Munich Security Conference (MSC) celebrated its 60th anniversary on the occasion of its annual event from February 16-18, 2024. Faced with colossal security challenges ranging from sustained war in Ukraine, Israel’s onslaught against the Palestinians of Gaza since October 7, 2023, growing Sino-American schism over Taiwan and former American president Donald Trump’s assertion to withdraw U.S support to NATO unless its members meet financial obligations reflect growing challenges to already fragile world order.

The year 1963 was a landmark in global politics because of three major events. First, the signing of the partial test ban treaty; second, the historic signing of the Franco-German treaty of peace and cooperation and third the launching of the Munich security dialogue in the fall of 1963 by Ewald von Kleist.

MSC is a yearly event where hundreds of delegates primarily from the Western bloc and developing countries participate to brainstorm on security challenges and issues faced by the world and strategies for dealing with growing security predicaments like global warming, climate change, food and energy crisis emanating from Russian-Ukrainian war since February 2022.

In the realm of international diplomacy, MSC 2024 focused on widening of Russian-U.S polarization over Ukraine and growing security predicament in the Middle East. Whereas, “the Munich Security Report 2024 explores the lose-lose dynamics that are spurred if ever more governments prioritize relative payoffs rather than engage in positive-sum cooperation and invest in an international order that, despite its obvious flaws, can still help grow the proverbial pie for the benefit of all”. The report also stimulates the “debate on how the transatlantic partners and like-minded states can balance two difficult requirements: bracing for a much more competitive geopolitical environment, where relative-gains thinking is unavoidable, and reviving the type of cooperation without which more inclusive global growth and solutions to pressing global problems can hardly be attained”.

MSC 2024 dominated by the transatlantic alliance also provided space to Priyanka Chaturvedi, Deputy Leader of the Shiv Sena Party, Parliament of India who participated in a panel discussion on “figuring out relationship goals: the EU and its partners held on February 18, 2024. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was also on the list of MSC participants. A representative from the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) also participated in that event. As the world’s 5th largest economy, India’s role in MSC is noticeable.

The U.S Vice-President Kamela Harris in her speech at MSC offered “a broad defense of the Biden administration’s approach to global challenges, especially in leading international support for Ukraine in its war with Russia”. She asserted that “the United States would not back down on supporting democracy and multilateralism as well defending international rules and norms from attempts to subvert them”. Without naming Donald Trump’s resolve to pull the U.S. from its financial support to NATO, Kamela argued in her speech that, “imagine if America turned our back on Ukraine and abandoned our NATO allies and abandoned our treaty commitments. Imagine if we went easy on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, let alone encouraged him.” She also warned of the “dangers of growing authoritarianism and isolationism in a not-so-veiled repudiation of Donald Trump’s worldview and threats to renege on security guarantees for NATO allies should he return to the White House”.

The U.S Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a panel discussion at MSC argued that “virtually every Arab country now genuinely wants to integrate Israel into the region to normalize relations…to provide security commitments and assurances so that Israel can feel safer and there’s also, I think the imperative, that’s more urgent than ever, to proceed to a Palestinian state that also ensures the security of Israel.” However, he was unable to condemn Israeli policy of genocide as confirmed by the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

If America is in the driver’s seat in global order and dominated discourse at MSC, it means unlike the assertion of Russia and China that the multipolar world has replaced bipolarity, the world is still unipolar.

MSC may reflect a gathering of world leaders representing the West and developing countries, it is the nexus of the developed world under the leadership of the United States which is a stark reality. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was the focus of attention in MSC in which he urged NATO not to leave his country in resisting Russian military invasion. In his speech, he said that his country was determined to keep fighting, but at the same time, Ukraine was approaching a crucial and dangerous threshold as it ran out of munitions for its air defense systems. “If Kyiv is no longer able to protect its skies, they said, civilians in Ukraine’s cities will be vastly more at risk, and the country’s economy will take a hit, too”.

Amidst Donald Trump’s dangerous assertion that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO if the Atlantic Alliance fails to meet its financial obligation, the environment in MSC was gloomy and pessimistic with a perception that if Trump returns to power in November 2024 U.S presidential elections, what will be the shape of European security? That fear was addressed by NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the concluding phase of MSC in which he warned that the “world has become more dangerous but that NATO has become stronger, the Alliance never takes peace for granted, but that there was no imminent military threat to any NATO Ally.” Assuring stability in the Atlantic Alliance NATO Secretary General pointed to record increases in Allied defense spending and arms production as examples of how the Alliance is adapting to a more dangerous world.

One needs to critically assess the 60th event of the Munich Security Conference from three angles. First, the conference reflected the pre-eminence of the West in global order amidst differences in the Atlantic alliance on armed conflict in Ukraine and dealing with Russia. Participation from the third world had a marginal impact even though 90% of inter and intra-state conflicts happen to take place in developing countries. If NATO can provide around 20 billion dollars of assistance to deal with armed conflict in Ukraine since the outbreak of its war with Russia in February 2022 and the United States awarded 10 billion dollars of military assistance to Israel since the outbreak of conflict in Gaza in October 2023, there was no coherent strategy on the part of the West to deal with critical issues faced by the Third World in terms of Israel’s genocide in Gaza, debt burden, global warming, climate change, surge in the prices of food and fuel.

Armed conflicts particularly in Africa and parts of Asia which question the stability of world order are also not a source of urgent attention by the West.

Second, MSC was unable to address other critical issues like a rising tide of Islamophobia which is termed a major human security challenge in the West, how the surge of anti-migration and anti-Muslim groups in Europe and the United States in the form of culture of populism was also not a source of major debate at MSC. Just to narrate that ‘the world has become a dangerous place’ by NATO’s Secretary General is not enough. What is required is to formulate a policy on the part of the West on how to neutralize the forces of hate and chauvinism which deepen insecurity among millions of migrants.

Finally, MSC failed to focus on how China and Russia, the permanent members of the U.N Security Council and major global powers reject the preeminence of the U.S.-led world order. The marginal role of Chinese representatives in the MSC and the exclusion of Russia from that forum reflects how the West is unwilling to redeem the realist paradigm of world order which is now multipolar instead of unipolar.

While hundreds of senior decision-makers from several countries participated in the 2024 MSC, brainstorming sessions in the form of panel discussions provided a useful opportunity and insight to rethink fault lines in the prevailing world order and to seek a win-win situation on critical issues, the outcome of the conference was similar to earlier annual events. When NATO Secretary General in his speech warned about ‘the world becoming a dangerous place’ he, along with other participants was unable to come up with path-breaking solutions to regional and global security predicament based on clear vision and foresight. The world doesn’t end in Ukraine but it seemed MSC lacked the focus on addressing human security issues that plague most of the third world countries in economic, governance, and environmental areas. At the same time, MSC lacked the vision for a stable and peaceful world order.

Pakistan’s conspicuous absence from MSC in terms of high-level delegation reflects the country’s marginal standing in a discourse on global and regional security matters. It is suggested that Pakistan as the world’s fifth largest country in terms of population and the only nuclear state in the Muslim world must put its house in order so that its standing at the global level is recognized.

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