U.S. Vice President Joe Biden: America needs the world as the world needs America
The 45th Munich Security Conference presented a stark change from the past few years that was felt and warmly welcomed by all participants. The new U.S. Vice President Joe Biden used his first official visit abroad to reach out to allies and challengers alike and reaffirm the determination of President Obama's administration to set a new tone around the world. In his own words, Biden had come to Munich "not only to represent a new administration but - hopefully - also a new day". Participants were greatly relieved by this change of direction and their resultant enthusiasm was the distinguishing mark of this year's conference.
Biden set out a long list of changes - impatiently awaited by the U.S. allies and their publics - that is to determine Obama's agenda in foreign and security affairs:
- "The U.S. will be guided by the principle that there is no conflict between our security and our values. They are mutually reinforcing" as a repudiation of the false choice that just recently Biden's predecessor Cheney defined as necessary in the fight against terrorism. Instead, Biden noted, if America wants to lead, "the example of our power must be matched by the power of our example".
- "We will recapture the totality of America's strength", i.e. complementing the arsenal of America's military tools by diplomacy, economic cooperation, cultural outreach and development aid. This outreach will not least be directed at the vast majority of Muslims who Biden believes share the West's values.
- Whereas the focus over the last years seems to have often solely been on terrorism, the new U.S. administration shares the rest of the world's preoccupations with global problems like climate change, poverty or regional conflicts, and will tackle these forcefully.
- A willingness to lead coupled with a readiness to listen to and coordinate with allies: "we genuinely seek your opinion and counsel - the result must be a comprehensive strategy".
- A leadership that is self-confident enough to reach out to adversaries in a spirit that rejects the zero-sum "notion that Russia's gain is NATO's loss" and looks to the many pragmatic opportunities for cooperating on issues of mutual interest like Afghanistan or nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. On the thorny issue of missile defence, the Vice President lowered the stakes significantly as any such effort would have to be "effective and cost-efficient" and will be undertaken in consultation with Russia and the EU.
"America will do more - that is the good news. But the bad news is that we will also ask for more from our allies", the Vice President cautioned his audience. The United States will again be prepared to work through alliances and foster multilateral institutions but these will need to be credible and effective - able to enforce rules when they are broken.
In fact, the message the new administration wants to send out is that of a new beginning of shared responsibilities for the U.S. and its allies to address pressing problems: a willingness to talk to Iran with "meaningful incentives if they forgo bad behaviour"; a just and lasting peace settlement in the Middle East that picks up the inspiration of the Saudi peace initiative; and not least a fresh strategy for Afghanistan that recognizes the absolute necessity of a regional approach that stabilizes Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the tribal areas alongside the border as the key to the problem.
This "charm offensive" by the United States towards both its European allies and Russia was generally reciprocated. French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel showed resolve to step up their commitments to making NATO work. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov qualified the threat of "Iskander" short-range missiles being placed in Kaliningrad but remained unapologetic on Georgia and Russia's resistance to further NATO expansion.
After a recent joint editorial calling for reinforced European efforts at common defence, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy in Munich repeated that demand.
Merkel underlined that this strong commitment to upgrading European defence remained a priority even in the face of financial crisis: "this is not a question of budget but a question of the threats we face."
Such efforts were to be backed by strong action on other issues of international concern. In surprisingly frank remarks, Angela Merkel both rejected the prospect of an Iranian nuclear arsenal and promised that Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members, which she described as a military rather than political alliance. But also the economic realm would have to be a topic for 2009 that she described as "a year of action". To counter the false promise of protectionism, Merkel renewed her call for a "transatlantic economic community".
Click here for German Chancellor Merkel's speech
France exemplified the call for a strengthened European defence by pointing to France's return to NATO's military structures. In his forceful speech, he put the choice in security policy bluntly: "Europe needs to decide whether it wants peace or wants to be left in peace." And, if peace is the choice, Europe must be prepared to set aside the means to achieve this objective. Sarkozy firmly believes that European publics are ready to fund a strong Europe, as "never has a region remained rich or defended its values without being strong."
However, he seemed to qualify Merkel's invitation to new members by claiming that the Western institutions were based on values and "if you want to be in the family you have to be prepared to live by those rules."
His tones toward Russia were generally less confrontational than Merkel's. His measured call was for the West to defend its values - not to impose them but to make the case for them. President Sarkozy challenged all to "refuse the dialectics of threat" and rebuild the trust with Russia which he is certain does not pose a military threat to NATO given the many internal problems it faces. He cited the example of reconciliation between Germany and France - and dramatically topped it by an historic offer to permanently station a German battalion on French soil.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister and former Defence Minister Ivanov did not unabashedly reciprocate all the positive signals, though. He stressed the issue of arms control, arms reduction and limitation. He pointed out that the STRAT I Treaty will expire on December 5, 2009. Any new agreement should not only focus on strategic missiles but should also include missile defence. He raised his concern regarding the so-called "uploading capability" which could be abused for quickly acquiring decisive military superiority in the area of strategic offensive arms. He announced that there would be no stationing of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if there will be no installation of U.S. missile defence systems in Poland and the Chez Republic, a departure from President Medvedev's recent threat.
