The unrest in the Arab world was the predominant topic at the 47th MSC in February of 2011. Its participants said they were prepared to assist the uprising peoples in rebuilding their states. A summary by Lorenz Hemicker.
It was an event of great symbolic power. With Hillary Clinton and Sergey Lavrov entering the atrium of Hotel Bayerischer Hof on Saturday, the foreign ministers from two countries whose nations alone mostly controlled the fate of history for decades stepped onto the stage. In the flurry of flashing cameras they exchanged the instruments of ratification of the "New START" treaty. In more predictable times this event would certainly have been regarded as the highlight of the Munich Security Conference. As recently as two years ago, this had been the case when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the conference proclaimed a "reset" of American foreign policy with respect to Russia, laying the foundation for this new agreement.
However, these days the decisive events in security policy have happened in Tunis, in Cairo, in Sana’a. The developments in the Arab world would repeatedly play a key role over the weekend. A transformation of the Arab world will be inevitable, many participants agreed. The question was not whether but when North Africa and the Middle East would get a new face. One guest emerged as a particularly credible advertiser for an organized transition – Germany’s Federal Chancellor. Though Mrs Merkel repudiated comparisons between the turmoil in the Arab world and the German turnaround in 1989, she did drawn parallels, remembering her own experience in the GDR more than twenty years ago that "one doesn’t think about how a sustainable structure should look like" during an uprising. In the end, however, she had been happy that the German reunification had been "well prepared."
Like in the years before, very different security challenges were on the agenda of the 48th Munich Security Conference. For the first time, the participants discussed the topic of cyber security. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the conference to call on the international community to fight cyber attacks in concert. He was not the only warning voice. Every two seconds an Internet attack occurred in Germany, said German Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière. The borderline between crime, espionage and terrorism were indistinct. This is also true for the military dimension of this phenomenon. In NATO there is still unclarity as to how to counter a large-scale cyber attack.
Afghanistan has remained a critical mission for the international community. As he did last year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had come to Munich, affirming his intention to assume overall responsibility throughout the country by the end of 2014. At the end of the conference Karzai announced to present details of the first phase of the take-over on 21 March. This date marks the Afghan New Year’s Day. "We should take more burden on our shoulders," Karzai said in his speech. However, a full withdrawal of the West might result in the country collapsing under its burden. This is why the process of phased take-over would not bring about the end of the extensive support for Afghanistan.
Despite the great variety of topics it was again not possible for the Security Conference to consider the entire spectrum of security challenges this year. Maritime security, for instance, or the future role of China will be topics of growing importance in the next few years. Achieving a balance with this emerging power might well be the matter of highest concern to policy-makers around the globe in the coming decade.
Despite all the uncertainties in an ever more closely interconnected world, Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger was nevertheless able at the end of the conference to offer his guests a bit of reliability. The participants may already now highlight the first weekend in February 2012 in their calendars; that is when the 48th Munich Security Conference takes place.
You can find the full agenda as well as the list of participants from the 47th Munich Security Conference in the column on the right side.