MSC 2012

The West wrestles with Russia over a resolution on the Assad regime. A young woman from Yemen enthrals the plenum. And Germany is declared a leading power. A summary by Lorenz Hemicker.

Passionately spoke up for the Syrian people: Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman at the 48th MSC (Photo: MSC / Zwez).

This year's 48th edition will go down in the history of the Munich Security Conference under the heading "Syria." Last year, it was the "Arab Spring" more generally that left its mark on the conference; this year, it was the civil war in Damascus, Homs and other Syrian cities. The discussions held in the conference hall and meeting rooms could not prevent Russia and China from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution aimed at condemning the Assad regime.


Instead, the conference offered a young woman the chance to make a courageous appearance. Tawakkol Karman, a journalist from Yemen and last year’s Nobel Peace Laureate, did not waste any time on courtesies and voiced unequivocal criticism of Russia’s and China’s veto. "These two countries are supporting a criminal regime," said Karman in her speech to the conference delegates, referring to the Syrian president. "The war that Bashar al-Assad is waging is a war against humanity." Karman urged the delegates at the security conference to expel the Syrian ambassadors from their countries. The several rounds of sincere applause the young woman received in the hall indicated that the decision to invite her was to the liking of the participants. With her appearance, Karman represented a new type of speaker in Munich: female, young, not "transatlantic." The kind of person who reflects the reality of a multipolar world that has long since begun to emerge and who Wolfgang Ischinger will welcome to Munich more often in the years ahead.

Besides welcoming new faces, the security conference continued to be a forum for debate on a wide range of security topics, with the participants not only discussing the transatlantic relationship, in keeping with tradition, but also the consequences of the financial crisis for security issues and Germany’s role in the world. The call for "more leadership" from the Federal Republic, which has been repeatedly heard at least since the beginning of the Greece crisis, was heard frequently in Munich as well. Federal Minister of Defence Thomas de Maizière used the Munich Security Conference to point out that people in Germany were a little surprised by this demand. "This question would have been tantamount to a breach of a taboo not so long ago," said Thomas de Maizière in his opening speech on the Friday. The defence minister asked Germany’s partners to appreciate the country's stance, adding that Germany was already shouldering more international responsibility than the government could communicate to its people. 


With regard to traditional topics addressed at the conference, there was an equal share of light and cloud. Russia not only said "No" to the resolution on Syria, but also to the subject of missile defence. Moscow's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, pointed out that he was greatly concerned about the plans for such a system. NATO intends to install a missile defence system in Europe that is capable of warding off rocket attacks from Iran. 

On the subject of the transatlantic relationship, the U.S. has momentarily succeeded in soothing the worries of its European partners. The American duo of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta put the USA's strategic reorientation towards the Asia-Pacific into perspective: "Europe is and remains America’s partner of first resort," said Clinton, and her fellow cabinet member Leon Panetta also emphasized Europe's continued "strategic importance."


The fate of a broad range of important topics is that some debates cannot be conducted in depth. In 2012, this applied to the future of NATO and to the situation in Afghanistan, which has been a constant subject of discussion in recent years. It also applied to a number of topics that also have important implications for security today, for example, climate change, commodity shortages, and the rise of Asia. 

The host of security-related topics on the global agenda does reveal the need for a conference  as the one in Munich all the more clearly. Only a regular dialogue between the key global actors of the 21st century offers a chance of the increasingly complex challenges to security being mastered. As organizer Wolfgang Ischinger said at the end of this year's conference, the dialogue will be continued in Munich on 1 February 2013 – at the 49th Munich Security Conference.


Please find the agenda of this Munich Security Conference as well as a list of participants in the column on the right side.