Originally Published 2004-03-02 11:08:46 Published on Mar 02, 2004
Three main issues were discussed in the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy held on 6-8 February 2004: prospects of transatlantic relations, future of NATO, and future developments in the Middle East. As usual, several Defence and Foreign Ministers, representatives of think tanks, academia, media and the defence industry attended the conference.
Transatlantic Security Divide in Munich
Three main issues were discussed in the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy held on 6-8 February 2004: prospects of transatlantic relations, future of NATO, and future developments in the Middle East. As usual, several Defence and Foreign Ministers, representatives of think tanks, academia, media and the defence industry attended the conference. India has been participating in this conference ever since this formerly exclusive European get-together was 'globalised' in 1999. A first time participant this year was Pakistan, with delegation headed by its Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid M Kasuri.

After last year's conference, when the prospects of war in Iraq had seen sharp differences of opinion between the USA and European nations like Germany, France and Russia, there was a noticeable attempt to show transatlantic solidarity. Confabulations within the NATO in this last year, particularly the 'Mediterranean Dialogue' on the prospects of engagement and cooperation in North Africa and the Middle East appeared to have softened the edges a bit. Still, an 'Atlantic divide' continues to exist between the USA and major European nations over several politico military issues. The Americans would like to see greater NATO/European participation in Iraq immediately, and sharing of their vision and methodology in the Middle East. Germany and France are not only unwilling on military participation but also differ on the approach to the realization of a moderate, democratic Middle East vision. The Russians are uncomfortable with Eastward expansion of the NATO and the state of Russia-NATO cooperation.

The German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs initiated the debate on a positive note by stating that 'regardless of our opinion of the war (in Iraq), we have to win peace together because otherwise we will lose together'. But thereafter he made three important points of differences with Americans. These were (a) The United Nations (UN) must take on the key role in transferring sovereignty and supporting democratic reconstruction, for only that can guarantee the legitimacy of the process. (b) NATO decision on direct involvement in Iraq needs to be considered very carefully. Germany will go alongwith the consensus but will not deploy its troops in Iraq; and (c) Crisis in Iraq will not be solved without a sustainable long-term reform process in the whole of Middle East region.
The Middle East, he said, is 'at the epicenter of the greatest threat to our regional and global security: destructive Jehadis terrorism with its totalitarian ideology' and there is profound modernization crisis in many parts of the Islamic Arab world. This totalitarian threat cannot be countered by military means of the West alone. It requires much broad based actions and genuine cooperation to work together with the states and societies of the region. A common strategy and not a toolbox approach are required. The European Union (EU) and the USA should pool their capabilities, assets and projects, to form a new transatlantic initiative-Joint EU/NATO Mediterranean Process- to tackle the challenges of modernization, democratization and stabilization in the Middle East. The focus of this initiative will be on security and politics; economy; law and culture; and the civil society. His address conveyed the impression that Germany will accept a political and reconstruction role in the area but says no to a military role.

The Russian Defence Minister rejected unilateral use of force without relevant UN Security Council mandate. It is wrong, he said, to fight terrorism outside the international law or with illegal techniques. The territory of Iraq has now turned into a real magnet for terrorists from the whole region. He described the Russia-NATO cooperation as 'not at all rosy', and strongly objected to the creation of new NATO military facilities in Poland and the Baltic. He expressed deep concern over nuclear safety 'after what had happened in Pakistan' and said that his country will support efforts to bring Pakistan into the fold of non-proliferation arrangements. The Russian Minister also sought Russia- NATO-Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) cooperation to counter increasing drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

The British Secretary of State warned that polarization of US-EU relations could feed misunderstanding and encourage isolationist tendencies on both sides of the Atlantic. He said that regions immediately adjacent to Europe have the most significant bearing on Western security interests. Potentially destabilising social, political and economic problems demand that the West engage them in conflict prevention as well as respond rapidly to any emerging crisis. He said that UK is highly unlikely to be engaged in high intensity large-scale operations without the USA. While the NATO will remain the cornerstone of collective defence and crisis management, the EU, through Common Foreign and Security Policy supported by European Security and Defence Policy, will provide a complementary organization for action where NATO as a whole is not engaged. He recommended that transatlantic relationship must evolve beyond the parochial and face up to new challenges and opportunities like addressing the Middle East, finding a new role for Russia, establishing confidence with China as it emerges into great power status, and recognize India as an emerging and significant player.

His message was: UK will continue with its close relations with USA and that Europe should contribute more effective military capabilities for the transatlantic alliance.

The US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, a bit theatrically and sometimes sarcastically, justified the war in Iraq. He said that this action had resulted in two models of behavior by world's rogue regimes- path of cooperation (Libya) and the path of defiance (Iraq). He warned that the pursuit of weapons of mass murder would henceforth carry costs. He spoke about the new 'Proliferation Security Initiative' under which USA and its allies will interdict shipments of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), delivery systems and related materials at sea, in the air, and on the ground. He projected the need for multilateral cooperation, strengthening alliance and the usability of alliance capabilities. As expected, Secretary Rumsfeld lauded the role played by the NATO in the last one year and called for strengthening its Mediterranean Dialogue with new areas of potential cooperation.

What came across during the conference was that the hardcore EU nations, and Russia, would prefer multilateralism to unilateralism. They desire stability, democratization and modernization in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, and a bigger political and reconstruction role for themselves, directly or through the UN. They are not willing to commit their military under the US in Iraq. Last week, France too has declared that it will not send troops to Iraq till a legitimate transfer of sovereignty takes place.

The EU has little military muscle of its own, or as part of the NATO. It has been reluctant and slow in improving its military capabilities. It, therefore, remains dependent on US dominated politico-military decisions in NATO, which is preparing to play a bigger military role than the UN Peace Keepers in North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. In the enlarged NATO-seven more members are to join this year-the US influence is likely increase further.

European military contingents in Afghanistan, due to lack of adequate strength and experience, are already facing difficulties in supporting the Karzai Government to govern the country effectively and to hold country-wide elections in time. A great deal of work and investment is, therefore, essential to enable NATO forces to take on the envisaged role in the Middle East.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.

General V P Malik, Former Chief of the Army Staff: currently President, ORF Institute of Security Studies, New Delhi.
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