On February 19, 2021, the Munich Security Conferesne (MSC) Special Edition assembled some of the world’s most senior decision-makers for a live broadcast event. Tuning in from all over the world, they discussed how to rebuild and renew the transatlantic alliance and highlight the areas in which transatlantic and international cooperation are most urgently needed. The MSC Special Edition marked the beginning of the “Road to Munich 2021”.
Traditionally held in February, the MSC is the world’s leading forum for foreign and security policy. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s MSC had to be postponed to a later date in 2021. However, in order to provide senior leaders with a globally visible platform at this critical time, the MSC decided to host a Special Edition. At the very time and place the MSC 2021 would have kicked-off normally, some of the world’s most senior decision-makers came together virtually for the MSC Special Edition 2021. Joe Biden, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, António Guterres, Jens Stoltenberg, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, John F. Kerry, and Bill Gates participated in the event titled “Beyond Westlessness: Renewing Transatlantic Cooperation, Meeting Global Challenges”.
“Westlessness”, MSC Chairman Ambassador Ischinger reminded listeners, was the theme of the MSC 2020. The term described “the sense that the world, but also the West itself, was getting less Western, less rule-based, less value-oriented.” In his view, the past year had largely confirmed this diagnosis as “many of the geopolitical certainties that have defined the post-Cold War era continue to be dangerously eroding.” Yet, the past year had also offered signs of hope, therefore the MSC Special Edition sought to look beyond Westlessness and find ways to rebuild the transatlantic partnership, as well as to identify joint opportunities to tackle global challenges such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Participants in the event indeed shared a hopeful outlook. While 2020 had confronted the world with unprecedented challenges, it had also boosted global cooperation for example on Covid-19 vaccines and saw countries making strong commitments towards net-zero climate goals.
For the first time in its 58-year history, a sitting President of the United States of America addressed the MSC. In 2019, Joe Biden promised: “We will be back”. He kept his promise and chose Munich for his very first message to his Allies and partners around the world. President Biden made a passionate case of global engagement and democracy, reassuring allies and friends:
“I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. And we are not looking backward, we are looking forward together.”
In a more somber note, he warned that the world was now at a crossroads of democracy and autocracy.
The other speakers agreed that America’s return to global leadership is a game-changer and that a sort of restart of the West is now possible. However, as Chancellor Merkel warned, the West and democratic countries would have to actually let actions speak instead of just speaking about their values.
How to deal with autocratic powers such as China and Russia was a big question. The UN secretary general António Guterres cautioned that the world “could not afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe into two opposing areas in a Great Fracture”. Yet others declared that, while they were willing to work with China and others on joint challenges, cooperation had its limits.
To include a variety of voices in the program, selected participants of the Munich Young Leaders (MYL) program had the opportunity to address world leaders at the event and ask them questions. The MYL program, a joint project of the MSC and Körber-Stiftung, brings together decision-makers of tomorrow and supports them in enhancing their international networks.
A recording of the event is available here.