Munich Security Conference: Focus on absentees

Apart from Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, which began almost exactly two years ago, the situation in the Middle East following Hamas' attack on Israel will also be a major topic at this year's meeting in Munich. High-profile politicians from practically everyone involved have been invited: US Vice President Kamala Harris, Israel's President Zitzhak Herzog and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are expected in Munich. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers the opening speech.

On Thursday, after much speculation, it was confirmed that Zelenskyj would travel to Germany and, in talks with Harris, appeal for the release of long-blocked funds from the United States. In general, support for Ukraine will be a central question at the high-level meeting in Munich.

Reuters/Alina Smutko

Ukrainian President Zelensky will arrive at the conference for talks on Saturday

Before his trip to Germany and France, Zelensky announced a new security framework for his country. It is said that new agreements will be made with shareholders. A bilateral defense agreement is to be signed with both countries providing long-term support.

Trump makes NATO tremble

The issue was fueled by former President Trump, who was uninvited and is currently establishing himself as the Republican presidential candidate – and a comment that has shaken the entire unity of the West. Over the weekend, according to Trump, he questioned NATO's obligation to provide military aid to countries that don't spend enough on defense. He will not come to their aid – and will encourage the “Russians” to do “anything they want” with them.

While this drew sharp and firm rejection from other NATO countries, it also raised the question of how a second Trump era could permanently transform the security alliance. The withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe or even the withdrawal of the US from the alliance would have a profound impact on Europe's security situation. Attitudes on how one might react to Trump's return in Europe vary widely — and will no doubt be hotly debated in Munich.

Fear of a new nuclear arms race

Putin was also not represented at the conference, but will not play a single role in the Ukraine war. There was a sudden uproar in the US on Thursday as reports suggested Moscow could use nuclear weapons in space to destroy satellites. Putin has allowed decades of deals to avoid a collapse of the arms race, fueling fears of a resurgence of Cold War practices.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Reuters/Mike Seger

UN Secretary General Guterres opens the conference

Meanwhile, there is a new central topic with the disastrous situation in the Middle East: besides President Herzog, Israel's Defense Minister Israel Katz is also represented in Munich – the Palestinian Authority has also been invited. Neighboring countries in the region will also discuss the question of how to resolve the conflict with high-level representatives.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, Europe Minister Caroline Edstadler and National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka (all ÖVP) and Justice Minister Alma Zadik (Greens) are traveling from Austria. A number of debates are planned in Munich, which will also focus on key conflicts.

Tech giants want to regulate AI

There are plenty of topics in Munich outside of the strict hotspots – one of which has been the talk of the past few months, artificial intelligence (AI). Given the risk of misinformation influencing elections in the crucial election year of 2024, many US tech giants want to adopt general guidelines. Companies like Meta, Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and TikTok want to prevent voter fraud – and the deal is set to be tabled as part of a security conference.

US Vice President Kamala Harris stepped off the plane

AP/Mathias Schrader

US Vice President Harris is also expected to attend the meeting

Since the Munich Security Conference produced no joint decisions, it is not entirely clear whether progress can be made through bilateral and multilateral negotiations – and, if so, what progress. With so many problem areas, a meeting of major politicians at least offers opportunities, even if topics are discussed in the absence of them. “With all crises, we ask: Where is the silver lining on the horizon?” Conference president Christophe Heusken told dpa.

The city is in a state of emergency

The Bavarian capital has been put on a state of emergency for the high-level meeting. 5,000 policemen will be deployed for security. Police said the danger situation has increased due to the clashes, but there is no concrete evidence of a threat. A total of 18 events were recorded for the meeting.

Police are expecting large demonstrations, especially on Saturday. As police explained, the main focus is on the crowd, where demonstrators want to surround the Bayerischer Hof conference hotel in downtown Munich.

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