Strengthening Transatlantic Security - MSC Core Group Meeting in Washington
The MSC Core Group Meeting in Washington, DC, offered senior EU officials and decision-makers the opportunity to get to know senior representatives of the new US administration. Discussions aimed at providing a better understanding of the policies the new administration is pursuing with regard to many of the world's most pressing issues. It was the third time (after 2009 and 2013) that the meeting was convened in Washington, DC.
Discussion Session on Transatlantic Cooperation
The first plenary session of the off-the-record conference focused on the future of transatlantic cooperation on security issues. After a period of significant uncertainty in the transatlantic relationship following the US election results, there seemed to be consensus among most participants that there is a degree of "normalization" in how the US acts towards the rest of the world, especially towards Europe. Examples cited were Trump’s recent language following the bombing of Syrian airfields or the administration's "re"-commitment to NATO.
However, participants also pointed out that the relationship was still very fragile and that there was a lot that the transatlantic partners disagree on. While NATO and the EU are still considered the main guarantors for peace and security on the continent – especially for new and aspiring membership candidates – there is considerable debate between the partners on whether the current arrangement is fair. For many Americans, the European partners are not spending enough on defense. Spending 2% of GDP on defense, the NATO member countries' agreed objective, was considered by most participants a precondition for meaningful European engagement on the international stage, although some also pointed out that the EU's significant civilian commitments, which may exceed that of the US, were not sufficiently weighed in in the current debate. Participants also agreed that an increase in defense spending, where some progress was already made over the past few years, should be accompanied by a debate on strategic priorities.
Discussion Session on Russia and Eastern Europe
The second session at the Newseum's Knight Conference Center focused on Russia and Eastern Europe. Some participants stressed that it would take a long time until a more constructive relationship with Russia would be possible again – but that this time would come one day. While some pointed out that the interests of the Russian people were quite different from the interests of the Russian regime, others argued that a majority of Russians supported the current government. It was important not to mystify Russia: The country was not an aspiring democracy and would not be one anytime soon. Participants also argued that EU and NATO should do more to help countries such as Georgia and Ukraine. Some maintained that creative thinking and some hard intellectual work were needed to come up with a badly needed strategy to deal with the countries in the Eastern neighborhood of the EU and NATO.
Reception and Nightcap Session on the Defense of Democracy in the Digital Age
The evening discussions took place at the Library of Congress, where the library’s Chief of Staff, Robert Newlen, welcomed the participants. Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee and of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, addressed the audience during the dinner in the Main Hall. The final Night Cap session dealt with the defense of democracy in the digital age. Participants discussed the various ways "fake news" and disinformation were used to influence political processed in liberal democracies. They also debated the responsibility of technology and media companies as well as possible political reactions that could be considered.
Discussion Session on Global Issues and Security in East Asia
In another session, the participants discussed security challenges in East Asia, most notably the development of the US-China relationship, North Korea, and a potential escalation in the South China Sea. They agreed that a potential war between the US and China would have no winner and that an escalation had to be prevented at all cost. But they disagreed in their evaluation of Chinese policies in the area and voiced different views on the island disputes, including the role of international courts and other means of solving them. Some speakers suggested a number of ways to build a stable long-term relationship between Washington and Beijing on the strategic level and various confidence-building measures on the operational level. Others stressed that China had benefited tremendously from avoiding a path of confrontation and should try very hard not to get distracted. China had more than enough domestic challenges to deal with. Another issue was the potential of nuclear proliferation in East Asia.
Discussion Session on Syria
Another discussion session focused on Syria and potential ways forward. There was little optimism with regard to current peace processes such as the Astana Process. There was overall agreement among participants that any possible solution to the current conflict would have to involve Arab states as well as the Syrian people. Proposals such as a constituent assembly following Assad’s departure were discussed. Most agreed that Assad could not be part of a solution and should not play a role in a potential transition government. There was disagreement as to how strong Russia's commitment to the Assad regime really was and whether Moscow would be willing to work on a solution without him. Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict was criticized by a number of participants. Some argued that Iran felt encouraged to step up its activities in the conflict after the Nuclear Deal. Its support for Hezbollah was subject to particular criticism. Turkey's engagement in the Syrian conflict was debated as well. Participants argued that Turkey followed largely its own agenda, especially with regard to the Kurds. Expectations on US foreign policy were tangible – participants made clear that the President’s visit to the Middle East must provide some answers on where US priorities are.
At the concluding lunch, Fred Kempe, President of the Atlantic Council, the MSC's local partner for the meeting, introduced Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who gave a speech on his policy priorities and the most important threats facing the US homeland.
Breakfast Discussion on Current Counter-Terrorist Approaches
At a working breakfast on current counter-terrorism approaches, participants discussed the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups. They stressed the need to devise a plan for a post-ISIS Middle East and argued that a comprehensive approach would be needed to bring stability to the region. Regarding the question whether Muslim leaders did enough to distance themselves from radical Islamism and terrorism, participants disagreed. Some insisted that Muslim authorities should be more outspoken, while others argued that they already did speak out against terrorist ideologies but were largely ignored by Western media. The participants also discussed the issue of sharing information and better use of common databases.
Parallel Roundtables on Arctic Security, Cyber Security, and Health Security
At three parallel roundtables, the participants discussed specific security challenges in more detail. At the Atlantic Council, a roundtable on cyber security took place, while CSIS co-hosted a roundtable on health security. Finally, the MSC Arctic Security Roundtable was co-hosted by the Arctic Circle and the Wilson Center and took place in the Newseum.
The MSC Core Group Meeting was attended by the prime ministers of Montenegro, Duško Marković, and of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, as well as the foreign ministers of Estonia, Norway, Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine. John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security), Dan Coats (Director of National Intelligence), CIA Director Mike Pompeo addressed the CGM participants during the event. Several senators and congressmen, including John McCain, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, also participated. The German government was represented by, among others, Ralf Brauksiepe, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, and Ambassador Peter Wittig. In addition, the members of the Bundestag Norbert Röttgen, Niels Annen, and Omid Nouripour came to Washington. China by the Chairwoman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the National People's Congress, Fu Ying. Other experts and business leaders who participated include Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and several former heads of state and government from Europe.