The Munich Security Conference is usually a forum for world leaders to meet on the sidelines and strive for consensus and compromise. But this year’s gathering is more likely to be remembered for saber-rattling and ultimatums, and the lack of discernible progress on resolving lingering conflicts or brewing crises around the world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, told the conference that Iran is trying to expand its control in the Middle East through political and armed proxies in Syria, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon. He made a new claim that Iran is looking to provide Hezbollah in Lebanon with “game-changing” precision-guided weapons.
Netanyahu also criticised the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and six major powers: the U.S, China, Russia, Britain, Germany and France, likening it to the Munich Agreement of 1938 in which Nazi Germany was allowed to annex parts of Czechoslovakia. Under JCPOA provisions, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions that had crippled its economy.
Another crisis that dominated the conference was one emerging in Asia: North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic program development.
“All allies are now within range of North Korean missiles,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told conference goers. “Pyongyang is closer to Munich than it is to Washington, D.C., and therefore we must put maximum pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.”
He emphasised the use of diplomacy and sanctions, but others at the conference said they feared misinterpretation or inflammatory rhetoric by the U.S and North Korean leaders could lead to war.
Theresa May, who took to the stage on day 2 of the conference, called on her country’s EU partners not to let “rigid institutional restrictions” get in the way of a wide-ranging post-Brexit security partnership. There would be “damaging real-world consequences” if none were agreed.
May’s speech remained ambiguous, however, on one of the real crunch points in the debate over future security arrangements between the EU and the UK. Britain would “respect the role of the European court of justice” when it participated in EU agencies while also having its “sovereign legal order,” she said.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier takes the latter position. He said last November that leaving Europol and the European Defence Agency was “the logical consequence of the sovereign choice made by the British”.
That stance also has sympathisers in Berlin, though some officials fear a worst-case scenario in which German intelligence service have to delete data their British counterparts have shared with them when Brexit comes into full effect.
Access to Theresa May’s full speech can be found here: