Come down from your high horse!

A review of the Munich Security Conference 2019

by Karl Müller

In the past few days I have read two different types of texts. One is the book “The Putin Interviews – Oliver Stone interviews Vladimir Putin” (ISBN 1510733434, 9781510733435) which was published in September last year. The American director, screenwriter and producer Oliver Stone visited Russian President Putin four times between July 2015 and February 2017 and recorded interviews with him over several days for a documentary film. Now these interviews are also available in German in book form.
On the other hand, the speeches of numerous politicians at this year’s Munich Security Conference, in particular the speeches of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the British War Minister Gavin Williamson, the US Vice President Michael Richard Pence and the former US Vice President Joseph R. Biden – but also those of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the representative of the People’s Republic of China, Yang Jiechi. These speeches are easy to find on the website of the Security Conference (https://www.securityconference.de/aktivitaeten/munich-security-conference/msc-2019/reden/), Joseph R. Biden’s speech so far only as a video (https://www.securityconference.de/en/media-library/munich-security-conference-2019/video/statement-by-joeseph-r-biden-jr-followed-by-qa/).

Strong NATO instead of UN Charter?

These speeches and the event in Munich as a whole have left the following impressions:

  • The initial appearance of the head of the Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, in a blue hooded sweater with the EU stars at the front seemed almost grotesque. If this is how the unity of the EU is to be evoked – with a hooded sweater – then the ingenuity truly is no longer great.
  • Among the representatives of the great powers, it was only Yang Jiechi, the member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China responsible for foreign relations, who explicitly referred to the Charter of the United Nations. For China, the Charter is the indispensable basis for regulating and shaping international relations. The representatives of the NATO states lacked this reference. They were interested in a military alliance that is as well-equipped as possible and prepared for future conflicts with “competitors” of NATO. The US Vice President as well as the British War Minister expressly spoke of their claim to “leadership” in the world; the representatives of Germany want to lead “multilaterally”, but no less against (!) the “competitors”. The NATO representatives demanded subordination to a “rules-based order”1 and very probably have in mind the “rules” they had dictated so far, not the UN Charter and international law; for these oblige to renounce the use and threat of force in interstate relations, guarantee the sovereignty of states as well as the right of self-determination of peoples and demand the same rights for all states, large and small.

British War Minister practises Russia-Bashing

  • Interestingly, this year the War Ministers of Germany and Great Britain jointly opened the conference. Ursula von der Leyen said nothing new. She conjured up the unity of NATO, promised higher German expenditure for the army, increasing German participation in military activities, an end to the restrictions on arms export policy and generally an end to the German “restraint” that still exists today. That she accused Russia of aggressiveness has become part of her standard – but she did not say much more about Russia. That, by the way, applied to all German speakers. The British politician was quite different. Not only did he talk about the world expecting British “leadership” – which, by the way, was not confirmed by any other speaker – he also drew a very sinister picture of Russian politics and did not spare with threats. Otherwise, he was in complete agreement with his German counterpart. In a commentary Willy Wimmer, the former Secretary of State in the German Ministry of Defence, in a commentary reminded of a Royal Navy radio message to Imperial Germany: “Friends yesterday, friends today, friends forever …”, a few weeks before the British declaration of war to the same Imperial Germany (https://de.sputniknews.com/kommentare/20190214323957162-sicherheitskonferenz-verantwortung-konflikt/).

Von der Leyen annoyed when someone has a different opinion

  • Almost more interesting than von der Leyens’ speech was her reaction to a question in the short discussion. She said that Russia was trying to divide NATO. According to the Minister, this is apparent in the social networks. Von der Leyen very probably meant that not everyone, and certainly not in Germany, would take part in the “Bogeyman Russia” campaign. The minister was concerned about this, and she also said that she was thinking about what could be done. The British intelligence initiative “Integrity Initiative” (cf. Current Concerns No. 3 from 4 February and No. 4 from 21 February) will therefore also be entirely in her interest.2
  • This year there was the largest US presence to date in terms of numbers. However, they were not representatives of the US government, but of Congress, i.e. the legislature. More than 50 of them attended the Munich Security Conference. In addition, there was the former US Vice President Biden. His speech showed what he was all about: Creating an atmosphere against the incumbent US president and to promote himself and his own political faction, the war faction. His words sounded “mild”, the content was not. He promised already now that soon everything would be different in US politics. Generally, one could get the impression that the strong US presence was almost entirely the presence of one political half, namely the anti-Trump faction. Perhaps a meeting to prepare for the fall of the president? At any rate: It was a deliberate affront to the incumbent US administration to allow a leader of the opposition to speak at such length. That was no practise with any other country, not this year and not in the years before.

