Beyond Westlessness

Beyond Westlessness

The recent Munich Conference proved that Europe feels more relieved with Joe Biden at the helm of the White House. But a mere shift in political gears and an increase in hopeful rhetoric cannot be a game changer. The big global challenges remain there

By Ditmir Bushati*

The annual Munich Security Conference of a year ago was the last international event that took place before the world was locked down, due to COVID-19. The main title of the conference “Westlessness” could no longer fit the frictions and tensions within the Euro-Atlantic family and the international order in an increasingly zero-polar world.

Last Friday, world leaders gathered again in Munich, this time virtually, in a smaller format, to discuss in particular US-European cooperation in the post-Trump era. This time with a new title, “Beyond Westlessness” and without the participation of representatives of Russia and China. More or less, this was a return to the early Munich format for addressing security challenges within the Euro-Atlantic area.

I.

Participants welcomed America’s come back and its irreplaceable contribution in terms of international cooperation. This is evidenced not only in the powerful message conveyed by President Biden, but in the US rejoining of the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, as well as the pledge to contribute USD 4 billion to the global COVAX scheme for an equitable and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

It must be acknowledged that the Pandemic blew multilateralism by further eroding the international economic order. At the same time, revealing inability of international order to adequately cope with COVID-19 or climate change.

José Saramago in his novel “Seeing” tells us that epidemics do not transform societies, they rather help us to understand the truth about our societies. Thus, states behaved in a Hobbesian way, though not by pointing swords among themselves. The response to the virus was in most cases local, which was illustrated by the closure of borders, the establishment of control over exports in the health sector, the accumulation of reserves of protective equipment and vaccination policy, which remains connected to the needs of each country.

Although the Pandemic forced us to imagine ourselves living in a common world, none of the Major Powers sought solutions in the multilateral system. Viewed from this angle, the ‘Munich Consensus 2021’ based on the motto “Beyond Westlessness”, is about the necessity of multilateral institutions and rules-based international order to address the challenges our world is facing.

II.

After the Cold War, the world settled into a new international system marked by three forces: geopolitical, economic and technological ones. Namely, American supremacy, the free market and the internet revolution. All seemed to work together to create a more open and prosperous world. The bloody wars in the former Yugoslavia, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US, the global financial crisis, the unprecedented refugee crisis and now the Pandemic have shaken the foundations of the international order.

Although the current situation requires a common vision, rooted in liberal values, this is not enough to bring about the necessary change imposed by the need to address the challenges of the 21st century. In addition to the consensus on the need for better coordination of key Euro-Atlantic family actors in addressing key security issues, the Munich Conference also highlighted areas where their interests and priorities differ.

US President Biden proposed a new partnership with Europe, an alliance of democracies in competition with China and Russia. More than a display of American exceptionalism, President Biden’s powerful message demonstrates first and foremost the US potential to steer and direct the Euro-Atlantic alliance towards the challenges of the future.

While French President Macron noted that the US and Europe are close allies and share a common worldview, however, their priorities are not always the same. Macron recalled that the US, since the time of President Obama, has pivoted towards the Pacific, whereas Europe has a larger footprint in the Mediterranean and Africa.

Acknowledging this reality, President Macron returned to his thesis on the necessity of changing NATO’s “strategic concept” in response to global evolving challenges such as cyber defense, data, and critical infrastructure, as well as the need for reform of European institutions and policies, so that Europe can achieve “military sovereignty”.

III.

The Munich Conference proved that Europe feels more relieved with Joe Biden at the helm of the White House. But a mere shift in political gears and an increase in hopeful rhetoric cannot be a game changer. The big global challenges remain there. Within a decade, security issues will be increasingly acute and closely linked to climate change, data, artificial intelligence, cyber defense, critical infrastructure rather than  deployment of troops or naval capacities.

Although the Allies may not agree on every issue, they fully agree on the basic principles and values that need to be cultivated, despite the challenge posed by countries like China, Russia or Iran. Let us hope that this will also form the basis on which the Euro-Atlantic alliance will be renewed. At the same time, this renewal will be materialized in the Western Balkans, not only vis-a-vis third actors, but above all as an investment in the stalled process of democratic transformation, sustainable economic development and EU membership./ibna

* Ditmir Bushati is Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania.