The Munich Security Conference 2024: Addressing Misplaced Agenda

The just concluded 60th Munich Security Conference, promised to be a global geopolitical extravaganza, ended in disappointment with results much below the anticipation from the forum. The Munich Security Report, a much-anticipated research work, fell short of presenting a balanced view, resulting in misplaced opinions about the real pain points. Its failure to factor in India’s geopolitical space, especially in the Indo-Pacific security matrix, is the result of a continued diabolic view of Western intelligentsia

By Ravi Srivastava

Opinion

Significance & Perspective: The 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC) culminated on 18th February 2024 at a private venue in Munich. The two-day conference was attended by global marquee figures, including the US Vice President and Secretary of State, the German Chancellor, the UN Secretary-General, and the Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers. More than 50 heads of state, foreign and defence ministers, and other leading figures from across the globe also participated in this mega show.

It is among the most prominent security dialogue forums for addressing pressing geopolitical and global security challenges. It attempts to lay down the action plan for the governments, by placing a detailed perspective and shaping up the likely future course. The present iteration is shadowed by the disturbing backdrop of continued war in Ukraine, Israel’s war in Gaza, the targeting of commercial ships, and China’s destabilising actions around its neighbourhood. Challenges of climate management and mushrooming armed takeovers in Africa were also on the agenda of this conference.

The Munich Security Report falls short of deliberating issues with a balanced perspective. Its views about the Indo-Pacific are myopic. The authors of the report are convinced that India has no worthwhile geopolitical role or significance in the complex matrix of security and commerce within the region. The continuing geostrategic tussle in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East flare-up is all about US-China rivalry, Japan’s security needs, and the Iranian exploitation of its proxies to enlarge its regional space

MSC and Kekst CNC, a leading global strategic communications consultancy, have published a dataset on global risk perceptions based on opinions obtained in G7 and BRICS countries, excluding Russia. The questionnaire was aimed at obtaining public perception of the overall threat, the imminence of risk, the severity of damage and the preparedness of their country. The responses offered insight into how domestic opinion may drive the national agendas of nations. While almost all of the European participants felt high risk and high threat over security with worries of the declining economy, both Asian giants India and China scored the opposite on these parameters. More than 50% of respondents expressed optimism about a stable security environment and a rising economy.

Agenda Setting

The Munich Security Report (MSR), which preceded the security conference, appeared to have already set the tone for the discussion. The 127-page report for 2024 termed ‘Lose-Lose’, attempts to cover developments having major global tractions. It amplifies how the world community is increasingly looking to minimise their loss amidst a worsening geopolitical environment. It attempts to caution the global leadership about the urgency of actions needed on various fronts such as containing the strategic Gray Zone in Eastern Europe; deteriorating security in the Indo-Pacific; derailment of rapprochement efforts in the Middle East and the growing appetite for military coups in Africa.

MSR is surely a worthy report as far as the issues it identifies but seriously falls short of deliberating them with a balanced perspective incorporating the ‘views’ of other stakeholders. For instance, the war in Ukraine has a one-sided commentary of Russia’s aggression, ‘Putinism’, policies needed for the containment of Russia, advocating support for an ever-enlargement of NATO and the EU, especially towards the European East. Its views of the Indo-Pacific are even more myopic, the authors of the report are convinced that India has no worthwhile geopolitical role or significance in the complex matrix of security and commerce within the region. The continuing geostrategic tussle in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East flare-up is all about US-China rivalry, Japan’s security needs, and the Iranian exploitation of its proxies to enlarge its regional space.

Misplaced Perception

Such a limited conversation on these vital regions restricts the efficacy of the report and subsequent in-house discussions. MSR further amplifies Europe’s disconnected thought process and reasons for its inability to comprehend growing complexities among state-to-state relations, yearning for multilateralism, and Asian geostrategic peculiarities. The report sees countries in the weighted quantity of economic and military strength while ignoring historical reasoning and geographical settings. In multiple places, it appears disconnected from the ground reality. While strangely MSR doesn’t find much value in adequately factoring India in its geopolitical assessments, the Indian foreign minister is being courted by global leadership at the venue, greatly signifying a contrarian reality.

The disconnect of the European intelligentsia stands exposed during a trilateral joint panel discussion featuring the host country’s foreign minister, the US Secretary of State and the Indian Foreign Minister. The question about India maintaining good relations with Russia was responded to with simple clarity of “India being smart enough to have multiple options”. The West can ignore certain inconvenient facts but that’s not going to change the new realities

It despises Russia for its military actions in Ukraine blaming its ‘expansionist vision’, on attempts by its leadership to “reverse the collapse of Soviet Union”, it falls silent on strategic missteps by NATO to pursue continued enlargement eastward after giving assurances to the contrary to Russian Federation post-Soviet collapse in 1991. It is also unwilling to discuss why countries closely supporting Moscow are committing historical errors but those who are applying for NATO memberships pledging their military, economy, and country to advance NATO influence are not equal in making the wrong choices.

On Indo-Pacific, it notes China’s erratic actions in the neighbourhood and finds it the sole reason behind the US increasing military presence in the region. It also derides President Xi for linking his “national rejuvenation” goals with Taiwan’s unification. While MSR advocates for the US concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” it squarely fails to identify key players in the advancement of this serious objective. By almost ignoring the influence of India, the world’s fourth most powerful country, in the Indo-Pacific strategy the MSR becomes an effort in relative futility.

Difficult Choices

The disconnect of the European intelligentsia stands further exposed during an important trilateral joint panel discussion featuring the host country’s foreign minister, the US Secretary of State and the Indian Foreign Minister. The persistent question about India’s maintaining good relations with Russia was responded to with simple clarity of “India being smart enough to have multiple options”, reaffirming India’s commitment to multi-alignment in its foreign policy. The West can ignore certain inconvenient facts but that’s not going to anyhow change the new realities.

Surprisingly, the report punches multiple holes in itself, as it grudgingly acknowledges India as the only country with the exception of not having China as its most important trading partner, unlike all other economic players in the region. This reflects India’s capacity for making difficult choices and trading easy options for challenging national goals. Any analyst would have dug deeper to identify what made India opt for difficult choices and how it gained the capacity to stand up for its national priorities. Today as the World’s fifth-largest and fastest-growing major economy, if still India could avoid China to be its largest trading partner it speaks volumes about its vision, intent and capability. All these are crucial components towards achieving diversified sourcing and ensuring stability in the global supply chain.

The problem with the Munich vision is not about what issues it looks at, but how it looks at them. It has led to a massive conglomeration of global leaders discussing a self-regulated assessment at the cost of identifying a cure for the real trouble spots. It is disappointing that the Munich Security Conference has culminated with a scripted fate, despite it having the potential to recalibrate the global vision

The problem with the Munich vision is not about what issues it looks at, but how it looks at them! It has led to a massive conglomeration of global leaders discussing a self-regulated assessment at the cost of identifying a cure for the real pain points. The threat to such mega gatherings has always been the expression of calibrated opinion to confirm pre-decided end states. It only results in discussions remaining limited to media bytes for academic value but not leading to any breakthrough or absorption of a dynamically different approach. It seems disappointing that the Munich Security Conference has likely culminated with such a scripted fate, despite it having the major potential to recalibrate the global vision!

The writer, experienced in security and geopolitics, contributes to national publications. His articles can be accessed on the popular website newsanalytics.in, focusing on geostrategic affairs. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda