Munich Security Dissonance

Over the weekend, many of the world’s foreign policy decision makers gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference to discuss the most pressing global security challenges. The dissonance between major powers was particularly salient this year, highlighting the almost complete lack of consensus on key issues.


Three that came up…

North Korea: Nowhere is the failure of multilateral cooperation more glaring than on the Korean peninsula. The US says give up all of your nukes. North Korea says make my day. China will only push so far, fearing the consequences of a regime collapse. Meanwhile, US and Russian officials in Munich spent more time bickering over Russian election meddling than they did discussing Pyongyang. No new diplomatic proposals are forthcoming, it seems. More nuclear tests, it stands to reason, are.

Syria: The civil war in Syria has entered a new, more dangerous phase as the various external actors — Iran, Israel, Russia, Turkey, US — are locked in an increasingly dangerous final scramble for leverage ahead of any peace negotiations. Turkey and the US are this close to open conflict in Northern Syria. US forces have already killed Russian nationals. And Iran and Israel are for all intents and purposes at war in Syria now too. Meanwhile, the regime is pounding the last strongholds of rebels and jihadists. Where, exactly, is the “international community” of which we used to speak?

Cyberwar: As actual conflict rages in the Middle East, a more nebulous battle is playing out in cyberspace where — by comparison with conventional war — there are still relatively few rules of the game. Beyond gamely broaching the subject, there’s little desire among the major cyber powers to cooperate in limiting this new form of conflict.

So far, somewhat miraculously, none of these crises has resulted in a direct, sustained conflict between major powers, in part because the international system is proving just resilient enough to prevent catastrophe. But in a world of increasingly fragmented prerogatives and interests, how long can that hold?

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

More Show less

Bolivia's polarizing interim president: After Bolivian president Evo Morales and his deputies were pushed out of office for rigging last month's presidential election, little-known opposition Senator Jeanine Añez took office as interim leader. Añez has promised to guide the country toward a "national consensus" ahead of new elections in January, but she's already risked deepening political divides. On day one, she lugged a giant bible into office, in a perceived swipe at Morales, who had elevated popular indigenous traditions that the ultra-conservative Ms. Añez once called "satanic." She's also abruptly reoriented the country's foreign ties toward Latin America's conservative governments. On her watch, at least eight pro-Morales protesters have been killed by the authorities. Morales himself, exiled in Mexico, says he's the victim of a coup and wants to run in the elections. Añez says he's barred, but his MAS political party still controls both houses of congress and has to be a partner for any smooth transition. Some compromise is necessary, but things don't seem to be going that way.

More Show less

2,887: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has now broken a century-old record to become the longest serving PM in Japan's history, at 2,887 days. It's a stunning feat for a premier who made a political comeback after quitting in 2007 due to a series of embarrassing scandals.

More Show less