55th Munich Security Conference: Trump's “unilateralism” and open conflict, or multilateral order?

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich This year’s 55th Munich Security Conference (February 15-17th), which centered on the theme “Who is going to pick up the pieces?” from the actual “collapsing world order”, was marked by many divergences within the Western camp. After two years of Trump administration and its erratic foreign policy, the gathering in Munich laid open the rifts within the Western camp. The conflict centered around the question, whether the future world order should be based on “unilateralism”, or else on a “multilateralism” that aims at the common good for all mankind. There was on the one side the keynote given by American Vice President Pence. In contrast to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose defense for a multilateral-based global order was received with standing ovations, Pence’s speech left a “cold freeze” in the audience. Despite all attempts to isolate Russia, the audience saw the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov who, while deeply deploring that the chances offered after the end of the Cold war – the vision of creating a common European space in the field of economy, culture and law with the EU – were missed and destroyed, made a strong appeal for rebuilding the “Common European House”, emphasizing that Russia is closely coordinating its Eurasian policy with China. An interesting speech was given by a high representative from China, Yang Jiechi who offered a bold vision for a reformed world order, and appealed for the EU to enter into closer cooperation with China. Vice President Pence reading Europe the “riot act” The speech by Vice president Pence was based on the message that the Europeans should follow America’s “leadership” under President Donald Trump. Under “America’s leadership in the free world” Pence stated, “Trump has taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still, enacting the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan (…) We initiated the modernization of our nuclear arsenal. And just last month, President Trump unveiled our nation’s new strategy for missile defense (…) Trump has been leading our NATO allies to renew their commitment to our common defense.”  And to increase their military expenditure: the United States, Pence insisted “expect every NATO member to put in place a credible plan to meet the 2% threshold. And by 2014, we expect all our allies to invest 20% of defense spending on procurement.” Pence indirectly made a harsh criticism against Germany, stating that the US would not allow having a divided alliance through political interference or the use of energy resources. He demanded that, like the US “all European partners should take a strong stance against Nord Stream II. And we commend others to do the same.”  The reason he gave for this is that the West cannot be ensured “if our allies grow dependent on the East.” He particularly lashed out against Russia, underlining “that after years of Russian violations of our decades-old treaty, the Unites States announced plans to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear forces Treaty.” The other main target in Pence’s speech was Iran. In a “pathological obsession” to demonize Iran, Pence stated that “the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust (!) and seeks the means to achieve it. The Ayatollah Khamenei himself has said it is the mission of the Islamic Republic or Iran to erase Israel from the map.”  In reference to the recent Warsaw Summit “Mideast Security policy” (where on February 13th foreign ministers from 60 nations were urged by Vice President Pence, Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to leave the Iran nuclear deal, boycott the Nord Stream II gas deal and increase their offensive against Russia) he stated: “The time has come for all of us to act. The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining  U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime (sic).The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the ‘Iran nuclear deal’ and join us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve.” Merkel’s call for a multilateral World Order An important keynote was given at the 55th MSC by German chancellor Angela Merkel who in a passionate speech, accompanied by standing ovations from the audience, made clear that when US and German interests as well as interests of the EU “collide”, the answer cannot be blind submission to this unilateral pressure. Merkel’s remarks, delivered in the morning before the US Vice President gave his speech, were centered on three principles which are indispensable for enhancing Germany’ sovereign interests: 1.According to German economic self-interest, Germany will not abide by Trump’s dictate to sacrifice the gas deal Nord Stream II, in which five Western European nations participate. This campaign against Germany was conducted in shrill, almost hysterical tones by the US, threatening German companies and other European companies with US sanctions and openly calling on Europe to instead buy US liquefied gas. 2.In response to Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on German cars, given that those exports were qualified by the trade ministry’s paper as “national security threat “, Merkel described this statement as a “shock”, stating that more BMW cars are at the moment produced in South Caroline and exported from there, than from the BMW Bavarian factories. 3.In line with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the Chancellor emphasized that the guiding principle of German foreign policy is not “Unilateralism” but “Multilateralism.” 4.She made clear that Germany as well as many other European partners, echoing Federica Mogherini, is not going to accept US demands to abolish the nuclear treaty with Iran 5.While being critical about what she qualified as Russian violation of the INF treaty, she made adamantly clear that she wants to maintain the dialogue with Russia and China. She underlined that given the “bilateral” character of the INF treaty, it is Europe that has to suffer most from an abolished and not renewed INF treaty. So, Merkel made the “fault lines” in Munich clear even if her commitment to vigorously develop dialogue with Russia was much too weak considering what is at stake for the future. Russian Foreign Minister on the need for a Common House of Europe Russian Foreign minister Lavrov’s speech was straight and short.  At the center of his remarks was the question, what the European continent should and will look like in the future.  Starting from the observation that on the European continent and generally in the Euro-Atlantic region “there appear ever more rifts and the old ones grow deeper,” he stated: “I think that under these circumstances, it is relevant and even timely to ‘turn to the European Home’ idea, no matter how strange this may sound in the current situation.” He referred to the vision of General de Gaulle: “Many great modern-day politicians realized the need for pooling the potentials of absolutely all European states. Let me mention Charles de Gaulle, who put forward the concept of greater Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals, a peaceful Europe without divides or bloc confrontations, which in his opinion made Europe artificial and barren. Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand also spoke about the importance of the broadest possible partnership with Russia in the name of stability and security.” Lavrov deplored the fact that the Europeans have allowed themselves to be involved in a senseless confrontation with Russia and are “sustaining billions of losses from the sanctions that have been handed down from overseas.” However he also noted that the world continues to change rapidly and that in practical terms, the EU no longer has the monopoly on the regional integration agenda. Instead, the “balance of power is being modified on the huge ‘Eurasian continent’, primarily due to the new centers in the Asia Pacific region. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has become an inalienable part of the geopolitical landscape, as evidenced by both concerted results achieved by it, and by the desire demonstrated by dozens of states and associations to sign preferential agreements with the EAEU. The People’s Republic of China, which has been promoting the Belt and Road initiative concept, is making its own contribution to upgrading Eurasia. There are relevant open integration projects of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) platform as well (…) Efforts to create a common Eurasian space have been taken through the alignment of the EAEU with the Belt and Road initiative. Ties are getting ever stronger between the EAEU and ASEAN and between these two organizations and the SCO.” Lavrov emphasized that he believed that the European partners will benefit from joining such projects. In terms of creating a common space from Lisbon to Vladivostok and that “the technical matter of developing a stable dialogue between the European Commission and the Eurasian economic Commission was “long overdue. We are ready for this.” He strongly pleaded for a much closer  EU /EAEU cooperation and emphasized like also the Chinese did, that they are in favor of a multilaterally strengthened new World order which rejects unilateral decisions and blackmail. China’s vision for a multilateral world order. A win-win situation for all A real counterpoint to US unilateral plans was the keynote speech given by H.E. Yang Jiechi – member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, who underlined that the global governance system has come under challenge and “faces a consequential choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, confrontation and dialogue, isolation and openness.” As he underlined “multilateralism provides an effective way of upholding peace and promoting development and the world needs multilateralism now more than ever.”  From a Chinese viewpoint the UN is the “symbol of multilateralism and the UN-centered multilateral architecture provides an overarching framework for international cooperation. Consensus of the global community on multilateralism has been enshrined in the UN Charter, which serves as the cornerstone for the modern international order. China fully supports multilateralism and the multilateral approach “and advocated peace, development and win-win cooperation, playing it’s consistent role as a promoter of world peace, contributor to global development and upholder of the international order.” “Following the strategic guidance from the top leaders — said Yang — China and Russia will work to elevate their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination to new heights. China remains a staunch supporter of European integration. We welcome a Europe that is more united, stable and prosperous, and support Europe in playing an important and constructive role in international affairs.”  He pointed to the fact that a few weeks ago Egypt, the new rotating Chair of the Organization of African Union, hosted a successful 32nd OAU summit, where constructive and meaningful dialogue and cooperation were carried out in addressing the issue of refugees, migrants and displaced people in Africa.” He underlined that China wants to play a constructive role in Africa as well as facilitate the proper resolution of regional hotspots such as the Iranian nuclear issue and the Syrian, Palestinian and Afghanistan issues, through dialogue and negotiation. China as a key driver for world economic growth Global governance needs to be reformed, Yang Jiechi stated. He underlined that China, having taken a clear stand against unilateralism and protectionism, is “injecting positive energy to a world fraught with uncertainties.”   He referred to the many different projects that China is engaged in: the Organization of African Union, the Arab Ligue, the Community of Latin American and Caribean States and other international organizations like BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and qualified that with the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, China has made important contributions to the improvement of global economic governance. “That China has barely contributed 30% to the world economic growth, more than any other country in the world. That the enormous effective demand being generated by the 1.4 billion Chinese people who are moving up the income ladder will provide the world with even more opportunities in terms of market investment and cooperation.” The type of projects which China is involved in at present is very impressive and in many of them Russia is involved as well. Only at the very end he mentioned one of the most fascinating Chinese Infrastructure Projects “The Belt and Road Initiative” – a kind of new Silk Road panning over many countries, which he described as an important “international public good” that China contributes to global cooperation for common development: “China and over 150 countries and international organization have signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with over US$ 6 trillion of cumulative trade, between China and participating countries.”  He concluded by stating that “the freight train service between China and Europe is a powerful example of how the Belt and Road cooperation can drive common development and prosperity of China and Europe with enhanced connectivity (….) Facts have shown and will continue to prove that the Belt and Road initiative put forward by President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China creates opportunities and benefits for all countries and serves the common interest of humanity.” He ended with a strong appeal for a more forceful China-EU cooperation and intensification of cultural dialogue as well as technological cooperation. The 55th Munich Security Conference illustrated the fascinating shifts in the global architecture and, for those in Europe who want to constructively pick up the puzzle, it offers new opportunities for broad-based cooperation in politics, economics and cultural domains.  ]]>

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