MUNICH (TURKISH JOURNAL) – This year’s 55th Security Conference with the theme “Westlessness” was held in Munich with a lot more urgent issues on the agenda in 2020 not the least of which are continuing and imminent threats to international security worldwide from China and Russia as well as issues due to the touch and go relationship between the EU and the U.S. The term “Westlessness” was coined by the German policy players who view the current world order as one that has a diminished role for international institutions especially in Europe.
While U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemingly ignored the glaring differences between America and the EU in his speech – German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized Trump’s “America First” foreign policy which Steinmeier said came at the expense of European allies. As Steinmeier explained: “Our closest ally, the United States of America, under the current administration, rejects the very concept of the international community.” The German president added: “Great again” but at the expense of “neighbors and partners,” further adding: “Thinking and acting this way hurts us all.”
The U.S. secretary of state in response to Steinmeier’s speech criticized what he labeled as ‘European pessimism’ about the U.S. government that Pompeo said was not factual. Pompeo in part of his speech said: “I’m happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliances is grossly overexaggerated. The West is winning, and we’re winning together.” In contrast, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas directed a critical message to the U.S., saying America is taking a confrontational role while China and Russia are rising in a new world order. As Maas said: “Decisions about the future of the Middle East are made in Astana or Sochi instead of in Geneva or New York.” Referring to Kazakhstan and the Black Sea region of Sochi favored by Russian President Putin.
In terms of uniting on global issues, Pompeo said the U.S. has tried to discourage the EU from doing business with the Chinese tech giant Huawei to create a 5G infrastructure and also recommended Europe not become too reliant on Russian gas from the new pipeline project Nord Stream 2. Experts have said the EU views Trump’s lack of consensus and his overall approach to foreign policy as coercive with tariff increases and threats of imposing sanctions on American allies that has led to a mistrust and negative view of working with the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, reactions from the Europeans to Pompeo’s speech were muted and appeared to raise even more doubt than consensus. As one senior European official, speaking on condition of anonymity said about Pompeo’s speech that it: “reinforced the concerns that Steinmeier raised.” The same official added: “I think I heard the words ‘we’re defending sovereignty’ 13 times, and you wonder what that means.” Top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said: “The reality is that we’d be better positioned with the Europeans if they felt they were in common cause with us and we weren’t just lecturing them.”
On the issue of a worldwide threat from China, Europe reported in this year’s Security Conference on the issue of U.S. and Chinese supremacy but the EU referenced the fact that the Trump administration’s approach to the Chinese threat is not sufficient. Both U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed a warning to the international community about China’s ultimate aim of domination over the Asia-Pacific region. Esper said that the EU must be just as concerned with the threat China presents in terms of its commercial and military expansion and he said he also mentioned this at the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in Brussels.
Esper explained that the “United States does not seek conflict with China” but seeks a mutual cooperation in areas beneficial to both countries while making it clear that China must adhere to respect for international laws. Esper emphasized “In fact, we look for areas of cooperation when our intersts converge in the hope that they will choose the other path they didn’t take twenty years ago.”
The defense secretary cited the fact that the U.S. sent 18 tons of medicine to China to combat the coronavirus in 2020 and that the U.S. has pledged $100 million to China and other nations affected by the virus. But he cautioned that the behavior of the Chinese government has included technology theft, corruption, repression of minorities as well as undermining nations, global financial institutions and universities as well.
Also, Esper explained that the top priority of the Defense Department is in implementing the National Defense Strategy. He said “The NDS states we are now in a era of Great Power Competition with our main challengers China then Russia and we must prepare again for high intensity warfare.” He added that “second tier priorities are rogue states like North Korea and Iran.”
Esper’s message is that it’s necessary for countries to work together to solve their “toughest problems” but he also cautioned that the U.S. is well aware that “the PRC’s growing economic, military and diplomatic power often manifest itself in ways that are threatening, coercive and counter to the rules-based international order.” He cited as examples, China’s seizing and militarizing islands in the South China Sea and warned that China is rapidly modernizing their armed forces while seeking to use emerging technolgies to alter the landscape of power and “reshape the world in their favor…and often at the expense of others.” Esper added that the People’s Republic of China’s mission is to undermine democracy worldwide and that vigilance is key to countering this major threat. Esper commented: “The global community should be concerned about the party’s use of AI and other cutting edge technologies to surveil and repress Muslim minorities, journalists and pro-democracy protesters. China is now exporting these tools worldwide in a manner that could bolster other authoritarian regimes.” He added that the reason China has been able to rise to such power is due to its acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) decades ago. The defense secretary said: “As we speak, Communist China is exerting financial and political pressure publicly and privately on many Indo-Pacific and European nations, large and small while pursuing new strategic relationshiops worldwide.” Esper added: “The smaller the nation, the heavier the hand of Beijing.”
In conclusion, Esper cautioned that it is crucial that “we – as an international community – wake up to the challenges presented by China’s manipulation of the longstanding international, rules-based order that has benefited all of us for many decades.” He added that the Communist Party and its associated organs including the People’s Liberation Army are increasingly operating in theaters outside its borders, including Europe and seeking advantage by any means, and at any cost.”
In the meantime, the security conference also served as a wake-up call for the EU as EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell sounded the alarm that EU governments must be ready to intervene in international crises or risk paralysis in their foreign policy. Both Borrell and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agree that Europe must take a stronger stance on international issues in order to be considered a major player in foreign policymaking. As Borrell emphasized: “Europe must develop an appetite for power.” He added, “We should be able to act…not everyday making comments, expressing concern.” In addition, French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned that the EU must prioritize its own security without relying on the U.S. as it did in the past because he cited Trump’s previous speech where he said the EU must spend more on their own defense.