Munich Security Conference – Day #2

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger (R) during the Chairman's Interview session at the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, Germany, 15 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/PHILIPP GUELLAND]

As high-ranking security leaders gather in Bavaria for the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, EURACTIV gives you a glimpse into what is driving the conversation on foreign, defence and security policy. Here’s Day 2 in a nutshell.


US: CHINA, CHINA, CHINA. Transatlantic relations are dead, long live transatlantic relations? A lot of verbal sparring was on display here, confirming the continuing strains in Europe-US relations. However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo struck a more conciliatory tone in Munich.

“I am happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated. The West is winning, we are collectively winning,” Pompeo told the Munich audience, adding that the allegation that Washington was refusing to cooperate in the international community was wrong.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his opening remarks a day earlier to accuse Washington, alongside Beijing and Moscow, of jeopardising the international order by stoking global mistrust and insecurity with a “great powers competition”.

For his part, Pompeo called on the Western partners to jointly stand against an aggressive appearance by states like China, Russia and Iran, explicitly calling Chinese technology companies “Trojan horses” of Chinese secret services.

His colleague, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, sitting alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, made a quite direct warning to Europe: “If Europe does not understand the threat posed by Huawei, it could compromise the most successful military alliance in history [NATO].”

Stoltenberg, in a conciliatory manner, dismissed French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European “strategic dialogue about the role of France’s nuclear weapons, saying a “tried and tested” deterrent was already in place.

The coordinated broadside against Huawei once again indicated that US-Europe relations in the future might largely depend on whether and how Europeans agree on Washington’s strategy toward Beijing.

MACRON’s RECIPE. Making his debut In Munich, Macron bemoaned a “weakening of the West” and called for more German involvement, in what appeared as a direct challenge to Pompeo who earlier attempted to assuage European anxiety about declining transatlantic relation. Instead, the expert on NATO’s “brain death” presented EU reform and a more consolidated EU foreign policy as the recipe for ‘Westlessness’.

All this did not go without a side jab at Germany: Macron complained that Germany and France had a “history of waiting for answers” in their relations and called for “clear answers” from both to the problems Europe is facing. Asked if he was frustrated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s silence on his proposed reforms, Macron answered he is “not frustrated, but impatient” over the lack of German response to his drive for a post-Brexit overhaul of the bloc. Macron was also pressed to take his stance on the enlargement dilemma he created last year. Read more here.

While he did not convince on Russia, he might have won the heart of the audience in another way.

CHINA’s RESPONSE. Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi has slammed the “overreaction” by other countries over the coronavirus and defended Beijing’s handling of the „deep challenge“ posed by the fast-spreading virus. Anticipating a Trumpian response, Wang warned the US against taking “unnecessary” coronavirus-response measures that could hamper trade, travel and tourism between the countries.

Notable: After NATO agreed, in a strategic shift in December, to recognise the challenges posed by China’s rise, Munich also saw the first-ever bilateral meeting between a NATO Secretary-General and a Chinese minister.

CONFLICT DIPLOMACY. Both the Syria and Libya crises take centre stage in the bilaterals and the backroom talks here in Munich. Germany expects Russia to end the fighting in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib and expects Moscow to use its influence over the Syrian government to end the attacks, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said on the sidelines of the conference after meeting his Turkish and Russian counterparts, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Sergei Lavrov.

Çavuşoğlu, meanwhile, said that differences over Syria should not affect Ankara’s relations with Moscow or disrupt its contract for the purchase of Russian S-400 missile defences, Russian news agencies reported. After the recent spike in violence, a Turkish delegation will visit Russia on Monday to discuss the situation in Idlib. He also accused Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar of violating a ceasefire in the country, saying he “must be stopped” so a political solution could be found.

IRAN REBUKE. “I believe President Trump, unfortunately, does not have good advisers,” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in his remarks, in keeping with his usual offensive rhetoric. “He’s been wanting for Iran to collapse since he withdrew from the nuclear deal.”

Zarif rejected Trump’s suggestion of renegotiating a nuclear accord, saying the 2015 EU-brokered agreement between Tehran and world powers was the only vehicle for talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. Expectedly, Zarif repeated Tehran’s will to move back to full compliance if Europe provided “meaningful” economic relief from American sanctions.

So far, however, Europe’s Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) to facilitate non-USD transactions to avoid breaking US sanctions has failed to support EU-Iran trade.

The issue also came up in talks between Zarif, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell and Russia’s Lavrov.

EUROPE’s WAR. “I would like to point out that it is not quite right to say ‘the war in Ukraine.’ It’s the war in Europe. And, together with the annexation of Crimea, it has already lasted the same period as WWII, six years,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said while discussing Ukraine’s war torn-east. “We will be glad when mentions of Ukraine as a dangerous zone disappear from the pages of international reports.” Juicy bit: Commenting on the aftermath of the US impeachment trial he strongly rejected Trump’s claim that Ukraine is a corrupt country.

Zelenskiy repeated his plea for Western support while indicating his openness to holding local elections in the separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Lugansk together with the rest of the country in October. On the sidelines of the Conference, representatives of the ‘Normandy Four’ format – Germany, Ukraine, France, and Russia – are set to agree on the next Normandy summit, likely to be held in Berlin, German foreign minister Heiko Maas confirmed to reporters.

CAUCASUS TENSION. In a rare direct encounter between the two countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia’s leaders, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinian, sat down and quickly disagreed over the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. After international negotiators have so far struggled to resolve the more than 30 year-long dispute, the two leaders also made little visible progress.

“Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, this is the historical truth and…the territorial integrity is recognized by the whole world, and Nagorno-Karabakh is an integrated part of our country,” Aliyev said in Munich. “Over the past 25 years, 30 years, we’ve been repeating every time the same thing. And I’m afraid that the international community is tired of hearing the same thing, and I think we need to bring some new ideas,” Pashinian said during their joint event.

ZUCK’s MOMENT. ‘Treat us like something between a telco and a newspaper‘, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg told global leaders and security chiefs while saying that harmful online content should be regulated. His company, he continued, should be subject to a regulatory framework that is different from those used for existing media and telecoms companies.

It was probably one of the most anticipated speeches here in Munich, also due to previous hints that Zuckerberg might publicly concede that Facebook is willing to pay more taxes overseas. In the end, however, the speech fell short of big announcements.

EUROPE, A DATA BATTLEFIELD. Europe may have lost the battle to create digital giants competing with American and Chinese companies specializing in personal data management, but it intends to win the industrial data war, European Commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton said in Munich.

“We are entering a new phase, that of the massive advent of industrial data. The war of industrial data begins now and the main battlefield will be in Europe,” he said, arguing Europe could become the leader in industrial data, but the strategy would involve stricter rules and investments.

Breton, together with Digital Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, are set to announce proposals to create a single European data market aimed at challenging the dominance of US tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon on 19 February, according to a European Commission proposal seen by EURACTIV earlier last week.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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