Stockholm (Ekonamik) – For a conference launched on the premise of “who will pick up the pieces?” of an increasingly strained liberal international order and arguably shattered transatlantic alliance, what transpired at the 55th annual 2019 Munich Security Conference didn’t quite solve the puzzle. The prestigious conference, attended by over 600 politicians, three dozen heads of state and government, high-ranking officials and representatives from business, science and international organizations, rather served to shine a spotlight on pieces still scattered on the floor.
The four-day conference traditionally focuses on international security and defence policy, and so it did in 2019, albeit with a notable realignment of antagonists than throughout the majority of its history. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence took the opportunity to chide European allies for “standing with China and Russia” and continuing to adhere to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, after Washington pulled out last year. “The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” Mr Pence lectured, alongside suggesting that the Iranian leadership is advocating “another Holocaust”.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif had a harsh response for Mr Pence the following day, calling his comments “hateful” and “ignorant”. The U.S. is “pathologically” fixated on Iran and is itself generally “the biggest threat in the world.” He also applied pressure on the EU to stick to the JCPOA, somewhat surprisingly calling the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) mechanism by Germany, France and Britain to bypass US sanctions on Iran “inadequate”. As expected, he also warned that Israel and U.S. behaviour in the Middle East was increasing the chances of further conflict in the region.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Mr Pence also chided indirectly for the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline that would double the capacity for shipping gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, gave a staunch defence of the JCPOA, saying the deal allows the West to exert pressure on Tehran on other issues. Mrs Merkel also gave an impassioned defence of, and plea for, multilateralism that earned her a standing ovation (except from Ivanka Trump), and also called on China to participate in disarmament and rebuffed the U.S. for its criticism of the oil pipeline, explaining that Europe would like to have both Russia and the U.S. as key energy suppliers. The U.S. is keen to sell its shale gas to Europe, and Vice President Pence had used an appearance at a U.S.-organised conference in Warsaw last week to criticise the Nord Stream scheme alongside Poland and the Baltic states.
Nuclear deterrence and arms control were at the forefront of the conference, although a unified response to Russia’s breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty agreement (following another withdrawal by Washington) was also not forthcoming. “NATO matters more today because an old adversary is very much back in the game,” said UK Defence Minister Gavin Williamson, adding that Moscow was “trying to goad the West into a new arms race it simply is not interested in and does not want, making the world a less safe place.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, suggested that the EU had been dragged into a “pointless confrontation” with Russia. China for its part rejected joining the INF ban agreement for nuclear medium-range missiles. “We are against the multilaterlisation of the INF treaty,” said China’s director of its Foreign Affairs Office Yang Jiechi.
Other notable events included the absence of French President Emmanuel Macron, a poorly attended panel on the security threat posed by climate change led by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and calls for the EU to take security into its own hands and statements on progress towards those ends from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen.
Former U.S. Vice President and likely 2020 presidential contender Joseph R. Biden also appeared, assuring the audience that there is a “different America” to the one Donald Trump represents.
“We do love you,” he said.
Video: Mike Pence Receives Awkward silence in Munich After Offering ‘Greetings’ from President Trump – Time/YouTube