Regarding the nuclear energy programme in Iran he repeated the Russian proposal to find a multilateral solution to a nuclear supply cycle. Russia offers existing capabilities in Siberia to guarantee a safe supply for Iran.
Ivanov warmly welcomed the intention of the U.S. to "reset" their relationship with Russia as expressed by Vice President Biden in a bilateral meeting. While he underlined Russia's willingness to offer cooperate on issues of common interest, Ivanov staunchly refused to even accept that the "frozen conflicts" that erupted last summer in the Caucasus were still a topic of international relevance.
It was exactly this kind of mindset that Estonian President Ilves alerted his Western colleagues to. Amidst the enthusiasm for renewed dialogue and cooperation of NATO and Russia, he called for caution and realism. After all, last summer's events in the Georgian conflict - whatever the exact sequence of events that led to them - presented a clear paradigm shift. Russia clearly broke with the principle that there should be no change of borders through the use of force.
For NATO, this effectively meant that the preoccupation with missions "out of area" was dramatically countered by the tragic recognition that, in fact, there still were serious threats "in area".
Also, right at the first night of the Security Conference, Speaker of the Parliament of Iran Ali Larijani did not want to keep to diplomatic niceties just because the Obama Administration had extended their hand to Iran and others. He attacked the "double standards" that poison Western relations with countries around the world. He claimed that hegemony and terrorism are two sides of the same coin, and polemically asked: "Why has Israel 200 nuclear warheads but one billion Muslims should not use atomic technology? He asked further why India was not punished by the U.S. when they tested nuclear weapons?" In the end, though, Larijani seemed not to want to forgo the diplomatic opportunity that had opened recently. He called for respect from the US, and a return to multilateralism.
Besides NATO, European security and the relations with Russia, Afghanistan - the central military challenge to the Alliance - was the other main topic of the Munich Security Conference. The presence of General (ret.) James Jones, Head of the National Security Council, General David Petraeus, tasked with bringing to bear counterinsurgency in this theatre, and the new Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, clearly demonstrated the importance the Obama Administration places on this complicated conflict.
General Jones stressed that the challenges of the 21st century cannot be met by old-fashioned tools and the supreme importance of adapting the grand strategy to the changing challenges while not getting lost in tactics. A pragmatic combination of vision and resources that covers all tools of national security - military, economic, diplomatic and cultural - will be the guideline for the reform of the National Security Council President Obama has initiated. Indeed, Economic and Security Advisors will cooperate closely under the new administration and put the NSC at the crossroads of all these tools of international policy.
Just like the promise that, when drafting U.S. strategy in the interagency process, dissenting voices would again be heard, General Jones also called on U.S. allies to supply advice. As the strategic environment evolves, Jones said that "we must have the courage to change."
Click here for U.S. National Security Advisor General Jones' speech
In a frank speech President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan not only enumerated the progress since the downfall of the Taliban but also admitted that these achievements are at grave threat of being lost if NATO does not heed the Afghani call for a new strategy. Indeed, his call for the many agencies and foreign actors to finally get their act together and coordinate was almost desperate. General Jones strongly supported this demand.
Karzai identified three main reasons for this dramatic state of affairs: no concentration on the safe-havens of the Taliban and Islamic extremists, arbitrary behaviour of foreign forces impacting Afghani civilians, and a wrong-headed approach to the issue of poppy production. Indeed, two of the most important impediments to progress were the civilian deaths and arrests that erode trust in the coalition troops, and the lack of attention paid to establishing a solid police force until very recently. Still today, the presence of security contractors is hurting on both fronts as they often proceed by brute force and outpay possible good candidates for the Afghan police.
President Karzai rejected the claim that Afghanistan was a "narco-state" and a "failed state". In fact, he claimed, Afghanistan was a "destroyed state", brought down by decades of conflict imposed from abroad and did not draw any significant benefits from the drug trade. With help from the international community - especially if finally coordinated and focused on providing alternative livelihoods for Afghani farmers - this can be overcome. Hamid Karzai very much welcomed the new "regional approach" by President Obama, as only if Pakistan, Turkey, China, India and others get involved can a lasting stabilization be achieved, and Afghani refugees finally return to their home country rather than present a challenge to the country's neighbours.
