What happened at the Munich Security Conference 2018? Analyses and press reports

What topics, news, and developments at the Munich Security Conference 2018 were particularly relevant? A selection of current analyses and press reports.

The Trump administration is missing in action in Europe (Josh Rogin, The Washington Post, February 21): "At the Munich Security Conference, the premier annual European diplomatic confab, there was a clear mission: to reinvigorate the very U.S. alliance with European democracies the conference was invented to defend after World War II. [...] But at this year’s event, the United States’ presence was scaled down. Even when U.S. officials spoke, they failed to reassure nervous allies that the Trump administration had their back."


The World is at the Brink - and the West doesn’t know what to do about it (Daniela Schwarzer und Henning Hoff, German Council on Foreign Relations, February 20): "A tense international security situation set the tone for this year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC). What’s worse: Neither Europe nor the United States seem to have any plan to address the threats facing them both. There isn’t much time left: Germans and Europeans must become more strategically capable, active and innovative to succeed in the new systemic conflict and help reduce instability."


Spy Chiefs Descend on Munich Confab in Record Numbers (Robbie Gramer, Foreign Policy, February 20): "A record number of spymasters descended on Munich for an annual conference on European security, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and more than two dozen other senior intelligence officials from around the world."


Five takeaways from the Munich Security Conference (Ulrike Esther Franke, European Council on Foreign Relations, February 20): "This year it seems there are enough crises and conflicts for three Munich Security Conferences. The world is in need of leadership on the global stage – but in Munich, no leaders were in sight. Partly, this was caused by the current uncertainty in German politics. But it was the lack of US leadership that was most palpable throughout the weekend."


At Munich Security Conference, Frayed Relations On Display As Global Crises Grow (Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR, February 19): "The Munich Security Conference is usually a forum for world leaders to meet on the sidelines and strive for consensus and compromise. But this year's gathering is more likely to be remembered for saber-rattling and ultimatums, and the lack of discernible progress on resolving lingering conflicts or brewing crises around the world."


Germany remains reluctant to pull its weight in the world (The Economist, February 19): "This year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) began gloomy—under the slogan ‘To the brink—and back?’—and got gloomier. As the annual gathering of international leaders, politicians and defence experts drew to a close yesterday its chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger, confessed: "When I opened the conference on Friday, I hoped we could delete the question mark from the motto, but now I am not fully sure we can do that.""


Brandishing drone fragment, Netanyahu warns that Iran risks conflict (Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum, The Washington Post, 18 February): "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday issued a stark warning to Iran, saying his nation was prepared to go to war if the Iranians continue to test Israeli red lines in Syria. [...] "Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put the noose of terror around our neck," he said. "We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act, if necessary, not only against Iranian proxies that are attacking us but against Iran itself.""


Munich Security Conference: Cybersecurity takes centre stage (Damien McElroy, The National, February 18): "Cyber dangers were at the forefront of policymakers' minds as they attended this year's Munich Security Conference. [...] At Munich, major presentations were made by tech companies that are the focus of concerns over fake news and other forms of manipulation, including Facebook and Google. Senior executives conceded there was a problem. [...] "The trust that has been built up in democracy is much easier to destroy than rebuild," admitted Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google."


Netanyahu to Iran: ‘Do Not Test Israel’s Resolve’ (Katrin Bennhold and Isabel Kershner, The New York Times, Febraury 18): "The Munich conference provided Mr. Netanyahu with a timely opportunity to appear on the world stage in his preferred role as Israel’s security czar and chief guardian against Iran, just days after the Israeli police recommended that he be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption cases. [...] The prime minister, who denies all wrongdoing, has responded by lashing out at his and Israel’s enemies and generally conducting his prime ministerial business as usual."


Munich Security Conference: How to stop a post-caliphate jihad? (Matthias von Hein, Deutsche Welle, February 18): "One thing participants at the Munich Security Conference unanimously agreed upon is the fact that the fight against jihadism is far from over. Many spoke of the stamina that would still be required to achieve ultimate victory. The primary importance of exchanging information among intelligence services was also stressed."


May: New security deal should be effective by next year (BBC, February 17): "Theresa May has called for a new "deep and special partnership" to ensure the UK and EU can continue to work together on security after Brexit. [...] She said new arrangements in foreign and defence policy cooperation should be effective by next year. [...] In a speech to the Munich Security Conference the prime minister said the UK would remain committed to Europe's security after leaving the EU."


