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Munich Security Conference: "Clear Messages Instead of Icy Silence"

For more than four decades, high-ranking representatives from very different countries have discussed military issues at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy. No other forum brings together crucial policy makers like US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Ali Larijani, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and its nuclear chief negotiator. Both gave their speeches within 90 minutes on February 11, 2007.
Other participants include NATO Secretary General Scheffer, Pakistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasuri, the EU's Solana, Israel's Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Livni, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Downer and both Russia's President Putin and Ukraine's President Yuschenko.
Putin's speech got the most press coverage for his accusations against the US and NATO:
Iraq; provoking a nuclear arms race; anti-missile defense in Europe; breaking the pledge not to deploy any NATO troops east of Germany etc. NY Times writes about Putin's speech:
The world, he said, is now unipolar: “One single center of power. One single center of force. One single center of decision making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign.” With the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, and a Congressional delegation sitting stone-faced, Mr. Putin warned that the power amassed by any nation that assumes this ultimate global role “destroys it from within. “It has nothing in common with democracy, of course,” he added. “Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations — military force.”  
“Primarily the United States has overstepped its national borders, and in every area,” said Mr. Putin, who increasingly has tried to re-establish Russia’s once broad Soviet-era influence, using Russia’s natural resources as leverage and defending nations at odds with the United States, including Iran. American military actions, which he termed “unilateral” and “illegitimate,” also “have not been able to resolve any matters at all,” and, he said, have created only more instability and danger. “They bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another,” he said. “Political solutions are becoming impossible.”

Robin Shepherd of the German Marshall Fund Blog asks "Where now for Vladimir Putin?" And Daniel Drezner writes about Gates' eloquent response to Putin: So that's how a competent Secretary of Defense acts. The other speeches are worth checking out as well. All speeches are available in English, including the original audio. The speeches by the German representatives, Chancellor Merkel, Minister of Defense Jung, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and SPD Chairman Beck are available in both English and German. You can also listen to the original audio of the discussions after the speeches.
In addition to Robert Gates, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmit and the Senators McCain and Lieberman, many journalists, think tank representatives and former US officials, like William Cohen,
represented the US at the conference.
There were a few demonstrators outside (about 3000), but even more police (3500). Coming Anarchy got some pictures.

The organizers praised the conference's frank speeches and serious discussions:
In the conference hall and back rooms of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, the 43rd  has once again justified its motto "Peace Through Dialogue". The Russian President’s speech, in particular, emphasized the very importance of articulating different interests in an open and non-governmental debate. (...)  The conference has again underlined its character as a venue for an unrestrained and clear exchange of ideas. As Kurt Beck, Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate and leader of the German Social Democrats, said: "We have seen openness; an openness that allows us to really talk to each other about problems,to be honest about the interests we have, and, based on this, to develop a stable cooperation."
The conference website provides summaries of the speeches and discussions in English and German.

The informal setting and the frank speeches on defense issues by high-level representatives make this conference founded by the German publisher Ewald von Kleist in 1962 so valuable and unique. When Secretary Rumsfeld told the world at the Munich Conference in early February 2003 that the Bush administration was running out of patience with the UN inspections, then German Foreign Minister Fischer responded that the threat level produced by Iraq did not yet justify a war and that diplomatic means were not exhausted. "Why now?", Mr. Fischer wanted to know about Mr. Rumsfeld's war plans. It was at this conference, where Fischer told Rumsfeld in English his famous statement "I am not convinced!"

Related: The Atlantic Review's post on last year's Munich Security Conference: Defense budget: US spends too much and Europe spends too little?  (The photo in this post shows Iran's chief negotiator Ali Larijani and was taken by Sebastian Zwez for the Munich conference.)

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Zyme on :

Yeah that conference lives from the idea of honest talking. Especially Putin´s speech was very honest and undiplomatic. And in a way he is right: Fighting american influence is one of the main tasks of any ambitious country in the beginning of this century. One really has to recognize american cleverness in the 20th century, joining two world wars at a time when the other superpowers were already worn down in the first half and making no major mistakes in the second half of the century - unlike the other military powers. Well it is going to be a lot more interesting in this century again, and any non-american can praise the Bush administration for making this many mistakes. I clearly remember the presidential election in 2004 - I so hoped he would make it again :)

David on :

No, Zyme, Putin was less than honest in his speech. His characterization of US unilateralism was a good description of his own regime in Russia. He complains about US interference international, while he conveniently forgets about his own attempts to undermine popular movements in the Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia (not to mention his scorched-earth policy in Chechnya).

Zyme on :

Don´t forget the regions you mention are within the russian sphere of influence. It is their neighborship and regarding Chechnya even their own country. The destabilising effect there is far from invading the Middle East when your home is North America...

Sonja on :

I don't understand: " making no major mistakes in the second half of the century" - Korea? Vietnam? Somalia? Iraq? and "unlike the other military powers"- which other powers and which mistakes would that be?

Markus on :

I am sure the discussions during dinner and in the floors and hallways have been even more frank. Some deals have been made probably.

pen Name on :

Putin has a point: http://antiwar.com/pat/ And he is right on traget. Putin has articulated what many non-Western people have said before either in public or in private. His statements reflect the concerns of many many states among them Iran, South Africa, India, and others. That US is de-stablizing the world since 9/11 has been heard from many non-Western quarters - even South Koreans understand US polciy as such. This is just the start of a global - perhaps haphazard - effort to contain US. Now it is US that is the rogue state.

Pat Patterson on :

If Putin had said that the US caused a comet to hit Popigai, in the Urals, millions of years ago and killed the dinosaurs then its obvioulsy all true. Plus American cowboys are the ones killing the Chechens and poisoning dissidents in London. The US is also to blame for athlete's foot, Germany doing badly in the World Cup, the solar and lunar eclipses, the tilting of the Earth's axis and the Designated Hitter Rule. It's not as if a torturer and a spy ever lied about anything. It must all be true because Putin says so. Because there will always be people that believe the unbelievable.

Markus on :

Putin is bad, real bad and evil but he has a point. NATO has been getting awfully close to Russia. Look at NATO expansion and Afghanistan. And soon Iran. Russia used to be a superpower. Of course they don't like their former arch rival to enter their sphere of influence. It would be wise for NATO and especially the United States to be more humble rather than pushing their luck. Imperial overstretch. Otherwise Russia will cause more trouble for the West.

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