The Irish Times view on the Munich Security Conference: ‘Davos for defence’

Recent comments from Donald Trump have added fuel to calls for greater European self-reliance

Strikingly different and evolving perceptions of the relative dangers posed by security challenges to the volatile global order set the scene for this year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) .The meeting, known as the “Davos of defence”, and opening this morning, provides an important annual informal opportunity for political leaders, diplomats and CEOs to hobnob and bounce around ideas about where the world is going. This year, Gaza, the war in Ukraine, fighting in the Horn of Africa, and the fate of Nato with the prospect of the return of Donald Trump, are set to dominate the agenda.

Trump’s boast at a rally last week that he had told Nato allies during his presidency he would “encourage” Russia to attack any member state that failed to meet a defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP has outraged fellow Nato members. They see it as an express repudiation of the core Nato commitment to mutual self-protection and even suggesting a US commitment to leaving the organisation. The large US contingent at the summit will no doubt spend much of its time reassuring allies.

The comments have understandably added fuel to calls for greater European self-reliance on the issue and within the EU for it to step up its own defence capabilities. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to address the issue – she is also expected soon to propose the appointment of a first EU commissioner for defence.

Concerns at the weakening of transatlantic support for Ukraine have been somewhat eased by the agreement to release the blocked EU aid package and success in passing the US military aid bill through the Senate, although not yet the House.


But while Russia and its intentions remains the top security concern of political leaders, a poll commissioned ahead of the MSC found that European voters, who last year shared that preoccupation, are now – post-Gaza – more worried by migration caused by climate change and war, and by the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Russia is now seventh on their list of concerns. While they still support by a substantial majority providing arms to Ukraine, signs of a war weariness in Europe must be a concern to president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is expected to address the conference.

The MSC survey also warns of a revolt from the Global South, pointing out that 50 per cent of the respondents agree that “we live in a world largely shaped by Western ideas”. According to this view, the Western emphasis on the “rules-based order” and the universality of human rights standards is hypocritical and aimed at preserving the status quo of western domination. It is a perception successfully promoted by Russia and China that needs urgently to be addressed by Western diplomacy just as much as military cooperation.