Restoring Order

A Lumbering Approach

Pence Merkel AP
The feelings are getting warmer, but will it last? Picture Source: AP Photo

If trust is the sum of optimism and positive experiences, then the Munich Security Conference marked a first step toward revitalizing trans-Atlantic relationships.

The 48-hour summit didn’t achieve a breakthrough regarding such important questions as the fight against radical Islamic terrorists, the conflict in the Ukraine or the international refugee crisis. But, on the positive side, fears that U.S. government representatives would question the rules of the global order – in the style of President Donald Trump – proved unjustified.

The promise of U.S. Vice President Michael Pence that the United States is firmly committed to NATO and will fulfill its responsibilities in the trans-Atlantic alliance should be understood for what it is: an attempt to normalize a tense relationship. Nothing more, but also nothing less.

The fact that the trans-Atlantic partners are once again speaking with each other, rather than over each other, is probably the most important outcome of the Munich Security Conference.

Of course, many questions remain unanswered after the conference. And to be sure: It can’t be excluded that with a single tweet, Donald Trump could cause new irritation. He will most likely remain the most unpredictable president in United States history. But it is possible to build on Vice President Pence’s avowal regarding NATO. The approach will be lengthy and laborious, but it is not impossible.

It once again became apparent how important the role of the German chancellor will be in the time to come. At her first official meeting with representatives of the U.S. government, Ms. Merkel reacted with calm composure but also with clarity to the new ‘America First’ policy. In a bit of self-criticism, the chancellor said could not deny that NATO members had agreed to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

At the same time, the discussion shouldn’t be too narrow-minded. Other expenditures for promoting stability should be considered – for example, Germany’s outlays in the double-digit millions for getting a grip on the refugee crisis. It remains unclear whether and how America and the other NATO partners will come to an agreement on the issue of the 2-percent obligation. But Ms. Merkel opened the door for further discussions with the U.S. president. Now it’s Mr. Trump’s turn to react.

The fact that the trans-Atlantic partners are once again speaking with each other, rather than over each other, is probably the most important outcome of the Munich Security Conference. Only in this way can lost trust be restored. And that is desperately needed. Because in view of a host of geopolitical challenges, a functioning trans-Atlantic alliance remains the most important precondition for assuring freedom and prosperity in the world.

To contact the author: afhueppe@handelsblatt.com 

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