In Munich you will have to live with other views and, ideally, be ready to defend yours. Most of our participants are. Within the space of two hours on Sunday, the Prime Minister of Israel as well as the Foreign Ministers from Iran and Saudi Arabia sat on the stage and faced difficult questions from the audience, just like Theresa May, Jean-Claude Juncker, Petro Poroschenko, Sebastian Kurz, Mark Rutte, António Guterres and many others did over the days before. Yes, time for questions was often too short and, yes, we sometimes failed to challenge dubious positions with the necessary vigor, but we did our bit to promote good ideas and to hold bad ideas to account.
Lastly, Eliot accuses us, I believe quite unfairly, of a growing sense of self-importance. Yes, the Munich Security Conference has become bigger. Yes, it has become more visible and, yes, by becoming more transparent and inclusive it is no longer the closed shop Wehrkunde was during the days of the Cold War. But its purpose—to build trust and sustain a continuous, curated and informal dialogue within the international security community—has not changed. Neither has its self-conception: We want to remain a platform, not become an agenda-setter. We want to foster networks, not make headlines. We want to be a place for serious work, and not a show.
Dear Eliot, let me assure you: We know our place—and we will stay there. Just as Ewald von Kleist would have wanted us to. We also know our shortcomings and will continue to work on them. We appreciate feedback and criticism and need people like you to keep us on our toes. However much we continue to emulate the ideals of Ewald von Kleist, though, we will not be able to escape the constraints of our times. Don’t blame us for them! Help us to change them!
Chief Operating Officer, Munich Security Conference Foundation
I am writing to thank you for your recent article on the Munich Security Conference. I am a practicing lawyer and also hold a master’s degree in international relations from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa.
When I read accounts like yours, I’m left with a feeling of sadness for what’s become of the country that once was not afraid to take on the mantle of “leader of the free world.” To a foreign (in this case, Canadian) observer, the America that rebuilt democracies and economies after WWII, won the Cold War, and built a system of international alliances and institutions that maintained stability for over 70 years has suddenly gone awol.
Throughout my career as legal counsel at the Bank of Canada (Canada’s central bank), I always enjoyed working with U.S. justice and regulatory authorities on strengthening the international financial system. I admired the professionalism and respectfulness of the American representatives and their willingness to take the lead in forging a consensus among the often disparate views of the countries at the table.