The security conference this time is all about concern about increasing nationalism in the world. For example, US President Trump gets a few verbal slaps in the face in Munich.
It is the annual state of emergency in Munich. Streets in the city center around the pedestrian zone and the Hotel Bayerischer Hof are cordoned off. Police officers with machine guns stand in front of roadblocks and hold passers-by, the streets are lined with police cars, black tank limousines and broadcasting vans from the TV stations. But the people in the Bavarian capital are used to the hustle and bustle, it is the annual mess of the Munich Security Conference.
This year the conference is often about a politician who is not present at all. His name is rarely spoken aloud, almost as if it would suddenly appear otherwise. But in Munich, above all, politics is criticized, for which US President Donald Trump stands. The conference this year is marked by increasing nationalism and protectionism in the world. The call for more international cooperation runs through almost all speeches by political decision-makers. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in particular is not sparing criticism of the current US government without naming Trump by name.
In Munich, they dream of a world after Trump
Nevertheless, the US President is the spirit that hovers over every plenary, over every speech. Because one thing is clear: without the United States, the pursuit of more international cooperation can hardly be implemented. Many in Munich already dream of a possible world after Donald Trump.
But the speakers in Munich don’t really want to give Trump much space. The US House delegation, in particular, is trying to downplay Trump’s importance for international relations.
Trump is not the only one demanding higher defense spending
Nancy Pelosi manages this to the last question in her plenum with Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble. Then the spokeswoman for the democratically dominated House of Representatives is asked by an Italian parliamentarian whether the commitment to more international cooperation with Europe is credible, given that the current US President and his predecessor are increasingly turning away politically from the European continent. Trump relies on “America First”, Barack Obama increasingly oriented towards Asia. Both US presidents called for higher defense spending by European NATO partners.
US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi speaks on the first day of the 56th Munich Security Conference. (Source: dpa)
Pelosi foregoes criticism of Trump’s policy, even defending him in places. “Our support for multilaterism and our appreciation of the transatlantic alliance is also evident from the fact that representatives of the US House of Representatives and the Senate have come to Munich,” she explains. However, Pelosi believes the increase in defense spending and the assumption of more responsibility by the European partners, such as Trump and Obama demand or demanded. “I always tell my people that they shouldn’t just be against something because Trump is for it.”
Trump opponent in an unusual role
But the opposition politician does not say how a more intensive international cooperation with Trump should work. “The strongest power is the power of the imagination, because that way you can imagine better things,” said Pelosi. She speaks of international solutions, especially in climate protection and development aid. “We must continue to invest in people and fight despair in other countries.” It is also bad that international agreements are dissolved or infiltrated. But even with this statement, she makes no reference to Trump.
In Munich Pelosi has to play an unusual role, especially in the US election campaign. This weekend she is also a diplomat, who even has to defend Trump’s politics to some extent. Because if she had entered the international canon of US criticism, it would have caused annoyance in the USA.
Clear criticism from the Federal President #Steinmeier at Donald’s politics #Trump and the current U.S. government. The selfishness of “Make America great again.” #Sicherheitskonferenz # MSC2020 pic.twitter.com/zaUeSu5WD7
– Patrick Diekmann (@patdiekmann) February 14, 2020
Federal President Steinmeier made it different in his opening speech. The last time he spoke at the security conference was in 2014, at that time as Foreign Minister. He also had to express himself diplomatically at the time, but returned six years later in a different position. “I am no longer a regular guest in your annual round, and diplomacy is no longer my core business,” says Steinmeier. “So hopefully you will not only look at my clear words, but possibly even expect them.”
Steinmeier’s all-round stroke
Steinmeier’s inventory is rather bleak: “Today we are witnessing an increasingly destructive dynamic of world politics. From year to year we aim to further international cooperation to create a more peaceful world.”
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opens the Munich Security Conference with a speech. (Source: dpa)
Then there is a sweeping attack against nationalist and protectionist tendencies in the world, against authoritarianism and against violations of human rights. He accuses Russia of having “made military force and the violent movement of borders on the European continent the means of politics again”. He accuses China of breaking international law and calls Beijing’s action against minorities in its own country disturbing.
Serious allegations against the US government
He also criticizes the alliance partner USA, without naming Trump by name. But Steinmeier criticizes his “America First” policy. “In this age, the withdrawal into the national arena leads us to a dead end, to a dark time.” It is extremely dangerous if trust that has grown worldwide is jeopardized by the “relapse into the thinking of the day before yesterday”. “That is why we must continue to strive to create a supranational legal system.”
He accuses the US government of opposing European integration and accuses the United States of having thrown the “idea of an international community” overboard. With these clear verbal slaps, Steinmeier leaves a piece behind his past as a diplomat.
More international responsibility for Germany?
However, the criticism of the international partners in his speech is only an accompaniment; it is primarily aimed at the German population. In Munich, the Federal President gave a keynote speech on foreign policy, it would be a return speech, as was held by the then Federal President Joachim Gauck at the security conference in 2014. At that time, Gauck demanded that Germany also assume more responsibility internationally.
Steinmeier hits the same notch. He criticizes that the debate in Germany is always limited to the military. But when it comes to the alternatives and details of a new German role, the Federal President remains imprecise.
– Patrick Diekmann (@patdiekmann) February 14, 2020
In concrete terms, however, Steinmeier takes a look at French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently declared NATO “brain dead” and called for more European independence. Steinmeier counters: “The European Union alone cannot guarantee the security of all its members in the long run, regardless of progress. And to rely on the EU alone would be to drive Europe into division.” A clear distance from the French. Macron has the opportunity to answer Steinmeier this Saturday in Munich. Then he appears for the first time at the security conference.
“A place has become vacant in the EU”
There are numerous debates at the security conference in Munich on Friday. Many politicians highlight various topics on stage: Steinmeier talks about Germany’s responsibility in the world, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about international cooperation in shooting down a passenger plane in Iran in January and Pelosi criticizes that Germany in particular is the Chinese state-owned company Huawei on the 5G Network expansion would like to participate.
The security conference is always about getting into conversation. This year Munich should send out a sign that these dialogues also have an effect and that a return to international responsibility is not a utopia. Even if the spirit of the US President hovers over everything.