MUNICH, GERMANY - The United States and Europe appear deeply divided over the health of the transatlantic relationship following a key security conference in Germany over the weekend, attended by hundreds of political and military leaders from around the world.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the conference with a speech that accused Washington of ‘rejecting the idea of an international community’ – and warned of growing threats from Russia and China.
The U.S delegation, headed by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, rejected claims of a transatlantic rift. “
Those statements do simply not fact in any significant way or reflect reality,” Sexretary of State Pompeo told the conference Saturday. “I am happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over exaggerated. The West is winning. We are collectively winning. We are doing it together."
For proof, Pompeo said Europe should look to the tens of thousands of U.S. troops defending NATO’s border with Russia, and America’s lead role in defeating Islamic State.
Secretary Pompeo also pledged $1 billion to help eastern European countries end their dependence on Russian gas, with the aim of boosting U.S. liquified natural gas exports.
For Europe, the diagnosis appears very different. French president Emmanuel Macron said the U.S. was undergoing ‘a rethink of its relationship with Europe’ – and the continent must take charge of its own destiny. “
When I look at the world as it is being shaped, and that is the theme of your conference this year, there is indeed a weakening of the West,” Macron said. “Fifteen years ago, we thought that our values were universal, that we were going to dominate the world in the long term, that we were dominant in terms of technology, military and so on, and then I look at the horizon of 10-15 years, we are going to be increasingly pushed by other agendas and other values, they are emerging.”
Macron added that it was time to have a ‘strategic dialogue’ with Russia. Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told the conference it was time to ‘abandon the cultivation of the phantom Russian threat.’ Many other European nations cited Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine as evidence of the very real dangers.
Analyst François Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, attending the Munich Security Conference, said the greatest dangers lay in the erosion of arms controls that had prevented conflict between major powers since 1945, such as the START or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between Russia and the United States which reduced the number of nuclear missile launchers deployed by either side. The agreement is due to expire in 2021.“
There probably won’t be a revival of arms control,” Heisbourg said. “You may have rules of the road, in the form of the Hague or Geneva conventions and the like, but you’re going to have the law of jungle when it comes to (weapons) systems which are developed or deployed. I’m very, very, very worried.”
The policy toward China that could emerge as the biggest transatlantic divide. U.S. lawmakers from across the U.S. political spectrum reiterated warnings against allowing Chinese telecoms firm Huawei any role in 5G technology. Britain recentaly announced it would allow Huawei to build parts of its 5G mobile network.“
This is about choosing autocracy over democracy on the information superhighway,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told delegates Sunday.
This year’s focus on cyber security saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg take the stage, amid widespread accusations that social media platforms are facilitating states like Russia and China to interfere in Western democracy.“
We were slow to understand the kind of information and operations that Russia and others were running online,” admitted Zuckerberg, before defending his record. “We take down now more than a million fake accounts a day across our network… We will continue doing our best, we are going to build up the muscle to do it, to basically find stuff as proactively as possible, we will try to draw the lines in the right places.”
Conference organizers hailed diplomatic progress in other areas, including a public meeting between the presidents of rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia.
There were high level meetings on Libya and Syria – with little tangible progress.
The theme of the conference was meant to be ‘Westlessness’, defined by its protagonists as the purported decline of Western democracy. The U.S. delegation flatly dismissed those concerns, insisting the West has never been in better health.
They left the conference with a clear message: China is adversary number one - and European allies should wake up to the threat.