Obviously, the Ukraine crisis prevailed at the Munich meeting, the ensuing debates and the talks in the hallways of the conference capturing the attention of the participants - the elite of decision-makers (presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, MPs, experts, pundits).There was also a debate on the other strategic files: the Iranian nuclear crisis, global warming, the emergence of the Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, the energy race, underdevelopment, international terrorism and others (see the conference agenda here https://www.securityconference.de/fileadmin/MSC_/2015/Agenda/MSC2015_Agenda_01.pdf). Yet the conference was held immediately after (Friday, February 6th) the leaders of Germany and France traveled to Moscow to discuss with Vladimir Putin the new Ukraine peace plan. Is the defeat of the Ukrainian military forces imminent? Is Ukraine on the brink of economic collapse, as some participants in the conference were suggesting? The visit of the two EU heavyweights has been a sign of Europe's weakness (that favours appeasement, historically speaking, the taming of aggression) or the last chance to avoid a European war?
Regarding the Munich Security Conference, I have published three editorials in the „Nine O’clock” Romanian journal (11, 17 and 18 February), under the pen name „Mihai Hareshan„. In the remainder of this post, we will be reproducing these articles.
Mihail E. Ionescu
Editorial | mihai.hareshan | February 11th, 2015 at 9:00 PM
The use by the several hundred attendants from various states – from Presidents and Prime Ministers to Foreign Affairs Ministers and members of Parliaments, from Government experts in foreign affairs and security experts to reputable commenters of the international press – of the Twitter app provides us a new opportunity to discover the bottomline ideas presented at the reunion and the ways they were presented – in speeches attended with focused attention, followed by Q & A sessions, in dialogues of the decidents with experts or valuable commenters, in informal meetings, in short interviews or in any other ways, on this occasion. It is obvious, as declared by Ivo Daalder, a well-known American expert in international politics, that “Wehrkunde”-2015 determined “The security policy world is descending on Munich for its annual confab–sort of the Academy Awards for Security Policy Wonks.”
The hosts seriously prepared for the events in the conference, especially that the presence of leaders with major responsibilities made the conducted discussions gain an extraordinary importance. They issued an extremely dense and concentrated analysis of the international situation, a sort of vademecum of great scientific accuracy in present international relations. Entitled “Collapsing Order, Reluctant Guardians?”, the report lists the leading trends in international security politics, providing a series of excellent maps, tables and graphs referring to present global evolutions. The title itself realistically suggests that the present security discussions refer to the global order after the Cold War, named by experts in political sciences “Liberal Order 2.0”, as Russia was the great power strongly engaged on the path of change and the “guardians”, the top Western states, showed a certain reticence to properly responding to Moscow’s challenges. Obviously, of an extraordinary importance is the fact that the global “tribe” of decision makers and experts in security issues reunited in Munich over the weekend accomplished, according to a Twitter post signed by Wehrkunde organizer, Wolfgang Ischinger: “Over the weekend, more than 700 bilateral and multilateral meetings have taken place.”, enforced by Bildt: “more than 700 bilateral meetings have been held in the premises here. Hopefully some steps towards better world.” Diplomacy is working hard and the attention granted by attendants to certain leaders is an obvious proof of the seriousness of the files assigned to these leaders. As Bildt mentioned: “Today diplomacy goes truly overdrive at #MSC2015. Everyone meeting everyone. But focus on Merkel, Poroshenko and Biden. Perhaps Lavrov”. Therefore: Ukraine is the headliner of the show, and the crucial question is that of war or peace between this country and Russia. Similarly important were the meetings of these leaders outside the frame of the reunion. By example, regarding the Iranian nuclear file, the audience was able to hear the position presented by the Foreign Affairs Minister from Teheran and, according to a Twitter post issued by Bildt on February 7, he had a meeting with his American counterpart. “Iran FM Zarif has been meeting daily with US here. Two hours with Kerry this morning. ‘We will lose together or win together’”. The last phrase quotes the public speech of the Iranian diplomat, held on the same day. Concerning the Iranian diplomat’s meetings with other counterparts, another Twitter note informs as follows: “Zarif and Kerry had ’very serious discussion’ early morning Sunday. Zarif also meeting German and France FMs today. Met UK yesterday”. Mr. Zarif is simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic, but he is eloquent in explaining that sanctions against Iran must be dropped and that this opportunity must not be missed. “If we don’t have an agreement, won’t be end of the world. Believe it is quite possible. An extension not needed”.
The undoubted conclusions of this year’s conference in Munich were not just the fact that diplomacy seems to have accepted the powerful comeback of geopolitics and is struggling – with increasing insistence – to keep things under control, but also that the global political order is still in an evolution and “guardians” are genuinely reluctant. As the Twitter post by John Kerry, the Head of American diplomacy, posted on February 8, the day all of the politicians mentioned below held a panel at the conference) puts it: “Current crises test international law, test global order we built after World War II”, confirmed by Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Affairs Minister: “There’s one country with one single leader that does not act according to the rules agreed by everyone in Europe” or by their German counterpart, Steinmayer: “The speech of Mr Lavrov has done nothing to relax between Russia and the West“. On the first day of the conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg abruptly asked the question floating above the entire reunion in order to give a negative answer, which is simultaneously a sign of a careful analysis and of the decision to maintain the present systemic organization: “Is the international order collapsing? My answer is: no.”. He added in two more phrases that were also posted on the official Twitter account of Wehrkunde-51 that:“We must be able to deter any threat from any direction. We are fundamentally changing NATO’s defence posture.” and that “Cooperation can only be based on trust and respect. Respect for rules. And respect for borders.” Another Twitter post quotes through a condition established by the NATO Secretary General regarding the maintaining of a status quo of the present order: “We can prevent an age of disorder – if we have the will”. Therefore, political will power is crucial, and diplomacy has a major role under these circumstances; we might even say that it cannot afford the luxury of any minor mistake now. Otherwise, a war in Europe is unavoidable and even limiting the one in Ukraine seems an extremely complex challenge.
Editorial | mihai.hareshan | February 17th, 2015 at 9:00 PM
Does Ukraine need to be armed to give an effective response to the Russian military aggression inflicted directly, through own troops, and though proxies (separatists)? A series of positions taken in the international media after the launch of the Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine (21-23 January) – through the artillery attack on Mariupol – Ukrainian Black sea port of strategic importance the control of which by forces opposed to Kiev would provide a direct land connection between Russian territory and Crimea – pointed out the necessity to provide lethal armament to the attacked state in order to be able to defend itself. Whilst Western capitals expressed their views on the matter – the US Congress being decisively in favour and the delivery of radars and anti-tank armament, drones etc. only needs the approval of the president – the Russian troops supported by the separatist ones continued the offensive, acquiring land beyond the divide line agreed upon in Minsk in September 2014.
Wehrkunde-51 provided a rostrum for the expression of Western and Russian positions through authorised voices. It has to be noted that the statements came after an extraordinarily meaningful development in the Ukrainian dossier – the visit to Moscow and meeting with Russian President V. Putin on 6 February 2015 of two Western leaders – F. Hollande, President of France, and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. As the German foreign minister posted on the official twitter on 6 February ‘Chllr #Merkel travelling to #Moscow: Will use all our power to stop the bloodshed+to fill #Minsk Agreement with life.’
During five hours the three heads of state talked about the way to avoid a general war in Ukraine. Details of the talks are not known, but the Russian press notes that, unlike media speculations that President Putin was given an ultimatum by the West, the Kremlin’s spokesperson said that
‘Nobody has ever talked to the president in the tone of an ultimatum — and could not do so even if they wanted to.’ („The Moscow Times”, February 9, 2015).
The three politicians decided in Moscow to meet again, this time also with Ukraine’s President P. Poroshenko, in Minsk on 11 February to make a decision on the Ukrainian crisis. Therefore a postponement of a decision with a few days, during which time Wehrkunde-51 took place. As early as on 2 February, the organiser of the conference, W. Ischinger, had published a column in ‘Der Spiegel’ , with the headline ‘How to Stabilize Ukraine without Playing Putin’s Game’ in which he pleaded that the West should not resort to arming Ukraine with lethal weapons, but, on the contrary, continue to harden sanctions, by that elevating the cost Moscow has to pay for its military action in Ukraine.
What were the opinions at Wehrkunde on this matter?
