel discussion between the three foreign ministers, in which the three gave an overview about the initiatives for a peaceful settlement of the Syria conflict, Steinmeier reaffirmed the necessity to look for a reasonable solution in Syria by diplomatic means. He spoke about the need of an “intelligent Realpolitik”. “An intelligent Realpolitik is becoming increasingly important. I think we should have a realistic view of the world: We are certainly not back in a Cold War. We are confronted with the fact that we have to increasingly deal with new structures of conflict, with eroding orders and conflicts that are not taking place between states, but often take place between state and non- state actors. Where conflicts are often overlapped by the national interests of the neighbors, the fight for hegemony, but this is not only the case in the Mideast. We, who are responsible for foreign policy, find ourselves more and more confronted with situations where one cannot judge things “black and white”. Situations where very often the question who is guilty and responsible arises can’t be clearly deducted from the conflicts. And yet solutions must be found. “Whether we take the example of Syria, Libya, Ukraine – none of these processes is perfect, all are very long- term, full of contradictions and not immune against setbacks”, Steinmeier said.
Also the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about the need to implement the agreements that were made in Munich February 11th. He did note however that he has seen that often agreements are not carried out due to some participants’ attempt to revise them retroactively. An example being the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, “a document approved by the UN. However the implementation of key political provisions has not even started – mainly due to the Ukrainian authorities unwillingness to honestly make this effort and their eagerness to find pretexts to avoid commitments they entered”, Lavrov stated. Yet, as he noted, fortunately also the US would realize this.
In respect to the Syrian crisis he emphasized that “cooperation has resulted in creating the International Syria Support Group and adopting UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that approves key parameters for settling the issue, including the demand that the Syrians should be able to decide the nation’s future themselves. However, in violation of this resolution part of the opposition is presenting ultimatums and conditions for the negotiation process (…) and is attempting to create discord within the International Syria Support Group. He further complained that “the level of interaction between Euro-Atlantic organizations and Russia in certain spheres is even lower than during the Cold War period”, a situation where “propaganda is mixed with real politics”. He positively remarked however that last year’s events again proved that “once the idea of ‘exceptionalism’ is put aside, the world’s top nations- the US, the EU, China, Russia as well as other leading countries, can manage to achieve breakthrough results! I’m talking about the Iranian nuclear program settlement and Syria’s chemical demilitarization. It is certain that this method can be successfully applied to the other azimuths of global politics, including the settlement of the situation in the Middle East and primarily the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry in line with H.W. Steinmeier reaffirmed that “it is clear that while the cold war is long over, the need for the same qualities that brought people through that – for the courage and the resolve in defending liberty and in pursuing peace, is absolutely as vital today as it was half a century ago.”
A not so encouraging signal given by Kerry was his announcement that the USA has significantly upgraded its commitment to European Security with a planned fourfold increase in spending on the European Reassurance Initiative from just under $ 790Million to $ 3,4 billion. This all is supposed to be used for additional equipment and combat brigades in Central and Eastern Europe. Similarly striking was also the remark made by the General Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, who during the discussion argued in favor of stationing Ballistic Missile Defense systems in Europe, arguing that this was due to the “continuing nuclear threat that is coming from Iran and other nations.” As a leading commentator of the MSC Professor Hacke (Bavarian TV) correctly noted, this is thinking in “old categories.” Kerry pointed out positively the donor conference in London where $10billion were agreed upon for ending the conflict in Syria. While he described the US led coalition against IS, he reemphasized the need to find a “political solution” for Syria’s war and emphasized the importance of the ISSG agreement, including Russia, which “has agreed to work to make that happen.”
The art of compromise
What was hardly mentioned by the Press was the panel discussion between the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy representative Federica Mogherini. What became evident in their speeches was that it is indeed possible, to find new solutions in stormy times by engaging in a different style of negotiating: Instead of a “zero sum game” we aim for a “win-win” situation where each side can profit from and if each side is willing to make compromises. The Iranian foreign minister used this image in reference to the 12 years negotiations, resulting at the end in a “win -win situation” and a final agreement reached between Iran and 5+1 Group. The agreement that was reached July 14th demonstrates that the negotiation process which started in 2003, on the basis of “courageous political leadership and diplomacy” led to definite results that were applied in January of this year”, Zarif said. “We saw that multilateralism is functioning, where everybody can win”, Zarif said. The EU representative Federica Mogherini spoke about new “perspectives for the regional structure.” If the International Syria Support Group ISSG would follow this model and manages to bring all sides together, this would be very significant, Mogherini said. “We created the framework and the confidence, which make further negotiations possible. All acting players in the region can profit from it in the middle and long term. More courage gives us better chances for 2016.”
Zarif was quite optimistic by stating that there is no reason why not even Iran and Saudi Arabia could be brought together in order to fight against a common threat. “We are bound by the same destiny. If each side pushed aside the deeply grounded narrative, then we could come to a new “paradigm” of understanding, where the principles of Helsinki, the principle of non- interference, the inviolability of borders and confidence building measures, would be applied. Iran and Saudi Arabia could be interested in a stable, multi- cultural and multi religious Syria. But this presupposes a change of narrative.”