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Podcast: Post-MSC discussion: Picking up the pieces

Top policy thinkers discuss challenges for global security and the transatlantic relationship.

The Hertie School of the Governance convened top foreign policy thinkers from the United States and Germany on 18 February, directly after the 55th Munich Security Conference. Discussants reflected on the key issues, conclusions and critical challenges to international security raised at the conference, before a packed audience hosted by the school’s Centre for International Security Policy (CISP).

The post-MSC discussion at the Hertie School offered an insider’s view into the conference, bringing together Nicholas Burns, former US Ambassador to NATO and Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Daniela Schwarzer, Director of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin, and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, Professor for Security Policy and Diplomatic Practice at the Hertie School and Chairman of the MSC.

The 2019 MSC gathered dozens of heads of state and government  and foreign and defence ministers from all over the world to talk about security challenges such as rising tensions among the great powers, the demise of crucial arms control treaties, the effects of climate change, and new technologies.

Much of the discussion at the Hertie School surrounded “picking up the pieces” – a challenge posited in the Munich Security Report 2019, The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?, distributed at the conference and prepared by the MSC team. Lead author of the report was Hertie School Postdoctoral Researcher Tobias Bunde of the CISP.  

The relationship between Europe and the United States has suffered in recent years amid growing populist, nationalist tendencies under the Presidency of Donald Trump, as well as from similarly inward-looking sentiments from politicians in Europe and elsewhere, Ischinger noted. 

Presenting the book “Towards Mutual Security”, produced five years ago for the 50th anniversary of the MSC, to former NATO Ambassador Nicholas Burns before he spoke, Ischinger noted how the world had changed in such a short period.  Today, Ischinger said, “We are living in a totally different world – there was no-one around in Munich this week who spoke about ‘towards mutual security’. I think there were a lot of people who spoke about ‘our security’ and ‘their security’ and what we are going to be doing against each other, rather than together with each other, so this is not a very happy development. But that’s exactly why we are here and why we need to talk about it.”

In his introductory remarks, Hertie School President Henrik Enderlein said, “Listening to each other and talking to each other is probably the biggest achievement of the Munich Security Conference.” 

Burns said the speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been a compelling rallying cry for transatlantic cooperation. Merkel’s speech, greeted by a standing ovation, had “called out” US President Donald Trump for his disregard of this relationship, Burns said,  remarking that America had drifted far “at least in the last two years” from the relationship that had been so important for the last seventy. “What I heard her say was that to have a healthy transatlantic relationship, we have to have respect for one another. … I heard a Chancellor talking about Germany’s deep conviction that the European Union is not only here to stay, but ought to have a partner in the United States of America who will respect it and support it, and help it to develop.”

DGAP Director Daniela Schwarzer said of Merkel’s speech, “People are craving for this kind of signal. They want to hear this ambition, they want to have something to work on, they want a direction and then to implement. So it was an important signal.” But she also noted that many of the major challenges to security not only remain unresolved, but also lack any plan of action to tackle them.

On “picking up the pieces”, Schwarzer said, “There are a number of people or countries or governments who want to pick up the pieces of the puzzle, but they know that it’s not about putting the same puzzle together again. Because if we take the puzzle as a picture for order – the international order or the European order – we know that we will have to reshape some pieces of that puzzle and even create new pieces, or that we have to add a few more pieces, because there are other viewpoints out there. There is a huge political endeavour ahead of us.”

But Burns emphasised that Europe should not lose faith in the United States’ commitment to its partnership, although it may have to wait some time for the pendulum to swing. “Please believe in us, please have patience with us,” he said.  “I think that Germany and Europe will have to pick up a lot of those broken pieces over the next two years. …  We hope that in two years America will turn back  toward Europe and towards alliance with Europe.”

Read the MSC report here.

This event was hosted in cooperation with the Munich Security Conference.