Munich security conference: East-West divide concern? | By Syed Qamar Rizvi


Munich security conference: East-West divide concern?

UNQUESTIONABLY, the need of realigning the global peace diplomacy towards Russia’s war in Ukraine is objectively inevitable. The most recently-held Munich Security Conference (February 17-19) discussed the strategic issues of global significance. The global leaders who participated in the Conference expressed their concern regarding the growing East-West divide which has been doubled down by the ongoing war in Ukraine between the western powers and Russia.This year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) was wedded to the motto –“to the brink and back”– reflected in many speeches delivered at the Conference. But pragmatism suggests that much peace work is required in actions than expressed in words.

Concern over the East-West divide:  Amidst the growing global issues, the MSC confirmed the deepening East-West divide, continuing tensions between Russia and NATO states, as well as divisions over Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated his usual points. He stressed that Russia wanted to create indivisible security in Europe and strengthen pan-European security institutions such as the OSCE. “Unfortunately, the calls for indivisibility of security were not heard,” he emphasized. He lamented NATO expansion to the east, NATO’s military build-up on Russia’s borders, both of which, in Russia’s view, undermine strategic stability. With regard to the Ukraine conflict, Lavrov stated that Kiev undermined diplomatic efforts within the Normandy Format as well as the Trilateral Contact Group.

The issue of NATO’s eastward expansion: in order to gear up the peace diplomacy mechanism, it is necessary that the core issue of NATO’s eastward expansion that Russia takes as the west’s growing aggression against it, must be resolved peacefully to pacify the Russian concerns. Germany and France can play a meaningful role in this regard. Most importantly, NATO’s open door policy is rightly manifested in the North Atlantic Treaty agreement with Russia known as the ‘’Founding Act’’ signed between NATO and Russia (1997), which provided Russia a permanent seat at NATO‘s headquarters in Brussels—a move that has remained in jeopardy since 2021.

Arguably, if the Western powers liberally focus on a conflict resolution of the Ukraine crisis, a pragmatic way can be found settling down the conflict with Russia. For the record, while discerning this issue of NATO’s eastward enlargement from past to present—one could still argue that from the western perspective, keeping NATO to its ‘’cold war borders’’ was only valid so long as Soviet forces were stationed in eastern Europe. Whereas, seen from the Russian point of view, Kremlin’s sensitivities over NATO’s expansion are well articulated since NATO adopts a policy– of expanding towards eastern and central Europe without holding the door open to Russia—which has been logically interpreted in Moscow as West’s direct aggression against Russia.

The Russian security experts in Moscow feel it justified to call NATO’s eastward expansion as the Euro-Atlantic community’s hawkish attempt to encircle Russia’s borders via NATO’s security annexation, thereby inviting the eastern European states to join NATO. . Being highly concerned about NATO’s presence in the Baltic region and being highly worried about NATO’s missile shield system in Eastern Europe (Poland), the Russians have discomfiture with NATO’s announcement to offer its membership to Georgia and Ukraine. But contrary to the Russian assertion, the West accuses Putin that he has widened tensions between Russia and NATO’s member states that has expanded the risk of conflict in the Euro=Atlantic area, while derailing past and potential future progress on nuclear disarmament.

What Europeans think:  According to the public polls conducted recently, the resilience of European democracies seems to be depending on the capacity of governments to sustain public support for policies that will cause anxiety and pain in society. Consequently, this will compel the European governments to balance the pursuit of European unity, thereby building pressure on Moscow with opinions that diverge both inside and among member states.

Lack of peace leadership or a world out of joint: it has been an established fact –also admitted by the MSC that there is absence of global leadership as regard to propel the peace diplomacy vis-a-vis the Ukraine conflict.  From many statements at the MSC, it is indicated that the world is out of joint. Christoph Heusgen, the Chairman of the Munich Conference, was quoted recently as saying, “We don’t want the Munich Security Conference to serve as a podium for Russian propaganda.” But not having Russians there does not advance the cause of peace, either. Instead, it confirms Putin’s view that Russia must continue to pursue this murderous conflict because the “West” is totally against him.

Role of Peace diplomacy/détente highlighted: Of all the obvious dangers that come with war, one of the most far-reaching in the current Russia-Ukraine conflict has been woefully underappreciated. But it must be an agreed fact that nothing could be expected from the chaos of war, except, causalities, devastation and the intensification of the humanitarian crisis evidenced by the current war scenario in Ukraine. In this regard, the most pertinent question was arisen ‘’how this continuing East-West divide could be bridged’. On this issue, there was a striking lack of unity amongst the participants. Thus, the MSC is committed to taking a fresh approach to this issue.

Thomas Greminger, Secretary General of the Organisation on Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who spoke to SHR Monitor on the margins of the MSC, emphasized precisely this point. He said that “with deterrence alone we will not be able to move away from the brink. What is clearly missing is dialogue and détente. They should be a complement to deterrence.” Greminger also said that “my message here in Munich is to offer the OSCE as an inclusive dialogue platform that can bring added value in the form of the Structured Dialogue on military security issues.”

The bottom line: apparently, the MSC has given the impression that it has a grave concern regarding the growing tensions between the East and West, but the pivot of this thinking must be realigned with its peace motto. Without peace, our world order is under constant threat of war. After the US and German announcement of supplying M1 and Leopard 2A6 Tanks to Ukraine, the US administration‘s any further move to send the F-16 jets to Ukraine will dangerously enlarge the theatre of the Ukraine war.  Both NATO and Russia must adopt a restraint strategy to prevent the growing cleavages in East-West relations.