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The Munich Security Conference (MSC) reflects the current state of the world. This year’s meeting was marked by reciprocal recriminations. Real solutions were a scarce commodity, says Matthias von Hein.
There were years when the Munich Security Conference conveyed signs of understanding and hope. None of that was evident during this 54th edition. This year’s motto “To the edge of the abyss, and back?” It seemed an apt description of the situation in which the world finds itself today.
After three days of discussions, one thing seems very clear: all the signs point to a greater conflict, and the question mark of the motto, sadly, must remain. Once again, the conference proved to be a place where the world’s many problems were put on the table, called by name and analyzed.
However, it seems that diplomacy has reached the end of the road. Although the conference leader, Wolfgang Ischinger, deserves high praise for bringing together representatives from different fields in one place, the conference room itself seemed to have been reduced to a scenario of contradictory, isolated and seemingly irreconcilable narratives. Those who seek the most serious signals of understanding and constructive proposals for solutions to thorny areas of conflict did not find any here.
That was most evident on the last day of the conference. Reciprocal recriminations marked the tone of the statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, respectively. In addition, the statements of Zarif and Al-Jubeir were strongly reminiscent of last year’s statements, and therefore, another sign of how intractable the situation has become.
Hard words instead of intelligent interaction
Another example was the fact that Turkey’s release of the Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel dominated the parallel discussions throughout the first day of the conference. The next day illustrated how intransigent the positions of Turkish and German politicians can be.
By chance, the politician of the German Green Party, Cem Özdemir, stayed at the same hotel as Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. As Yildirim’s bodyguards consider Özdemir a terrorist, he was placed under police protection during his stay. The harsh behavior of Turkish bodyguards is known to all, at least since the fiasco that arose during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s most recent visit to the United States.
Reproaches and “blabla”
The disappearance of diplomacy as the skillfully crafted language art was also put on the scene by the Polish president, Mateusz Morawiecki. When journalists asked him about Poland’s new “Holocaust Law”, Morawiecki acknowledged that there had indeed been Poles who denounced Jews and committed crimes against them during World War II, only to add: “In the same way that there were Russians and Ukrainians, not just Germans. ”
The difficult relations between Western countries were also dominated by unpardonable reciprocal faults rather than diplomacy. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, for example, described Russia as the source of all Europe’s ills. He demanded more pressure on Moscow, was against any reduction in sanctions and expressed his hope that Ukraine will be quickly admitted to the EU and NATO.
In response, the visibly annoyed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Europe of returning to the Nazi era, calling the accusations of electoral interference “chattering” and explaining that Washington’s recent announcement of its intention to strengthen its Nuclear arsenal would leave Russia with no other option but to do the same.
The delegation of the United States – with the exception of the former Secretary of State, John Kerry – imagined itself placed safely in the high ground of morality. Without ever lacking self-confidence, Americans did not even bother to show understanding for dissenting opinions while recriminating Russia and Iran. They were content to put their trust in applying more pressure and in the military force of the United States.
Europeans repeatedly complained about the fact that diplomacy seems to mean little in Washington lately, a fact clearly evidenced by the drastic budget cuts from the Trump administration to the State Department. The main complaint was that if the talks -if they are carried out- are conducted solely from the point of view of military superiority. So they are not conversations at all, but rather mandates.
One point of light is that beyond the approximately 30 discussion panels that took place during the conference, more than 1,000 bilateral discussions took place in rooms at the Bayerischer Hof hotel. Wolfgang Ischinger compared the official conference with the “tip of an iceberg”. One can only hope that the tip is not representative of what is submerged.