May gives credible but uncompelling view on post-Brexit defence (Philip Stephens, Financial Times, February 17): "Unlike her foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Mrs May does understand that the Channel offers Britain scant protection against Russian revanchism, violent chaos and state breakdown in the Middle East, nuclear weapons proliferation, and uncontrolled migration across the Mediterranean. A year ago Mr Johnson left the Munich conference dumbfounded by boasting that Brexit was Britain's "liberation" from the continent. Mrs May stressed that European security was indivisible. She proposed a treaty between the UK and the 27 to underwrite the shared effort."


Trump’s National Security Chief Calls Russian Interference ‘Incontrovertible’ (David E. Sanger, The New York Times, February 17): "The evidence of a Russian effort to interfere in the election “is now incontrovertible,” General McMaster said at the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of European and American diplomats and security experts, including several senior Russian officials. On Friday, just hours before the indictment, the top White House official for cyberissues accused Russia of “the most destructive cyberattack in human history,” against Ukraine last summer. [...] Taken together, the statements appeared to mark a major turn in the administration’s willingness to directly confront the government of President Vladimir V. Putin. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo also attended the Munich conference, and while they did not speak publicly, in private meetings with others here they reiterated similar statements.


Munich Security Conference: Europe's elusive common security policy (Lewis Sanders, Deutsche Welle, February 17): "European leaders appear to agree on the need for a common EU security policy. At the Munich Security Conference, ministers and senior officials from across the continent offered their proposals and visions to secure the bloc in an ever more insecure world. [...] But how can cohesion be achieved when countries define security challenges so differently and prioritize their own national interests?"


McMaster: ‘Incontrovertible’ evidence of Russian interference in election (Fiona Maxwell, Politico, February 17): ""As you can see with FBI indictment, the evidence is incontrovertible and available in the public domain," he said at the Munich Security Conference, one of the biggest annual gatherings of security and defense policymakers and experts. "Whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute … now this is in the arena of law enforcement investigation, it's going to be very apparent to everyone." [...] He said Russia's attempts to "pit Western societies against each other" have failed and ended up "uniting all of our polities against Russia." Moscow will therefore have to reevaluate what it’s doing as "it's just not working," he said."


The Guardian view on Theresa May’s Munich speech: partnership should be indivisible (The Guardian, February 16): "Mrs May’s rhetorical answer is the mantra that Britain is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe. Her visit to Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday and her appearance at the Munich conference are designed to underpin that message and to make it a springboard for her Brexit strategy. Britain, Mrs May says, is fully committed to European cooperation, through Nato and in other ways, to deal with common threats to security."


German defense minister slams Trump’s military-heavy approach to security (Michael Birnbaum and Griff Witte, Washington Post, February 16): "Von der Leyen's comments at the Munich Security Conference, which were echoed by French Defense Minister Florence Parly, came amid a deepening rift in the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe that helped underpin the post-World War II global order. […] It was one of the most forceful recent European rejoinders to Trump's global spending priorities. In the 13 months since Trump took office, Europe has moved to boost defense spending, but also to improve its ability to fight alone without the support of the United States, if need be."

Waiting in Munich for European Defense
(Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Europe, February 16): "The differences between Paris and Berlin were already pretty clear two years ago at the MSC. Ursula von der Leyen, the German defense minister, homed in on the refugee and migration crisis as one of the major challenges facing Europe. Her French counterpart at the time, Jean-Yves Le Drian, made terrorism the number one issue. There was no meeting of minds when it came to sharing a common threat perception.[…] Two years down the road, if you think that von der Leyen and the new French defense minister, Florence Parly, have moved closer on how their countries are going to push Europe to think—and act—strategically, don't hold your breath."

Transatlantic tensions spill into view at security gathering (Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico, February 16): "For decades, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have used the Munich Security Conference to underscore their everlasting commitment to joint security. But Trump’s repeated criticism of European defense spending as too modest, coupled with what many Europeans consider a belligerent U.S. foreign policy has fueled a deepening estrangement. […] Though Europe remains dependent on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — and by extension the U.S. — for security, persistent tensions with Washington have convinced many European officials that they need to prepare for a future security infrastructure without Washington."


Where world’s power brokers really meet (Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico, January 25): "While Russia remains in focus, there will be other fare for Munich-goers to get their teeth into. Prime Minister Theresa May has chosen the conference as the venue for a speech aimed at reassuring her European allies that Britain intends to remain closely aligned with them on foreign policy and security matters post Brexit."

18 February 2018, by MSC