Ever since the opening of the conference, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, according to twitter, that she opposed ‚arms deliveries to #Ukraine: too many unknown consequences’. Angela Merkel’s address Saturday morning was therefore expected with a huge interest. According to a twitter sequence, she said that ‘Russia’s procedure violated foundations of European peace order, international law, the Helsinki Final Act, Budapest Memorandum.”; “Germany will be forever grateful to nations of CEE for ending Cold War “; “Merkel on Ukraine: Militarily this cannot be won. This is the bitter truth and the bitter reality.’ ” ( Josh Rogin ); “Merkel’s plan in Ukraine conflict? Endurance of the West during the Cold War. “( Daniel Brossler ) ; “One point worth mentioning about Merkel speech: No discussion of possible further sanctions if latest negotiations fail.”( Ian Bremmer ) ;“Heated debate on arms to #Ukraine with #Merkel on dias & an uncomfortable @poroshenko on front row with audience split btw pro/con. “ (Damon Wilson).
Russian Minister S. Lavrov’s speech at Wehrkunde-51 highlighted the radically distinct positions of the two parties. He accused the West of generating the Ukrainian crisis by organizing a coup in Kiev in February 2014, that the inhabitants of Crimea expressed their internationally guaranteed right in a referendum and chose to join Russia and, responding to the disavowing reaction of the audience, he commented: ‘Perhaps you think what I say is funny, but I think what you say is funny’. A renowned expert ( Josef Joffe ) asked him sprightly :” I understand your problems with the US. Why do you make #Ukraine pay for it? “. What caused a caustic answer on twitter on the Russian leaders: ‘It’s the historical mindset from the Cold War. Other than that they are all decked out in US goods…’ Minister Lavrov imperturbably continued to threaten the West for the extremely dangerous evolution of the Ukrainian crisis as demonstrated by Wehrkunde’s twitter: ‘At every stage of the crisis in #Ukraine, the US and the EU took measures to escalate the crisis.’; ‘Our Western partners were not guided by common European security but by illusions’ And he menacingly summarized: ‘Recent development have corroborated our warnings. Remember Pres. Putin’s speech here in Munich’. The reference to the memory of the audience is made directly to President Putin’s threats in 2007, in his address to the Wehrkunde meeting, where he threatened with Russia’s offensive actions to defend its own rights disregarded by the West. At the time, Putin told the audience: ‘We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.’
Immediately the Munich audience embraced the position that ‘The West is not united in The face of #Russia threat, perspectives very depending on geography’ (twitter resent by M. Zaborowski, initially written by Edward Lucas). It’s interesting that this latter expert who commented on Merkel’s speech, having read Anna Applebaum’s report in ‘Washington Post’ on A. Merkel’s address the following day and, after that, Serghey Lavrov’s, noted on twitter: ‘If we don’t come up with a serious strategy to prevent [a world war] that’s what we’ll get’.
Editorial | mihai.hareshan | February 18th, 2015 at 9:00 PM
The last day of the conference included on the agenda panel debates with the ‘heavy ones’ on the Ukrainian crisis and the solution. Both Vice-President J. Biden and the French and German foreign ministers or the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, F. Mogherini, or US Senator John McCain highlighted the importance of preserving the current international order and therefore not recognising territory acquisitions by military force and keeping existing borders, and avoiding a military conflict in Europe. Laurent Fabius said, without naming the state, that “There’s one country with one single leader that does not act according to the rules agreed by everyone in Europe”, and McCain “criticizes lack of resolve of Western nations (US included) to deal w/ith/ crises (Ukraine, Syria, Iran) Question of will “. Vice-President Biden sent unequivocal messages: “ 1) Russia is controlling separatists — and has to get out of Ukraine! 2) Corruption is ‘like kryptonite’ for democracy.” ; “/…/presents #Putin with choice: get out of #Ukraine or face isolation and economic costs “ ; “Europe is not just the home of our closest allies. It is the cornerstone of U.S. engagement w/ the rest of the world.“ ; “America and Europe are being tested. Need to reassert core values of no spheres of influence, right to chose own alliances.”; “Here today to talk about reassert – not reset – a Europe whole free and at peace “.
In the conclusion of the conference, as a matter of fact, the organiser, W. Ischinger, expressed his conviction that the up-going trend of the confrontation in the rest of Ukraine – “I want to repeat my concern with close military encounters. We must avoid escalation “- and that the meeting had been “at least a glimmer of hope. A meeting will take place Wednesday in Minsk” in the Capital of Belarus, to decide if there would be ‘war or peace’ in Europe.
However, Wehrkunde-51 was followed by Minsk a few days later, on 11 February. The crucial meeting on peace or war in Europe. But that will be the subject of our next column.