Angela Merkel presents herself as “leader of the free world.”

  • The German Chancellor’s speech fit in well with this. The fact that she was committed to Nord Stream 2 may be to her credit. However, that was not her point. She once again set herself apart from the policy of the US President and received “standing ovations” for it. The German-language mainstream media raved how much she would do justice to her Obama mission as “leader of the free world”, translated into reality: Imperialist globalism.
  • Whether the incumbent US Vice President Pence is still on the side of his president or has already changed sides, remains to be seen. The fact is that his speech was intolerable. He divided the world into “the good” and “the bad”, saw himself as active on behalf of God, threatened Iran and Venezuela again massively and appealed just as fervently to the other NATO states not only to spend more for their armies, but also to support the (planned) actions against Iran and Venezuela. The media response to him was negative, as he was assigned to the incumbent US president.

On the high horse …

No less important than the contents of what was said, was the attitude of the NATO speakers: Down from the high horse. Do NATO leaders still believe they are the masters (male or female) of the world and have to decide what is good and what is bad, and what should happen on this planet? They all used the same rhetoric. And with their talk of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human dignity, they are committing a terrible abuse with such important words.

… but also outlooks

Yes, unfortunately it has to be said: The only words that brought people together in the relationship between the great powers came from the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Everyone can also read his speech (www.mid.ru/en/press_service/minister_speeches/-/asset_publisher/7OvQR5KJWVmR/content/id/3520272). Lavrov mentioned some unpleasant facts by name, but also pointed out again what perspectives there were for all states and peoples of the Eurasian continent: Namely not that of a bitter competition (this is how it is seen in the NATO states), but a cooperation in as many areas as possible with simultaneous acceptance of the independence and sovereignty of all states and peoples.
And that brings me to the book with the Putin interviews. I highly recommend reading this book. A politician who is demonised by those responsible in the NATO states shows himself to be a statesman who meets his counterpart on equal terms, prudently, moderately, responsibly, knowledgeably down to the last detail and carefully studying – without the enemy images so widespread in our country. This entails a recovery from the Munich Security Conference 2019.    •

1    The explanations of the term “rules-based order” range from a simple translation, i.e. a “rule-based order”, to a hegemony under US American auspices. A blogger of the US Council on Foreign Relations wrote on 3 May 2016 on foreignaffairs.com (“World Order: What, Exactly, are the Rules?”) to explain the concept that “there exists a Western liberal international order whose distinctive values, norms, laws, and institutions were designed to inform and govern state conduct. This order originated in Europe but achieved full expression only with the U.S. rise to global leadership (or hegemony), as the post-1945 United States combined power and purpose to forge a multilateral world order, using a mixture of persuasion, incentives, and coercion to do so.” In the English-language edition of Wikipedia, the following can be read: “In international relations, the liberal international economic order (LIEO), also known as the rules-based order or the US-led liberal international order, is a notion that contemporary international relations are organised around several guiding principles, such as open markets, multilateral institutions, liberal democracy, and leadership by the United States and its allies. The order was established in the aftermath of World War II, and is often associated with Pax Americana.” It is therefore understandable that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, in the discussion that followed his presentation at the Security Conference in Munich on 16 February, said the following: “Our Western colleagues use the terms ‘international law’ and‚ norms of international law’ only rarely these days. Instead, they are talking about a ‘rules-based order’ claiming that it is the same thing. However, they prefer using their own term rather than ‘international law.’ As I see it, they do not want to comply with international law as it is sealed in, say, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been ratified by all members of the international community. They only want to use the ‘rules’ which they have invented themselves in order to interpret the convention in violation of its established procedures.”
2    A look at current German textbooks for political education shows just how far the standardisation process has come. Here, there is no longer factual information, but the language regulations of the NATO states are adopted without criticism. For example, in the book “Zeitfragen. Politische Bildung für berufliche Schulen” (“Current concerns. Political education for vocational schools”) by the renowned Klett publishing house in Stuttgart on page 211 about the Ukraine conflict. One task, for example, is: “For the EU, the integration of the Crimea by Russia is an annexation and violates international law. It imposed economic and political sanctions (punitive measures) against Russia for this step. List arguments with which such measures can be justified.” Are German students only allowed to get familiar with NATO’s point of view?