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A world in shatters or rejuvenated multilateralism? 

The Bayerischer Hof hotel, venue of the Munich Security Conference

The Bayerischer Hof hotel, venue of the Munich Security Conference, © dpa

14.02.2019 - Article

At the 55th Munich Security Conference, the focus is on the future of the rules-based world order.

The wars in Yemen and Syria, Russia’s and the United States’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the situation in Venezuela – the list of international flashpoints is long. However, this year’s Munich Security Conference will not only revolve around particular international challenges. The multilateral order as a whole is experiencing arguably its gravest crisis since the Second World War. Many are therefore looking to Munich not only for analysis and appeals, but also for vision and real ways forward.

Searching for direction in a disorienting world

The Munich Security Conference has been a key meeting point for the global security community for decades and serves as a barometer for the state of the international order. To judge by the numbers keen to attend this year, that state is one of peril. Some 600 experts are expected in Munich, including 35 heads of state and government and 80 foreign and defence ministers.

One question will be at the heart of the many speeches, discussions and meetings:

Are we seeing the end of the rules-based international order rooted in cooperation, compliance with recognised norms and collaboration within shared institutions? And what would a world look like in which the established rules of international cooperation no longer applied? How are we to tackle global challenges, like climate protection or nuclear disarmament, if national egoism wins out over the urge to cooperate and compromise?

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: “redouble support for multilateralism”

Given these global challenges, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas maintains, there is no alternative to international cooperation and a rules-based order. That said, some things do need to change. The necessary changes to the international system will require new alliances and greater engagement from committed multilateralists.

As Maas and France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wrote in the run-up to the Munich Security Conference, the global political order “must be more inclusive and effective in order to deliver tangible successes for people around the world”. (Read the full article here.)

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in New York, 26 September 2018
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in New York, 26 September 2018© Florian Gaertner/photothek.net


In a speech on the opening day of the conference (15 February), Maas is set to further outline his vision for rejuvenated multilateralism and advocate the view that “pursuing legitimate, national interests and protecting the collective property of humankind are fully compatible, not mutually exclusive”.

The countries of Europe in particular, he says, stand ready to prove that compatibility by shouldering more responsibility for the rules-based order. The Minister intends to use his many meetings at the Munich Security Conference to advance his idea of an “alliance for multilaterism”.

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