The recent Munich conference proved that Europe feels more relieved with Joe Biden at the helm of the White House. But a simple shift of political gears and an increase in hopeful rhetoric cannot be a game changer. The big global challenges remain there
By Ditmir Bushati *
The Munich Security Conference a year ago was the last international event that took place before the world closed, due to COVID-19. The main title of the conference “No West” can not fit the frictions and tensions within the Euro-Atlantic family and the international order in an increasingly polar world.
Last Friday, world leaders gathered again in Munich, this time practically, in a smaller format, to discuss in particular US-European cooperation in the post-Trump era. This time with a new title, “Beyond Instability” and without the participation of representatives of Russia and China. More or less, this was a return to the early Munich format for addressing security challenges within the Euro-Atlantic area.
Participants welcomed America’s return and its irreplaceable contribution towards international cooperation. This is evidenced not only in the strong message conveyed by President Biden, but in the reunification of the US with the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, as well as the promise to contribute $ 4 billion to the COVAX global scheme for a fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
It must be acknowledged that the Pandemic exploded multilateralism further destroying the international economic order. At the same time, detecting the inability of the international order to adequately cope with COVID-19 or climate change.
José Saramago in his novel “Seeing” tells us that epidemics do not transform societies, they rather help us understand the truth about our societies. Thus, the states behaved in a Hobbesian manner, though not by pointing swords at each other. The response to the virus was in most cases local, which was illustrated by the closure of borders, the establishment of control over exports to the health sector, the accumulation of reserves of protective equipment and vaccination policy, which remains linked to the needs of each country.
Although the Pandemic forced us to imagine ourselves living in a common world, none of the Great Powers sought solutions in the multilateral system. Viewed from this angle, the ‘Munich Consensus 2021’ based on the motto “Beyond instability”, is about the necessity of multilateral institutions and the rule-based international order to address the challenges facing our world.
After the Cold War, the world was placed in a new international system marked by three forces: geopolitical, economic and technological. Namely, American supremacy, the free market, and the Internet revolution. Everyone seemed to be working together to create a more open and prosperous world. The bloody wars in the former Yugoslavia, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US, the global financial crisis, the unprecedented refugee crisis and now the Pandemic have shaken the foundations of the international order.
Although the current situation requires a shared vision, rooted in liberal values, this is not enough to bring about the necessary change imposed by the need to address the challenges of the 21st century. In addition to the consensus on the need for better coordination of key actors Euro-Atlantic family in addressing key security issues, the Munich Conference also highlighted areas where their interests and priorities differ.
US President Biden proposed a new partnership with Europe, an alliance of democracies in competition with China and Russia. More than a show of American extraordinaryness, President Biden’s powerful message demonstrates above all the potential of the United States to steer and direct the Euro-Atlantic alliance toward the challenges of the future.
While French President Macron noted that the US and Europe are close allies and share a common worldview, however, their priorities are not always the same. Macron recalled that the US, since the time of President Obama, has moved towards the Pacific, while Europe has a larger footprint in the Mediterranean and Africa.
Acknowledging this reality, President Macron returned to his thesis on the need to change NATO’s “strategic concept” in response to emerging global challenges such as cyber defense, data and critical infrastructure, and the need to reform European institutions and policies, so that Europe can achieve “military sovereignty”.
The Munich conference proved that Europe feels more relieved with Joe Biden at the helm of the White House. But a simple shift of political gears and an increase in hopeful rhetoric cannot be a game changer. The big global challenges remain there. Within a decade, security issues will be increasingly acute and closely linked to climate change, data, artificial intelligence, cyber defense, critical infrastructure rather than the deployment of marine troops or capabilities.
Although the Allies may disagree on every issue, they fully agree on the basic principles and values to be cultivated, despite the challenge posed by countries like China, Russia or Iran. Let us hope that this will also form the basis on which the Euro-Atlantic alliance will be renewed. At the same time, this renewal will materialize in the Western Balkans, not only in the face of third parties, but above all as an investment in the stalled process of democratic transformation, sustainable economic development and EU membership. /ibna
* Ditmir Bushati is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania.