MSC 2018: getting to grips with geopolitics
By Schoni Song
The 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC), which took place from 16 February to 18 February, brought together statesmen and women with security and defense experts to try and answer some of the most important questions of this uncertain era.
This year it seems there were enough crises and conflicts for three Munich Security Conferences—and hence, it was a three-day event. In fact, the conference ended up producing far more question marks than clear-cut solutions.
As the event proceeded, the conference turned into a contrarian battleground for much heated debate between Israel and Iran, between the US and Russia, and between Turkey and the Kurds to name a few.
Former US Secretary of State, John F. Kerry talks with President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid (Photo: MSC)
Meanwhile, the number of refugees was on the rise, new weapons were being developed, and nuclear arsenals were being modernized at different parts of the world. And there were angry tweets being sent in and out of the conference chambers.
Part of the polemics arose from the tensions bubbling up across the political contours of the Transatlantic. For decades, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have used the MSC to highlight their perennial commitment to joint security.
But the advent of Trumpism and his administration’s repeated criticism of European defense expenditure—or lack thereof—has been going on for quite some time. That crack in the alliance coupled with what many cosmopolitan Europeans have deemed a “hawkish” US foreign policy only seemed to make the problem more unsolvable.
UK Prime Minister, Theresa May (Photo: MSC)
Though Europe remains dependent on the NATO—and by extension the US—for security, persistent tensions with Washington seemed to have convinced many European officials that they need to start preparing for a future security architecture without the United States.
Many statesmen brought props to make their point. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waved a piece of drone, Petro Poroshenko brought an EU flag, and Japanese Foreign Minister Toro Kono showed photographs of North Korean tankers. These provided the attending journalists with good pictures and added fuel to the fire of heated dialogues.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and MSC Chairman and conference moderator, Wolfgang Ischinger (Photo MSC)
Tech was an interesting side theme that ran through the entire conference. “Sophia” the robot opened a debate on artificial intelligence in conflict. The co-founder of big data firm Palantir, Alexander Karp, discussed how to use Silicon Valley’s innovations of European defense, and Human Rights Watch’s Mary Wareham warned of killer robots.
The panels featured much expertise, but the question of whether to welcome these technological advances and how to best regulate them was still up in the air by the end of the session.
Chairwoman of the Minjoo Party of Korea, Rep. Choo Mi-ae and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Council of Federation, Sergey Kislyak during a panel discussion (Photo: MSC)
“The main event is what’s happening behind the scenes” is an immutable truism of MSC. And one only needs to be present at a single session of the MSC to understand just how true that is.
It is perhaps the only conference where the audience shrinks when the UN Secretary General takes the stage. The only difference is that the absent delegates were not out sightseeing in the cold and sleet.
Instead, they were busy with hundreds of ‘bilaterals’—unofficial and sometimes secretive meetings between delegations. So far, the world has not been informed of any new deals emerging from these discussions, but it is possible that new policies or arrangements have been set in motion earlier this month in Munich.
The writer is a program officer at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. - Ed.