Leading politicians, military officers and diplomats from around the world gather in Munich on Friday to survey a European security landscape transformed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris are among many top officials attending the Munich Security Conference, a major annual global gathering focused on defence and diplomacy.
Senior Ukrainian officials are also expected to address the conference, which begins on Friday and runs until Sunday at the luxury Bayerischer Hof hotel in the southern German city.
Last year’s conference took place just days before the war began. As Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, Western leaders in Munich urged President Vladimir Putin not to invade and warned of dire consequences if he did so.
This year, leaders will grapple with the profound consequences of Putin’s decision to ignore their pleas and unleash the most devastating war in Europe since World War Two that has killed countless thousands and forced millions to flee.
“If Putin wins in Ukraine, the message to him and other authoritarian regimes is that force is rewarded,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week.
“That would make the world more dangerous. And all of us more vulnerable,” said Stoltenberg, speaking ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s defence ministers, who pledged to ramp up military supplies to Kyiv even as they admitted their own munitions stockpiles have been badly depleted by the war.
The war will reignite long-running debates at Munich on questions such as how much Europe should build up its own military capacity, how much it should rely on the United States for its security, and how much governments should spend on defence.
Delegates will also discuss the far-reaching global impact of the war, on issues ranging from energy supply to food prices.
MOSCOW NOT INVITED
The conference has sometimes served as a barometer of relations between Russia and the West, most notably in 2007 when Putin attacked the United States in a speech now widely seen as a harbinger of a far harsher stance against liberal democracies.
This year, Russian leaders will be notable by their absence.
Conference chair Christoph Heusgen, a veteran German diplomat, said organisers had not invited any Russian officials as Putin had “broken with civilisation”.
By contrast, a U.S. delegation of record size is expected at the conference, including Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a third of the U.S. Senate.
“We expect a signal of unity from the transatlantic community,” Heusgen told reporters this week.
Discussions at the conference will also highlight a rude awakening for Western leaders – the war has made clear that much of the rest of the world does not see things their way.
Efforts to get African, Asian and Latin American leaders to isolate Moscow have often floundered, due to Russian diplomatic and economic clout – and anger in the Global South that the West has shown far less interest in conflict and injustice there.
Other big international issues will also feature at the conference, particularly relations between the West and China.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi is expected to attend and Blinken is considering meeting him there, in what would be their first face-to-face talks after the United States shot down what it said was a Chinese spy balloon and other flying objects.