Fasching, Family Reunions, and Hard Power

This week, we publish a few selected essays from the book "Towards Mutual Security - Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference" exclusively on this site. In his contribution, Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit and Fellow of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford, offers a "very personal remembrance" of the "Munich Security Conference, née Wehrkunde".

The cover of "Towards Mutual Security - Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference" (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht).

"Above all, the Munich Security Conference, née Wehrkunde, has been a family reunion of the Western strategic community, though it expanded in the nineties to bring in the entire world: presidents and prime ministers, princes and potentates from the Near to the Far East.


Like a NATO summit, the MSC offers those set-piece speeches by premiers, presidents, and ministers which are carefully vetted by their advisers to evade diplomatic imbroglios. These speeches lay out familiar talking points or unassailable principles like 'peace' and 'cooperation.' But the confab is informal enough to let trial balloons drift through the ballroom—a new proposal, a new idea. More important is the fairly free-floating discussion, which will occasionally transcend the 'let’s keep it civil' confines of the conference choreography. As in a real family, familiarity does not necessarily breed consent. Often enough, it is 'let the brickbats fly!' 


A family that fights together stays together—that is the moral of this tale. As its members hash it out, thinking improves. It is a learning experience above all: this is how they think, this is how we think. In Munich, 'they' were often enough members of one’s own national camp who thought for themselves, as befits a liberal democracy. Just to know that Americans and Europeans also argue among themselves breaks up monolithic positions on both sides while increasing the supply of insight all round. Upon his retirement in 1998, Ewald von Kleist had it right: 'It would be short-sighted to neglect the [European-American] relationship. We have to mend it continually because we will be confronting problems that we can only solve together.' Good advice for the next fifty years."


You can download the entire essay here. For more information on the book "Towards Mutual Security - 50 Years of Munich Security Conference," click here.

30. Januar 2014, von Josef Joffe