World leaders gathered (15-17 February) in Munich for the annual Munich Security Conference, a meeting that began at the height of the Cold War to discuss and address major military challenges. For years, the main discussion point was between largely unified Western nations supporting a world vision of open markets, free trade and strong security institutions but with the current US administration, the global order is shifting as Washington is pursuing various “policies of withdrawal” from overseas conflicts, shunning international cooperation and multilateralism. “The whole liberal world order appears to be falling apart,” Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, wrote in an introductory note. “We are experiencing an epochal shift; an era is ending, and the rough outlines of a new political age are only beginning to emerge.”
The agenda of the 2019 included discussions about the future of the European Union, trade and international security, arms control and the implications of power struggles and international security, arms control and the implications of power fights between the United States, China and Russia. The agenda will also deal with the divisions between the EU and the US on a variety of security topics, including the Iran nuclear deal. The recent decisions by Washington to withdraw from conflicts in Syria and downsize the US presence in Afghanistan have left Europeans wondering who will step in.
“There is a broader question in Europe, including among countries gathering in Munich, about what the US role in the world is,” Seth G. Jones, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said. “It’s not necessarily isolationist policy, but definitely one operating with much more international restraint than previous administrations. And who fills that vacuum?” Traditionally, the Americans have been “been the harbingers of the growth and protection of the order,” Mr. Jones added. “And now we have the US, at least some of the US figures like the president, questioning that.”