The Munich Security Conference returns to its roots as it kicks off in 2021: What challenges does the West face and how can they be overcome? If you look at the last year in the distance from today, that won’t necessarily be expected. Because in 2020, the conference was still under the cumbersome concept of “no West”. At that time, people asked where the West had disappeared and what the world would look like without the West. But one man is making the difference now: Joe Biden. How would the convention be designed if it weren’t for him, but Donald Trump in swing states with a zero-point ratio were critical to the elections?
Chancellor Merkel’s saying that “we Europeans really should take our destiny into our own hands” is probably quoted often. Insight the chancellor gained in 2017 after 12 years as a counselor, but with no consequences so far. You only have to wait four years and then there will be someone you can count on who seems to have been the true foreign policy motto of the Merkel government. Then came luckily: Joe Biden.
The Biden Doctrine
The US President appeared confident at the Munich Security Conference. First he announced that the United States was back on the international stage and immediately combined this with his country’s claim to leadership. It is important to approach opponents from a position of strength. For Biden, the two most powerful authoritarian regimes, China and Russia, are the two competitors in different political spheres. China threatens the economic development of other countries and Russia is the cornerstone of its democratic system.
These are two aspects of the Biden Doctrine: Foreign policy and international cooperation must strengthen the American middle class and the democratic system. To implement them, European allies must be consulted closely once again and NATO should become the central institution for political coordination. A few days ago, the defense ministers gave the green light. NATO wants to deal with the most important political and strategic issues this year. Biden backed this plan with a clear commitment to mutual assistance, and it is the core of NATO: Article 5.
Global Tasks and Great Power Struggles
Biden divided the challenges facing the West into global issues that prevented a return to a world of blocs – the epidemic, climate change, nuclear proliferation – and superpower conflicts. The latest war will be fought between the United States as well as allies and China over trade, investment and economic cooperation. Biden says the democracies are superior together. American prosperity requires adherence to some international rules, open markets and secure patents. According to the broad consensus in the United States, China is constantly playing a pernicious role here. There is no higher arbitrator. So the West should clarify this on its own. That is why the disappointment with the EU-China investment agreement, which was soon agreed in Washington, should have been significant. But it hasn’t come into effect yet, and we may hear about it in the future.
The second competitor is Russia, a country that aims primarily at the unity of the West in NATO and the European Union, as well as the legitimization of democratic regimes. Cyber attacks and propaganda aim to render Western governments untrustworthy and thus alienate citizens from democracy. (Every now and then one gets the impression that these governments can achieve this even without Russia; but regardless of the issue on the sidelines only). Therefore it is important to strengthen the resistance to democracy against Russia. What Biden presented was consistent, clearly structured, and strategically considered. Prosperity and democracy as the goal of his work, solid alliances as a goal, international participation – inclusive diplomacy, rule-based economic cooperation, and an effective military – as a means.
What about the European Union?
But one sentence in Biden’s speech was premature, if not completely deceptive. He said the transatlantic relationship is back. But it always takes two. In addition to the United States of America, the European Union. So the tension escalated when Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and the European Commission president spoke after Biden.
In short: Macron and Merkel contradicted each other in the basic direction of Russia’s policy. Neither had much to say about dealing with China’s claims of superiority (Ms Merkel noted that China needed to solve global problems such as protecting species). While Merkel said you just had to continue along the path you chose, Macron tore up a lot verbally and finally called for building effective multilateralism. Above all, Macron stressed the European Union’s strategic independence goal. There is no word that can be mentioned in the report from the President of the European Commission.
The European Union had four years to prepare for this moment. Germany in particular was wasted this time around, just like previous years. So Biden did not get the appropriate answer for his offer to revive transatlantic relations. It’s impossible to imagine what would have happened if Donald Trump had been re-elected, and free of all the constraints of transatlantic security cooperation, simply turn off the tap. European governments continued to sleep during his four years in office, despite America’s alarm clocking first. They did not take their fate into their own hands, but they kept them quietly in their lap. The result will be that the conflict within the European Union will escalate if the United States now demands an answer and pushes for a common position on China and Russia. Joe Biden’s speech was an introduction to that.