This year, Munich security conference, held since 1962, was memorable for some fascinating aspects. Attitude of the big powers towards pressing geopolitical problems was extremely important. Nonetheless, experts differ in their assessment of the conference. They are more focused on contradictions between the superpowers. In the meantime, Germany’s freshly introduced geopolitical line is also a subject of discussions. With these developments on the backdrop, topics of this year’s Munich conference need to be addressed.
Tensions in the “world politics laboratory”
Analysts describe Munich Security Conference as the “lab of world politics” (see: Наталия Меден.Мюнхен и попытки вершить судьбу Восточной Европы / “Фонд Стратегической Культуры”, 3 February 2014). The event that gathers Western politicians and representatives of military industry used to be held in closed sessions. As of the 1990s, delegates from around the world were granted an opportunity to attend the Munich Conference. Mass media representatives are also present in abundance.
This year’s anniversary conference had other peculiarities. Its main agenda item was changed at the very last moment. World leaders were initially supposed to be given a floor to address the conference. However, in light of the events in Ukraine a new subject entitled ”Global Power and Regional Stability: A Focus on Central and Eastern Europe” was introduced. Even theoretically, this subject constitutes urgency as global powers’ role in ensuring stability in different regions of the world is vague. However, the issue is yet to be addressed, both theoretically and practically. From this angle, the theme of the Munich Conference can be seen as the outset of future deliberations.
In light of the reasoning mentioned above and in terms of relations between the big powers, the Munich Conference was intriguing. Russia and China chose to be “bystanders”, allowing Western heads of state to dispute each other’s position. One German journalist referred to the Munich Conference as, “Summit of the Helpless” (see: Mucahid Yildiz. ‘Carezilerin Zirvesi’ Munih Guvenlik Konferansi / ”Dunya Bulteni”, 4 February 2014).
Indeed, such a posture on behalf of Russia and China was a move conformant to the strategic objectives because in fact, subject debated upon by the Western countries actually stems from the foreign policy pursued by these two nations.
It is no secret that Ukraine, Syria and the ”Snowden affair” issue were baked in Kremlin’s ”diplomatic kitchen”. This is probably why Russian journalists dubbed the discussions as ”simulation of autism – failure to defy fictional borders of the world” (see: Дмитрий Седов. Мюнхенская конференция как симуляция аутизма / ”Фонд Стратегической Культуры”, 5 February 2014).
All of this is fascinating in terms of the dynamics of global geopolitics at the current stage. One gets an impression that unlike the previous years, the Western powers are no longer confident and cracks in the consensus among them are only widening. This makes topics raised by Germany during the conference more thought-provoking. President, Chancellor and Foreign Minister of this country spoke in unison, emphasizing the need to pursue a different foreign policy course. In G. Friedman’s words, ”Germany starts to pursue more assertive foreign policy” (see: George Friedman, Marc Lanthemann. A More Assertive German Foreign Policy / ”Stratfor”, 4 February, 2014).
”Hopelessness” of Western geopolitics and Germany’s new ambitions
Primary objective is to elevate country’s global geopolitical presence to a qualitatively new level. German politicians spoke of deployment of troops to such distant regions as Afghanistan and Mali (Africa). According to them, while doing so, emphasis has to be made on such factors as political and diplomatic performance, humanitarian aid and ideological support (see: Дмитрий Косырев. В Мюнхене Германия намекнула, что готова к новой роли в мире / ”РИА Новости”, 3 February 2014).
Therefore, experts believe that main theme of the Munich Security Conference was not related to Ukraine, Syria or the ”Arab Spring”. It was all about global aspirations of Germany. In this context, reactions of Russia and China were quite interesting. None of these countries are, by and large, happy about Berlin’s aspiration as they sense a new serious contender entering the game. According to ”The New York Times”, Washington’s reaction slightly differs. In Munich, U.S. State Secretary J. Kerry and Defense Secretary C. Hagel endorsed new initiatives by the Germany’s leaders. They have explained their position by the imperative to ensure security in the global geopolitics. In this connection they, even used the term ”transatlantic renaissance” (see: Mucahid Yildiz. Ruhani yonetimi Holokost’u tanidi / ”Dunya Bulteni”, 4 February 2014).
Experts consider that Washington and Berlin decided to leave the spying row behind and to reengage, by taking cooperation to the next level. This is the very context in which Germany’s new role is embraced by the US. Russia on the contrary, views the change as a key feature of American foreign policy. Thus, there is a serious geopolitical process at hand.
Munich conference was also anticipated to produce certain proposals with respect to Syria, Ukraine and Iran. Speakers addressing the Syrian problem were merely confined to description of direness of the situation in the country. They highlighted the fact that the international organizations fail to sufficiently address the problem of mass loss of human life in this country. U.N. envoy L. Brahimi was short-spoken and said that no progress was made.
On Ukraine issue, the Western politicians explicitly blame Russia. Attendance of the Ukrainian opposition member alongside the official delegation in Munich was an extraordinary event. Thus, U.S. and Europe demonstrated the changes they expect to happen in Ukraine (see: previously referred to article by Наталия Меден). Albeit it came to displeasure of the Russian delegation, the latter chose not to react. Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov acted “as if he forgot the questions” asked on Ukraine (see: Mucahid Yildiz. ‘Caresizlerin Zirvesi’ Munih Guvenlik Konferansi / ”Dunya Bulteni”, 4 February 2014).
Another remarkable development came from the Iranian Foreign Minister M. Zarif who became the first Iranian official in modern history to have recognized Holocaust. Let us not forget that M. Ahmadinejad vehemently opposed the fact. Tehran used the forum to announce its aspirations to bolster broader cooperation with the international institutions but also clarified that it did not imply complete dismantlement of its nuclear program. That led to renewed warning issued by Washington and Tel-Aviv, reiterating that Tehran’s failure to honor its promises would inevitably entail serious problems in relations.
Thus, Munich Conference produced no decisions with respect to any issue on the agenda. Nonetheless, its geopolitical significance is evident. The gathering brought clarity to different undertones of attitude of big geopolitical powers to the global scale developments. Declaration of new geopolitical ambitions by Germany was the highlight of the event. Evidently, there is some serious movement on the Washington-Berlin front. In view of this aspect, experts claim that Merkel’s visit to the U.S. after the Munich Conference will be of interest.
In the meantime, Munich Conference demonstrated that contradictions of global geopolitics are far from subsiding. The great confrontation between the U.S., Russia and China is ongoing, and we believe the use of the term is not exaggeration at all because tensions along West-Russia-China line are palpable. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was explicit about it (see: Лавров заявил о наступлении ”момента истины” в отношениях России и ЕС / ”Forbes”, 1 February, 2014). Apparently strains of the global geopolitics are to persist for some time. Although Lavrov recognized it as a danger, no decisive actions are taken just yet. This raises the question of hopes with respect to the Munich Conference scheduled for 2015.