February 13, 2023
Today, meetings began to take place before the Munich Security Conference begins in Berlin, Germany, on February 17. This conference is the world’s leading forum for talking about international security policy. Begun in 1963, it was designed to be an independent venue for experts and policymakers to discuss the most pressing security issues around the globe.
Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the conference from February 16 to 18 and is expected to talk about the continuing support of the United States for Ukraine. The anniversary of Russia’s 2022 assault on Ukraine is February 24, and today NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Russians have already begun their threatened major new offensive.
Indeed, Ukraine is at the heart of the conference this year. The Munich Security Report 2023, issued recently as a blueprint for the conference, begins by identifying Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine as “a watershed moment.”
“Debates about different visions for the future international order are often abstract and theoretical,” the report begins, but “[b]y invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the clash of competing visions a brutal and deathly reality.”
The report goes on to identify a growing conflict around the globe between intensifying authoritarian regimes and a liberal, rules-based international order. It calls for shoring up that liberal order and for strengthening it by addressing the legitimate claims of countries and regions that have been excluded from that order or have even been victims of it. That many governments in Africa, Latin America, and Asia have refused to speak up against Russian aggression shows that there is deep dissatisfaction there with existing international patterns, and that dissatisfaction threatens the survival of democracy. The people of all countries must have a say in how the global future plays out.
The report notes that Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state” is “an attack against the foundational principles of the post–World War II order,” with “an authoritarian power” setting out “to eliminate a democracy.” But that’s not the only sign that autocracies are rising. China’s quiet support for Russia, its attempt to assert its own sphere of influence in East Asia through military shows of force, and its wide-ranging efforts “to promote an autocratic alternative to the liberal, rules-based international order” show the broad challenge of autocratic rule. “[T]he main fault line in global politics today,” the report suggests, is “that between democracies and dictators.”
Many world leaders believe that the next ten years will lay down the blueprint for the future of the international order, the report says, and it credits Ukraine and the “extraordinary resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people” with instilling “a new sense of purpose into democratic countries.” The report encourages democracies to use this momentum to re-envision the liberal, rules-based order to include countries that previously were excluded from the rulemaking. A new order “that better delivers on its promises” and “truly benefits everyone equally” has the potential to increase the coalition of those resisting autocracy. “If the revisionist moment we are currently experiencing spurs the renewal of this liberal, rules-based order,” it suggests, “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine will have played a big part in this achievement.”
The conference organizers did not invite Russian government officials to participate in this year’s meeting, saying, "We do not want to offer a stage for those who have stamped over international law." But they did invite more leaders from emerging economies, vowing to get past the idea of an event where Europeans and Americans just talked to each other.
In a sign that many relationships are now in flux, the Chinese foreign ministry said today that China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, will go to the conference and will also visit France, Italy, Hungary, and Russia. China has been embarrassed recently by the exposure of what seems to have been an extensive spying program run by the Chinese military that included countries on five continents.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the attention the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee has been paying to what committee chair James Comer (R-KY) says on his website has been the Biden family’s “pattern of peddling access to the highest levels of government to enrich themselves, often to the detriment of U.S. interests,” has resurrected questions about the connections of the Trump family and Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Popularly known as MBS, the Saudi leader in 2021 transferred $2 billion to a private equity firm that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner created the day after he left the White House.
In an op-ed today in Time magazine, a former associate of Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, who had been part of the attempt to smear Hunter Biden in Ukraine, said that his “real job was to help undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian government.” Parnas was convicted of fraud, making false statements, and illegally funneling foreign money to the Trump campaign.
“I eventually realized,” he said, “that not only was I enabling Trump’s dirty tricks in the 2020 election, I was also risking that Ukraine would be essentially unarmed when Putin invaded.”