Foreign Minister Qureishi of Pakistan, General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke seconded this emphasis on a regional approach that would finally encompass all stakeholders but also cautioned that success would be neither easy nor quick. But two key ingredients would finally be brought to the task, they promised: the integrity to address problems as they really exist rather than 'spin' the situation, and a matching of the rhetoric with the civilian and military resources supplied.
Minister Qureishi reminded the audience that the root of the current instability was to be found in the "crisis contagion" after1989 when the international community abandoned Afghanistan after the Mujahedeen had forced Soviet forces to withdraw. With no clear settlement and reconstruction in Afghanistan, and the large refugee population in Pakistan's tribal areas (FATA), Pakistan became infected. The new Pakistani government recognizes the terrorism as a grave threat, and will therefore put strong emphasis on fighting this menace. Qureishi expressed hope that when finally viewing the issues on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border as one bundle, progress might be in sight.
General Petraeus was very frank in admitting that the criticism of President Karzai and Minister Qureishi about ISAF's failure in reigning in terrorism and avoiding a slip in popular perceptions of the international mission was spot-on. He promised that the review of the U.S. strategy will sharpen the mission's focus. The CentCom Chief underlined that military action to provide security was an absolute prerequisite for progress on political and development issues. Therefore, in addition to more and more specialized troops, a ‘civilian surge' would be needed as well to strengthen the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). More forces, though, would not be enough, General Petraeus pointed out which was why the U.S. military's counterinsurgency doctrine will be fine-tuned to the situation in Afghanistan, leaving leeway for commanders on the ground to operationalize the ‘big ideas'.
The development and application of a coherent strategic concept would finally remedy what Ambassador Holbrooke identified as the great failure of the Afghanistan mission: going into war without having a strategy beyond the removal of the Taliban. Canadian Defence Minister MacKay seconded this opinion: without the ‘comprehensive approach' - that really is the ‘common-sense approach' - the NATO mission in Afghanistan is in peril. Yet, even with the new strategy that viewed the problem in regional terms - described by U.S. officials as "the Af-Pak issue" -Holbrooke cautioned that never in his career had he seen such a difficult task and that there will be no easy solution or magic formula. General Petraeus and Holbrooke, though, would be fully committed to making sure the error of taking the eye off Afghanistan as in 1989 and 2003 would not be repeated, as this time there would most certainly be fall-out on the security of the U.S. and its allies.
Over the past months, many had speculated that the 'Obama honeymoon' might end for Europeans as soon as Washington starts asking real contributions from its allies. The European response in Munich, however - from Sarkozy to the UK Ministers of Defence Hutton and Foreign Affairs Miliband, from Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski to German Defence Minister Jung, from ministers from Bulgaria and Greece - was one of unanimous resolve to step up to the task.
During the official conference dinner - hosted by the Bavarian Minister-President - Dr. Henry Kissinger, the icon of the international security community was awarded with the first Ewald von Kleist medal. Von Kleist - the last living member of the July 1944 revolt against Adolf Hitler - recalled that Dr. Kissinger attended the first Munich Security Conference 45 years ago, starting the strategic dialogue with international partners.
In his speech on February 6, Dr. Kissinger elaborated on nuclear disarmament.
"The end of the Cold War produced a paradoxical result: the threat of nuclear war between the superpowers has essentially disappeared. But the spread of technology - especially peaceful nuclear energy - has multiplied the feasibility of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability by separating Plutonium or from enriching the Uranium produced by peaceful nuclear reactors. The sharpening of ideological dividing lines and the persistence of unresolved regional conflicts have magnified the incentives to acquire nuclear weapons, especially by rogue states and non-states actors. The calculations of mutual insecurity that produced constraints during the Cold War do not apply with anything like the same degree to the new entrants in the nuclear field and even less so to non-state actors. Proliferation of nuclear weapons has become an overarching strategic problem for the contemporary period ... Considerations as these induced former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defence William J. Perry, former Secretary of State George Schultz and I to publish recommendations for systematically reducing and eventually eliminating the danger from nuclear weapons."
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, the conference's new Chairman who had skilfully fostered an atmosphere for productive and frank dialogue these past few days, summed it up well: Munich sent a signal of a new area of renewed dialogue and resolve in international relations. Indeed, in Munich spring had come early this year.
Exclusive WSN TV interviews
WSN TV conducted exclusive interviews with 18 experts on the main topics discussed at the conference. You can watch these at our website www.wsn-tv.com and also in our WSN TV website in YouTube. The video clips were produced by Dr. Michael Kueppers, Vice President of WSN TV.
- You can watch the eight interviews below
- Ten more interviews with Bruce Jackson, Christian Hacke, Gary Smith, J.D. Bindenagel, J.F. Lehman, Jackson Janes, Michael Stuermer, Robert E. Hunter, Ursula Plassnik, Werner Sonne you can watch on our web site WSN TV