The crisis in eastern Ukraine was the dominating topic of the 51st Munich Security Conference. The attendees engaged in discussions, which were controversial at times, about the causes of the crisis and potential solutions. For over 50 years, the conference has been a forum for the global dialogue on security policy.
Numerous heads of state and government, politicians from foreign affairs and defence, businesspeople and journalists from around the world came to the Bavarian capital for the conference this year. In addition to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Federal Government was represented by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Development Minister Gerd Müller.
Central topics on the agenda included the future of the European security architecture in view of the Ukraine crisis, the dramatic situation of refugees in many parts of the world and the worsening situation in the Middle East.
In the spotlight: the crisis in Ukraine
Foreign Minister Steinmeier held numerous talks with his counterparts and heads of state and government. On Saturday, he met Federal Chancellor Merkel, US Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin for talks on the situation in eastern Ukraine.
The crisis was also the topic of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on the fringes of the conference. After the meeting, Steinmeier said:
This is not only a crossroads with regard to Ukraine: if we look at the situation more closely, the crisis in eastern Ukraine could also be a crossroads for Europe, for the security architecture in Europe and for the entire European peace order as it has become established over the course of decades.
In his speech on the last day of the conference, the German Foreign Minister emphasised the importance of perseverance and endurance for a negotiated settlement. Steinmeier said that he considered supplying weapons to Ukraine “to not only involve great risk”, but also to be “counterproductive”.
I’m convinced that it would be irresponsible to discount what are perhaps the last chances of de-escalating the conflict. The bitter consequence would be the expansion and escalation of the conflict. [...] What we need is staying power and a broad horizon, not purportedly simple answers and quick fixes.
The situation in Syria
The Security Conference also discussed the situation in Syria. At the invitation of Foreign Minister Steinmeier, foreign ministers from France, the United Kingdom and the USA were briefed by Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, on the progress of his efforts to achieve a political settlement to the crisis in Syria and his negotiations on local ceasefires. Furthermore, De Mistura held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Munich.
On the fringes of the conference, Steinmeier also held discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister and Afghan President Ghani. Moreover, he held talks with Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi and UK Foreign Secretary Hammond.
Unparalleled host of crises
Prior to the conference, Steinmeier wrote in the “Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik” (ZfAS) that it was unforeseeable whether there would be any change to the “unprecedented host of crises” in the near future: on the contrary, crises were the new norm, he argued. “If we do not investigate the deeper causes of these crises, then we will pass up the chance to develop the ability to act and react better in the future”, Steinmeier continued.
German foreign policy must have the courage and willingness to assume more responsibility, the Minister went on, adding:
Foreign policy can achieve something even in conflicts that are in stalemate, through sound judgement, patience, integrity and the unfaltering willingness to negotiate and to strive to see the world from the perspective of the other. And we need to be aware that there are always alternatives to war.
Focal areas: Ukraine and the Middle East
Numerous events took place at the Munich Security Conference on various foreign and security policy issues, including disarmament, Ebola and refugees, as well as cyber, energy and climate security and combating corruption.
Prior to the conference, the Chair of the Munich Security Conference, Former Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, said that the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East as well as “new terrorist phenomena” such as ISIS were putting the rules of the international order to the test. He therefore hoped that the 51st Munich Security Conference would inject momentum into ending conflicts and into strengthening the global order.