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.
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After a week of headlines here about a Europe “snub” regarding Madrid by the US president, analysts played down any transatlantic rift. Le Monde ran the headline "Europeans shaken by Obama’s indifference,” though French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Obama’s decision as “not a drama.” Most comment on the skipped meeting has been self-critical – pointing to catfights between Spanish and EU officials over the location of the EU meeting. Disagreements arose between the three EU leaders – European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and EU President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – over protocol, and who would greet Obama and chair meetings.Skip to next paragraph
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Brussels is still sorting out a complex authority hierarchy after accepting a Lisbon Treaty late last year for a more powerful federal EU that installed Mr. Van Rompuy, along with a new foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton.
Critics, however, say it was a diplomatic gaffe that European officials had to discover through news accounts that Obama would skip the Madrid event.
“You pick up the phone and call someone,” stated a retired US senior official now residing in Europe.
The White House is reluctant to spend time on glamour trips and photo opportunities at a unfocused EU meeting, analysts say, especially with domestic concerns and populist sentiment running high, symbolized by the ‘tea party’ initiatives and Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown's election to the Senate.
“With resources on the line, with the presidency on the line,” an EU meeting that might not deliver much “is on the top of the chopping block” for the White House, says Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Despite Obama's absence in Munich, the security meeting continues to be an important venue for nations to signal policy changes and concerns. During the 2007 meeting, Vladimir Putin signaled a newly assertive Russian policy, with US defense chief Robert Gates pushing back that “the cold war is over.”
Now, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai here, this meeting is expected to further clarify Afghan policy, following up a new policy to engage the Taliban announced in London last week. Officials will also look at disarmament, as US and Russian officials this week revealed sharp cuts in nuclear-weapons stockpiles.
“The important thing is to lay to rest the hand-wringing on both sides of the Atlantic and get down to work,” says Mr. Kupchan. “If we aren’t meeting expectations in Afghanistan, what should we be doing? The will is there and it is time to make it happen.”