Munich security conference: federal president as admonisher

At the opening, Frank-Walter Steinmeier warns against destructive dynamics. He fears a new arms race between countries.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference Photo: Tobioas Hase/dpa

The Munich Security Conference began on Friday with a thoughtful speech by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He urgently warned against an increasingly destructive dynamic in world politics. "From the goal of international cooperation to create a more peaceful world, we are moving further away every year," he said.

Referring to the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of World War II 75 years ago, Steinmeier repeated his words from three weeks ago at Yad Vashem: "I wish I could say: We Germans have learned from history forever. But I can’t say that when hatred and agitation are spreading." Today, the evil spirits of the past are showing themselves in new guises: ethnic thinking, racism, anti-Semitism. So it is not only in Germany that we are challenged anew to "defend our elementary understanding of the dignity of every human being and to fight for our open societies".

He also wished, Steinmeier continued, "to be able to say: We have also learned from history forever as a community of states, after 1945 and then after 1989." But instead, he said, the idea of "competition between the great powers" was once again shaping reality. The traces could be traced back to the endless wars in the Middle East and in Libya, which were full of victims.

The German president criticized the superpowers Russia, China and the United States with unusually clear words. Russia, for example, "has once again made military force and the forcible shifting of borders on the European continent a means of politics." China, he said, also accepts international law "only selectively where it does not run counter to its own interests."

Steinmeier accused the United States of "rejecting the idea of an international community" under Donald Trump’s administration. The fatal motto is "Great again" – if necessary at the expense of neighbors and partners. Yet the idea of a global order alone offers the chance "to formulate convincing answers to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Retreating to the national, on the other hand, would lead to a dead end, "to a truly dark time.

Steinmeier commits to NATO’s 2 percent target

The world is about to fall back into the classic security dilemma, Steinmeier stated: "More mistrust, more armaments, in the end less security, these are the inevitable consequences." He added that this would also include a new nuclear arms race, "which would not only produce more weapons, but above all more nuclear-armed powers."

Steinmeier warned that the loss of diplomacy, of the pillars of the previous security architecture, of arms control treaties and international agreements could not be compensated by tanks, fighter jets and medium-range missiles, no matter how great the effort.

Nevertheless, he explicitly acknowledged NATO’s goal that each member state’s military spending should be at least two percent of its gross domestic product. "I think the effort to achieve it is right and necessary," he said. For the Federal Republic, this would mean a drastic increase in the defense budget.

The Munich Security Conference will continue until Sunday. The appearances of French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday at noon are eagerly awaited. In all, according to organizers, "more than 500 high-ranking international decision-makers" will attend the meeting, which is considered the most important forum for international security policy.

Also on Saturday at noon, the traditional demonstration of the Action Alliance against the NATO "security" conference will take place again this year. The organizers expect up to 4,000 people to gather under the slogan "Everything must change! No to war and environmental destruction!" through the center of Munich.

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