Clouds have been gathering all along the Munich Security Conference (16-18 February), which ended on a note of gloom.
“I was hoping when I opened this conference on Friday that, in concluding the conference, I would be able to say we can delete the question mark. In other words: ‘We are back from the brink,’” the main organiser of the annual event, Wolfgang Ischinger, said in his closing remarks.
“I’m actually not sure we can say that,” he added.
It was the first time in 54 years since the start of the annual conference that EU diplomats, experts and policy-makers had to think of conflicts on Europe’s threshold, in Ukraine, or in the permanent standoff between Israel and the Palestinians, without counting on US backing. Donald Trump has called Britain’s exit from the EU a “great thing” and he seems to be interested only in NATO, pressing the EU allies to boost defense spending.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the conference that his country had “eagerly learned” the value of democracy, rule of law, multilateralism, and human rights from the United States, but that “we no longer recognize our America.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia in his February 16 speech of deploying disinformation as part of a “world hybrid war,” while US Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced more than a dozen indictments of Russian citizens and firms accused of trying to “sow discord in the US political system,” including in the 2016 presidential election.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin had a bilateral meeting that failed to produce any progress. Planned talks at the conference in the so-called Normandy Format — Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia — aimed at bringing an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine were dropped. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, denounced Russia as a destructive force in the world, suggesting that the “Russian world” brings nothing but ruin and despair to anything it touches.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters following his meeting with Lavrov that he also saw little progress and that “it remains to be seen if it’s possible.”
Also, on the final day of the Munich conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened Iran to Nazi Germany and called Tehran “the greatest threat to our world.”
Addressing the conference hours later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s speech as a “cartoonish circus.”
Such tense was the overall atmosphere that on Sunday a leading German politician of Turkish origin had to be given police protection after what he said was a tense encounter with bodyguards from the Turkish delegation.
Cem Ozdemir, co-leader of Germany’s ecologist Greens until late last month and a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was given protection at the conference after police told him Turkish security, staying in the same hotel, had accused him of being a “terrorist”.
The only concrete proposal came from UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who said on Saturday that Britain and the EU should sign a new security treaty and that they must not let ideological differences block co-operation in that sector after Brexit.
“The key aspects of our future partnership in this area will already be effective from 2019,” the British prime minister told top European and US officials at the Munich Security Conference.
May said UK would respect the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) with regard to certain security agencies, but would not be subject to its jurisdiction.
All in all most participants left dissatisfied from what has been just a string of hollow discourses and mutual recriminations.