February 16, 2015
The Munich Security Conference’s theme for 2015 was the question “Collapsing Order, Reluctant Guardians?”. On this background, the main topic discussed during the event was Ukraine. A few days later after the conference ended, on Feb. 12, negotiations on Ukraine conflict completed in what the media calls the Minsk Agreement 2.0, giving a feeling of uncertainty that ceasefire and peace will follow.
However, the most important topic of the conference was by far the status of the transatlantic alliance.
The event kicked off with the question related to Germany’s readiness to lead Europe. In her speech, German Defense minister Ursula von Der Leyen emphasized that leadership equals partnership. While Germany is seen to be the de facto leader in the EU, speakers highlighted during the conference that if the Franco-German duo acts on behalf of Europe, “backed by the Poles and the Italians” (as the President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz said), it is likely that the block has a common view on foreign affairs matters. This stresses the core problem that the European Union has today: the increasing lack of unity on foreign policy and even on common policies regarding the Union’s future. As Schultz was saying, “the EU is powerful when united and the problem is that the EU is more divided than united”.
The Franco-German duo has evolved in time. As Germany became the economic powerhouse of Europe, and France is now concerned with growing socio-economic problems. De Gaulle’s vision for European integration, a project meant to give France the platform to project power worldwide, has shifted and, with the creation of the Eurozone that contributed to France’s lack of competitiveness and growing trade imbalances, it is Germany who benefits most of the free trade zone. The economic crisis has led to social problems and considering demographic and immigration problems, they have helped, in turn, rising nationalistic feelings throughout the continent. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, we have heard discussions regarding the potential renewal of border controls. All these may bring further discussions on protectionist measures, which may not only translate into negative effects for the European free trade area but also for the stability of the global system, as we know it. And so we open the road to more insecurity – both economics and defense considered.
The world economy is based on interconnections and networks. It hasn’t been only the technological progress that has brought globalization to the stage we’re observing today, but it has also been the drive of establishing easier trade relations between countries and integrating flows while diminishing barriers. It was trade liberalization and the specificity of the US-European relation that has won the Cold War, showing the advantages of the democratic, market economy based system against the closed-in communist system. Speaking about transatlantic cooperation, Martin Schultz said during the Munich Security Conference that “It is not as strong as it was in the past, but necessary more than ever”, citing the common values shared by the two parties and the world various competitors – and enemies – that go against these values. The TTIP negotiations have come up during various speeches of the European leaders, all agreeing that it is not only important, but also necessary for ensuring the long-term stability and security in Europe to go forward with the agreement.
Taking into account EU’s current problems, it is only clear that TTIP is regarded as being more of a challenge than an opportunity. As concluded in a recent academic paper on the status quo and most important chapters of the agreement, the “TTIP will shape the EU integration process itself, constituting an opportunity for accelerating the process of policy consolidation, delegating more competences at EC level”. Through that it seems designed to ensure the basis for stability and future growth, keeping the EU together, as a party at the negotiations table.
U.S. Vice President Biden mentioned the importance of Europe for the national security of the U.S. among the very first lines of his speech in Munich, when addressing the Europe’s leaders in the room he said that “Europe is the cornerstone of the US engagement around the world. You’re America’s partners not of just last resort, but first resort when challenges arise in Europe and other parts of the world.” Later on, he specifically referring to the TTIP, he pointed out that “it’s not just economic benefits that will flow from such an agreement, but the geopolitical benefits that flow from a 21st century set of rules”. As he mentioned TTIP could “strengthen the global trading system” while reinforcing the transatlantic community, the metaphor of TTIP being an “economic NATO” came to mind, when he compared its results with the way “NATO reinforces the norms of global security”.
Thinking about the level of interconnectedness of our world, while we were discussing about hybrid warfare during the conference, it became clear that that besides enhancing the transatlantic free trade zone, TTIP is part of the West defense strategy. Considering that economics is only one of the tree key elements of geopolitics – with politics and military being the others -, and also taking into account that the gap between civil technology products and military products has shrunk in recent years, with cyber attacks becoming proof of the increasing threats that our current defense system faces, establishing norms for trading and investment between the two most important commercial blocks allows coherence and compatibility between systems that are essentially fighting against the same enemies.
The current crises that Europe is facing – rising from socio-economic distress to the conflict in Ukraine, have exposed worrisome problems of the EU in particular, and the transatlantic and international system in general. Munich Conference has well underlined the fact that the developments in world affairs during the recent months are similar to a process of “creative destruction” of the order as we know it. In the marketplace, companies that go through such a process and transform crises into opportunities for getting ahead of their competitors are winners. It is said that alliances become more solid if they undergo such challenges. It remains to be seen the way countries and international organizations like the EU and NATO face this test of “creative destruction” with geopolitics serving for marketplace.Antonia Colibasanu