- The Munich Security Conference is happening February 16-18.
- Military chiefs and world leaders will be discussing and confronting each other about the world’s most pressing security issues.
- Here’s why you should care about what goes on there.
Dozens of world leaders and security chiefs are gathered at Munich’s luxury Hotel Bayerischer Hof this weekend in what’s been considered the “Academy Awards for security policy wonks.”
The Munich Security Conference comprises three days of debates, speeches, and sideline meetings regarding international defence policy.
It’s been compared to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but has been described as even more important, because the plans and ideas people talk about there actually happen.
Attendees include military chiefs and world leaders, as well as CEOs, human rights campaigners, and environmentalists.
It is for this reason Munich is the “Academy Awards for security policy wonks,” Politico quoted a US NATO ambassador as saying.
Here’s why you should care.
World leaders openly call each other out
In a speech on the sidelines of last year’s conference, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on European countries not to listen to Donald Trump’s demands that they raise their defence spending on NATO.
He said: “It has been the American message for many, many years. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this. I don’t like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military.”
Juncker’s call appeared not to have worked on some countries, though, as multiple nations including France and Denmark have since pledged to increase their NATO spending, according to the organisation’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.
At the same conference in 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed what he perceived to be the US’s monopoly over international politics, saying it had “overstepped its national borders in every way.”
Then-US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said at the time that the George W. Bush White House was “surprised and disappointed” by Putin’s remarks, while then-Defence Secretary Robert Gates joked: “Old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.”
Deals get done – unlike at talking shops elsewhere
Significant foreign policy has also been negotiated and discussed on the conference’s fringes.
Then-US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met twice during the three-day conference in 2015 to discuss whether or not a deal could be made over the country’s nuclear development.
Such talks eventually culminated in the historic nuclear deal made between the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran later that July.
Last year, foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France also brokered a ceasefire at a fringe meeting at the same conference last year after months of heavy fighting and diplomatic stalemate. The truce, however, was short-lived.
The four countries plan to hold a similar meeting this weekend,Reuters reported.
This is a contrast to gatherings like Davos, where grand ideas get a lot of coverage but often result in little concrete action.
The guest list is AAA – and features almost all the world’s nuclear-armed nations
Representatives from the US, UK, Russia, China, Israel, Germany, and France are all attending this year’s conference.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to deliver a speech on Saturday on Britain’s commitment to maintaining security ties to Europe after Brexit.
A slate of foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif, Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel, and Saudi Arabia’s Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir will also be there.
Delegates from the US include Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Advisor HR McMaster, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Obama-era figures such as Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry are also going.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde will attend too.
It’s hard to say exactly what will come of this conference, not least because the most interesting meetings often take place in private or on the sidelines. But there’s certainly plenty at stake.
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