February 17, 2020

Power and Pretzels in Munich, 2020

By Richard Fontaine

Once a year, the world’s foreign policy elite descend on Bavaria for a weekend to reconnect with colleagues, eat pretzels, and debate the shape of global order. The Munich Security Conference each year grows bigger, more elaborate, and more frenetic. It’s commonplace to see a policymaker rush by, muttering, “Gotta go, gotta go, I’m late for a bilat and I can’t find the room.” The environment feels like a huge college mixer, if you replaced the band with policy speakers, the shouting with whispery conversations, and the quiet wallflowers with armed security personnel.

This year’s just-completed conference focused on “Westlessness,” a neologism aiming to capture the sense of uncertainty about the West’s strength, coherence, and purpose. It certainly captured the mood among many European participants. American speakers included Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, and Mark Zuckerberg. Other major acts included Emanuel Macron, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, and a bearded Justin Trudeau. And so it provided a good opportunity to observe how leaders and thinkers are feeling about the array of challenges laid out before them.

Five themes struck me as emblematic of this year’s Munich zeitgeist.

Read the full article in War on the Rocks.

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