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Munich security conference: fresh focus on Afghanistan, nuclear weapons

The host of the Munich security conference, which opens today, says Europe must step up and help its main ally, the US, and tackle pressing global security needs like Afghanistan and Iran.

By Staff writer / February 5, 2010

A police officer checks cars near the hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich on Friday, ahead of the annual Munich Security conference.

Christof Stache/AP


Munich, Germany

After a year of uncertainty, “there are no more excuses” for Europe not to put its shoulder to the wheel; help its main ally, the US; and tackle pressing global security needs like Afghanistan and Iran, according to Wolfgang Ischinger, host of a prestigious annual security conference opening here today.

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The “no excuses” theme comes amid hand-wringing and remonstration about European “relevance.” Following a White House decision that President Barack Obama will not attend an EU-US summit this spring in Madrid, the EU called off the whole summit. The White House cited scheduling problems.

Last year’s Munich conference saw the first rollout of American foreign policy in the new administration, including the famed "reset" on Russia and an emphasis on cooperation. But one year later, the White House is reportedly underwhelmed at what it considered mostly symbolic efforts by its chief ally on a range of difficult and costly issues it inherited. This year, Mr. Obama is represented by National Security Adviser James Jones and Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The election of Obama and his early visits to Europe brought a "political spring" in European-American relations and a host of good intentions to deal with problems ranging from nuclear proliferation to Iran and the Middle East. European leaders basked in the presence of the very popular Obama in numerous trips here. Yet White House officials are reportedly irritated with a lack of delivery on problems considered to be of mutual security interest.

"Last year's promises are still waiting to be fulfilled and excuses are no longer acceptable," Mr. Ischinger said in a Monitor interview on the eve of a meeting that brings together some 300 top world diplomats. It opened with a statement from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and brings a last-minute acceptance by Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

“I find it not exactly helpful, but understandable, that Obama will not be at the regular EU meeting," says Ischinger. "Europeans are the American partner in Afghanistan. We are his allies. Where are the Muslim country soldiers? Where are the Chinese? But Europe does need to make itself relevant to the White House. Obama has given us a wake-up call.”

Nuclear weapons

The 48-hour Munich meeting, with its rich set of sideline talks and bilateral meetings, also picks up a rising new focus on nuclear weapons. By May, Washington and Moscow are expected to sign the first strategic nuclear agreement in a generation, in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review. Senior statesmen like George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry have in recent weeks been in London, Paris, and Berlin to push a “nuclear free” world.