Security conference in munich: on a confrontational course

The war in Syria, the conflict between Iran and Israel, the relationship between the US and Russia – the debates in Munich were heated.

Not only the police are in an alarm mood in Munich Photo: imago/photothek

At the end of this year’s "Munich Security Conference," Israel and Iran accused each other of pursuing "a policy of aggression" in the Middle East. The debates of the first two days of the conference on other conflicts of this world were also extremely confrontational.

In his appearance before the "Security Conference," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Iran "the greatest threat in this world." Tehran, he said, was increasing its military presence, in Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states, and supporting "terrorist activities" to strengthen its influence "throughout the region from Tehran to the Mediterranean."

The Israeli prime minister again criticized the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program to civilian activities as "totally inadequate" and compared it to the 1938 "Munich Appeasement Agreement." Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, under whose aegis the nuclear agreement was negotiated between 20, rejected this criticism as "factually wrong" and refuted it in detail. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Java Sarif dismissed Netanyahu’s accusations as a "comedy circus that deserves no further attention."

On Saturday, tense relations between Russia and the West and nuclear armament had dominated the debates. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster, justified Washington’s new nuclear strategy by citing the planned development of smaller nuclear weapons as a "precaution against Russia’s arms buildup." McMaster stated that nuclear weapons with lower explosive power would "raise, not lower, the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons."

Poland wants EU and NATO countries to rearm

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, referring to "the Russian aggressions in 2008 against Georgia and in 2014 against Ukraine," called for significantly increased rearmament efforts by NATO and EU member states. "The appeasement policy of the 1930s and the detente policy of the 1970s did not work" declared Moraviecki, putting the 1938 Munich Agreement on the annexation of the Czechoslovak Sudetenland to Nazi Germany on a par with the Ostpolitik and detente policy essentially pursued by the West German Brandt government.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel advocated a UN force in eastern Ukraine, the gradual easing of sanctions against Russia, and – in contradiction to the stance of the EU Commission – the realization of the Northstream pipeline.

Proponents of nuclear weapons never talk about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of deployment

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Foreign Minister Mevlit Cavusoglu rejected any criticism of their country’s war against the Syrian Kurds and accused the United States and other NATO countries of supporting terrorists in Syria. Citing the right to self-disarm under UN Article 51, they said their country’s military action "against the Syrian Kurdish terrorist organizations YPG and PYD" was "just as legitimate as the fight by the U.S., Russia and over 60 other countries against Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq."

Asked about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threat to deliver an "Ottoman slap" to U.S. soldiers in the conflict, Yildirim said, "It doesn’t matter if it’s in Syria or Iraq: if there are terrorist actions against our country there, it’s clear that we would deliver the strongest possible slap here." If another country turns belligerent against Turkey, he said, it will "of course" retaliate.

Macron threatens "retaliatory strikes"

President Trump’s national security adviser threatened, at least indirectly, that the United States would respond – as it did once before in April 2017 – with military strikes to any use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces. French President Edouard Macron had recently even explicitly threatened "retaliatory strikes."

Prime Minister Edourd Phillippe refused to answer the question of how military strikes without a prior mandate from the UN Security Council could be reconciled with international law at the security conference on Sunday. In their speeches, Phillipe, British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a significant increase in the EU’s military efforts through significantly increased spending, the expansion of joint military forces and a unification of the arms and procurement policies of the 28 member states.

Transatlantic differences became clear on the subject of Iran. Acting German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned the U.S. against jeopardizing the nuclear agreement with Tehran. "We advise our American friends not to let this agreement fail," Gabrie said. "We negotiated this agreement in partnership, and we do not want to abandon it and we will not abandon it."

By contrast, Trump’s security adviser McMaster, like Netanyahu, criticized "serious flaws" in the agreement. McMaster also accused Iran and its Revolutionary Guards of destabilizing Arab states by "supporting terrorist activities" in those countries. McMaster called on Germany, Japan and South Korea to "cease all economic dealings with Iran from which the Revolutionary Guards benefit."

Protest against Munich "insecurity conference"

Turning to North Korea, McMaster demanded significantly tougher sanctions measures from China – without naming names. "All economic and diplomatic relations must be severed and so-called guest workers expelled," Trump’s security adviser stressed.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen opened the conference on Friday with a plea for the EU to be strengthened militarily. She called for "a Europe that can also carry more weight militarily." This means not only building up capabilities and structures, but also "the common will to actually use military weight when the circumstances require it," she said. As a consolidated democracy, Germany should not hide behind its history, he said, but accept that soldiers have to fight for security and freedom.

Saturday’s appearance by Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, was not part of the conference. In a conference hall that was only half-filled, Fihn crystallized that proponents of nuclear weapons and deterrence "never talk about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons." Fihn expressed his conviction that "deterrence will not work forever, and nuclear weapons will one day be used if they are not abolished worldwide." Around 2,500 people protested against the Munich "Insecurity Conference" on Saturday, despite the freezing cold.

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