Peace through dialogue?

Posted in NATO , United States , Europe | 12-Feb-05

Rumsfeld, Clinton, Annan, Koehler and many more at the Munich International Security Conference: Networking a safer world; what are the new roles for NATO and EU ? New hopes for Israel and Iran ?

This year’s forty-first Munich Conference on Security Policy—which with respect to its importance is comparable to the World Economic Forum in Davos—brought together participants from forty countries in the hotel “Bayrischer Hof” in Munich, Germany.

German Federal President Horst Koehler, in his first speech before this forum, stressed that security and economic development are linked worldwide. He emphasized the need for development assistance and declared: “One of our goals is to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. The richer countries should increase their development assistance to 0.7% of their GNP.” The gap between this long-since agreed to increase and the current reality is about 100 billion dollars. He placed Africa, with all of its problems, at the center of his observations.

The speech by the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his comments concerning NATO were a cause of some irritation. He stated: “However, it [NATO] is no longer the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies. ... The governments of the European Union and the U.S. should establish a high-ranking panel of independent figures from both sides of the Atlantic to help us find a solution ...”

These comments were a cause of embarrassment, in particular to NATO-minded leaders, such as NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Senator John McCain, Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber and others who made the point that NATO exemplifies one of the greatest success stories in this field.

The ultimate conclusion from the remarks by the German Chancellor would be to cast into question once again the function of NATO as opposed to direct interaction between the U.S.A. and the EU.

The German opposition leader Angela Merkel formulated four coordinates of a German foreign and security policy: an economically strong Germany, a Europe capable of action, a dependable transatlantic alliance, and a UN capable of action. Unfortunately she missed the opportunity to counter the suggestions put forth by the German Chancellor. She too emphasized that, “NATO has not yet found its role.” This evaluation is indeed difficult to follow, considering the successful missions of the alliance in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

It should not be overlooked that NATO can only be as strong as the twenty-six member-states want and allow it to be. In the fifty years of its existence, NATO has proven repeatedly that it can adapt to changing conditions. It possesses the necessary instruments for this purpose.

With regard to the Broader Middle East, the Chancellor underlined the significant contribution of Germany with two examples: debt relief for Iraq in the amount of 4.7 billion euros and the deployment abroad of 7,000 German soldiers—with a focus on Afghanistan.

The discussion on the “Broader Middle East” was given substantial attention—the “arc of instability from Marrakech to Bangladesh.”

Alongside the glimmers of hope in Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq, there are great concerns regarding Iran with the option of the development of a nuclear weapons program. Many speakers pointed out that the best policy would be an orchestrated policy between the U.S.A. and Europe. Every American speaker made crystal clear that, “all political and diplomatic opportunities should be exhausted.” If these efforts should, however, fail to achieve a verifiable inspection system, the issue should be brought to the UN Security Council with the result of possible sanctions against Iran. A military operation was seen as a “last resort.”

This intense discussion made clear that the slogan of the conference “Peace through Dialogue” deserves a question mark. With “soft power” or “soft security” alone, it will be very difficult to convince Iran to abandon a nuclear weapons program. There must be elements of “hard power” and “hard security”; credible denial and/or deterrence elements have to be brought into the talks in order to achieve success.

An interesting issue was the question of using foreign military forces to safeguard a peace agreement in Israel/Palestine. NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer was very clear on this point: if there is a peace agreement, an invitation from both sides, and a UN mandate, then “NATO is ready and willing to act.” It was interesting to note that the German Minister of Defense also supported this view.

The appearance of the “star guest” Donald Rumsfeld was met with great attention. His presentation was relaxed, witty, dynamic, to the point, and marked by in-depth expert knowledge. He also added a touch of self-irony with references to the “old” and “new” Rumsfeld.

The "CEO of Pentagon Inc." stressed the successes of American and NATO policies:

  • NATO has added seven new members,

  • In Afghanistan, 8 million voters, 40% of them women, chose their first elected President in 5,000 years,

  • In the Palestinian National Authority, a democratically elected president offers the hope of a new chance for peace,

  • Ukrainians have demonstrated the depth of their commitment to free and fair elections,

  • In Iraq, 70% of the electorate went to 5,000 polling stations at the risk of their own lives.

In the debate on the UN, the Democratic Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, supplied a knowledgeable contribution that garnered attention.

A further highlight was the awarding of the first “Peace Plaque” of the Munich Conference on Security Policy to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General. The memory of his role in Rwanda and Srebrenica and the present problems with the UN “Oil-for-Food” program, however, cast a shadow on the ceremony.

In the final analysis, the conference was once again a success—even when the large crowds posed problems. The spontaneity of former years, where hard and controversial discussions took place, has suffered under prepared statements and questions. Or is it rather due to a desired “political correctness”?

We offer a selection of the most important speeches.

Reporting from Munich/Germany for World Security Network

Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, Founder and President of World Security Network Foundation

BrigGen (ret) Dieter Farwick, Global-Editor-in-Chief