The Munich Conference: the annual meeting for international security

, by Voix d’Europe

The Munich Conference: the annual meeting for international security
Photo credit: Dawn Hudson

The 56th Munich Security Conference took place from the 14th to 16th February in the Bavarian capital. The European Magnifying Glass invites you to return to the theme of international and European security and defence. An article from our partner magazine, Voix d’Europe.

The “Davos Forum” of Defence

The Munich Conference is the annual defence and security forum. It was created in 1962 by Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzein, the last surviving member of a failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Von Kleist-Schmenzein who later became a publisher. The aim of the meeting, established during the Cold War, was to discuss the means implemented by the richest countries regarding international defence and security.

The Munich Conference is a highly prestigious event that brings together ministers, members of parliament, senior military officials, political dignitaries and various media outlets every year to discuss the foreign and military policies of the world powers. Around 300 leading figures from 70 countries take part in the forum every year. The United States, the United Kingdom and France are always represented at a high level in view of their military power.

This year, Emmanuel Macron participated for the first time since his election. Coming to discuss France’s position in the world, he could not avoid questions [made to him] on European defence, NATO or French military operations in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, Angela Merkel took the floor and also experienced some difficulties. Germany, a country which has long been demilitarised yet remained powerful thanks to the European Union, is experiencing some hardships in its governance. Angela Merkel is often criticised, and her fragile position did not help her at this conference.

Historical and recurring discussions

Created in the middle of the Cold War, the Munich Conference has several topics that resurface each year, such as NATO and the European Defence.

EU/US relations have not been looking good since Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House. NATO, a rather deterrent organization, has had little impact in recent years. Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that the organization is “brain dead”, was widely discussed at the forum this year.

Another subject was European defence via the European Union. The British were reluctant to create a military within the European Union. Now that they have left, the 27 Member States may be freer to develop a common European defence which differs from the Atlantic alliance and thus is independent from the United States.

The issues raised are products of the system itself. Discussions are taking place, but no concrete decisions or courses of action have been announced.

The decline of the West and its differences

This year, differences came to light, even more so than in previous editions of the conference, and the West seemed weaker.

First of all, there were the differences between Europe and America. The two powers are no longer on the same wavelength. The vision of Trump’s America is radically different to Macron’s idea for Europe.

Furthermore, differences between Europeans themselves didn’t take long to manifest themselves. Germany and France, despite being the EU’s driving force, don’t have a unified vision for international security and don’t want to make the effort either. But is this really a surprise? Not really considering the opposing defence history of these two nations.

This year’s Munich Conference showed the decline of the West– “Westernessless” – that is, the weakening influence of the major Western military powers in favour of countries like China or India.

Finally, this forum, which remains a very important event yet is not very well publicized beyond certain circles and elites, proved that the matters of Defence and International Security still remain very nationalist, especially for the European project. The EU is losing a lot of power and influence as there are far too many differences within it, not just in terms of defence and international security, but also in many other areas.

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