This year’s Munich Security Conference once again stood out as the premier international gathering of national security policymakers and thinkers. Anticipation was high in the run-up to Munich, as the conference represented the Trump administration’s first major effort to publicly articulate its Europe policy. This was the 12th time I’ve attended the conference, and never have I seen so much uncertainty about America’s future. NATO allies repeatedly questioned U.S. intentions, American officials sought to reassure their transatlantic partners, and the corridor talk focused on the Trump administration’s worldview. The participants were left with a pervasive sense that transatlantic relations have entered a new era.
The conference has grown over the years from a wonky gathering of transatlantic specialists to a star-studded foreign policy festival with the likes of Bill Gates and Bono. Yet some things haven’t changed. The frenetic “bi-lats,” the overconsumption of Bavarian pretzels, and the faint scent of European tobacco together signaled that Munich’s Hotel Bayrischer Hof was once again ground zero for debate over transatlantic relations. Here are five themes that struck me during the proceedings.
1. Europe doubts America and Washington reciprocates. It was clear ahead of Munich that Europe’s concern about America’s direction had become palpable. The continent expected a Hillary Clinton victory, and Trump’s win rattled the allies. The president’s questions about NATO’s relevance, his demands for greater burden-sharing, his “America First” foreign policy philosophy, and his openness to better ties with Moscow prompted fierce questioning across Europe.
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