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Thursday, April 18, 2019, 17:14 (GMT+7)
Munich Security Conference 2019 and unresolved security issues

The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is the place where leaders of countries and experts express their own standpoint and have bilateral meetings. The MSC 2019 was thought to be especially important due to the complex, unpredictable developments of the international security situation. After 3 working days, the MSC 2019 achieved the encouraging results but exposed many issues related to security which would be hardly solved.

The MSC, first held in 1963, is a security forum by America and the European Union (EU). Since the end of the Cold War, the MSC has made basic changes, increasing the number of attendees, discussing many issues related to international issues and cooperation in dealing with threats, protecting peaceful environment, and settling the issues arising from the international relations. Over the past 50 years, the MSC has actively contributed to the resolution of many disputes and the maintenance and protection of global security environment. Thus, it has increasingly drawn more attention from military-security leaders and officials of countries and research centres, becoming the top security forum on a global scale.

The MSC 2019 (the 55th MSC) was held when many risks were posed to the international security, and the international relations witnessed the complex, unpredictable developments; therefore, it attracted special attention from many countries. 35 heads of state, 55 foreign minister, 30 defence ministers, and many top experts from international organizations attended the MSC 2019. At the MSC 2019, there were hundreds of discussions and consultations about the “hottest” issues in the world, such as terrorism, competition and cooperation between major powers, arms control, arms race, Brexit, Trans-Atlantic relations, Russia-EU relations, trade war between China and America, Iran’s nuclear program, Syrian war, risk of conflict between Iran and Israel, Venezuela’s crisis, and so on. After 3 working days (February 15th - 17th, 2019) in an open, frank manner, the MSC 2019 achieved the encouraging results but exposed thorny security-related issues as follows.

Chinese senior official Yang Jiechi addressing the MSC 2019 (photo: AFP)

America and China expressed the deep disagreements on the issues of Huawei -China technology giant - and East Sea. According to experts, one of the focal points of the MSC 2019 was the fierce debate between US Vice-President Mike Pence and Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi about the controversial issues on the relations between the two countries. Addressing the MSC 2019, US Vice-President Mike Pence criticized Beijing for stealing intelligence and warned the US security partners about the threats posed by Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies. He stated that “Chinese law requires (Huawei) to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their networks or equipment”. Speaking about the East Sea, the US Vice-President criticized China for its militarization in the East Sea, which he believed to threaten security and stability in the region and the world. In his turn, Chinese politician Yang Jiechi resolutely denied all allegations of the US Vice-President, saying that China rejected “technological hegemony” while Beijing’s law did not require companies to install a back door or collect intelligence. According to him, China would like to strengthen its cooperation with America, but China opposed the US protectionism and this country’s maritime freedom operations in the East Sea. The debate between Mike Pence and Yang Jiechi after the end of the senior-level negotiations on trade between the two countries in Beijing with the “very positive” results (America ceased its imposition of a 25% tax on 200 bn USD of Chinese goods) showed that the barriers in the relations between the two largest economies in the world were still considerable and hard to be solved immediately. It also revealed that disagreements on Huawei, the East Sea and many other issues were the tip of the iceberg in the relations between China and America, the reasons for which were the differences in the political ideology and the geo-political and geo-strategic competition in the region and the world. In its 2018 National Security Strategy, America called China its potential rival to its national security, benefit and world leadership. To realize the Strategy, America waged a trade war with China which badly impacted the economies of the two countries and many other ones worldwide. It is thought that China and America are the top major powers in the world, and the relations between the two sides will directly impact on the international relations, security and stability. Thus, Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi stated that “We need to follow the new approach of win-win and all-win cooperation and abandon ideological prejudices and the outdated mentality of a zero-sum game, and a winner takes all”.

America and EU disagreed on many international issues, and the dispute between the two sides was increasingly serious. At the MSC 2019, the heated debate between US Vice-President Mike Pence and the host country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel attracted a lot of attention from the public. Talking about the relations between the US and the EU, the Vice-President criticized EU allies for their actions against America’s security, benefit and world leadership, particularly the EU’s ignorance of US sanctions against Iran and its opposition to the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which America signed with Soviet Union in 1987. He also said that the time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join us… Responding to the US Vice-President’s remarks, the Chancellor of Germany severely opposed the US unilateral withdrawal of the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P5+1 and Iran and the INF Treaty. According to the Chancellor of Germany, it was a piece of extremely bad news that America had unilaterally acted on those profiles without the EU’s consultation even though the Bloc would be directly impacted. Angela Merkel also criticized US President Donald Trump for withdrawing US troops from Syria, regarding the EU as US trade enemy, and threatening to wage a trade war against the EU. Agreeing with the German Chancellor, many politicians of EU countries confirmed that they did not want to be forced to follow America without any serious discussion within the Bloc.

According to many experts worldwide, in recent years, particularly since Donald Trump took office, the relations between America and the EU have always been in difficulty. Under his policies of “Make America great again” and “America first”, President Donald Trump have made shocking speeches and taken actions which have been thought to be “extraordinarily arbitrary” and “disappoint” his EU allies. Trump called his EU allies freeloaders and criticized the NATO for being useless. At the NATO Summit 2018, President Donald Trump threatened not to ensure the EU’s security unless the NATO members would increase their defence budget. Moreover, the US President increased taxes on many key products from the EU. In response to Trump, the EU imposed a high tax on many products from America. Notably, tension between the two sides was increased when America decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and INF regardless of the EU’s opposition.

While America advocated that the Iran nuclear deal and INF were “obsolete”, the EU regarded the Iran nuclear deal as the most important legal basis for the international community to control and prevent Iran’s nuclear program. The EU considered the deal as an effective mechanism to avoid a nuclear war. It also believed that the US decision to withdraw from those historic deals was a mistake that could lead the EU and the world to insecurity and dangerous confrontations. Disobeying the US order, the EU applied special provisions of the Bloc’s legal documents in order to protect European companies from being impacted by the US sanctions against Iran, which was seen as a rare action in the relations between America and the EU. The disagreements related to the issues of international security between America and the EU at the MSC 2019 would be hardly resolved.

Following the developments of the MSC 2019, particularly the “fierce debates” between leaders of the world’s major powers, most of the MSC’s attendees thought that the world was faced with instabilities caused by the geo-strategic competition between major powers, arms race, local warfare, armed conflicts, ethnic, religious, territorial disputes, and disputes over natural resources. Besides, the world would be confronted with non-traditional security challenges, especially separatism, terrorism, cyber warfare, climate change, etc.

Amidst the changes in the world order and the complex, unpredictable instabilities, the MSC provides an extremely important basis for all relevant sides to encourage dialogue, understanding and trust between one another and discuss the measures to relieve confrontation and tension, deal with challenges, and protect the world’s security environment. However, it is thought that all countries must promote cooperation on the basis of equality, with the respect for international law, the UN Charter, and national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity so as to build a world of peace, stability and development.

Minh Duc - Ngoc Son

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