German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the Munich Security Conference on Friday with a warning that world politics was heading for “darker times” and singled out the United States, China, and Russia with criticism.
Around 35 heads of state and government are attending the three-day gathering in the southern German city, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Top ministers from other countries are due to attend, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg are also on the list of attendees.
“We are witnessing today an increasingly destructive dynamic in world politics. Year by year, we are distancing ourselves from the goal of international cooperation to create a more peaceful world,” Steinmeier said at the start of the conference.
“The current return to national interests in this period is leading us into a blind alley, into darker times.”
He criticized the actions of world powers Russia and China, but also added: “Our closest ally, the United States, under the current administration itself rejects the idea of an international community.”
With the European Union seeing friction between its member states across several issues, Steinmeier said that Germany’s greatest responsibility was “to keep together a united Europe.”
The chairman of the conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, struck a similarly pessimistic note.
Speaking ahead of the conference he said “we have more crises, more serious crises, more horrific events than one can actually imagine.”
He told dpa that Germany, for one, should be taking on more responsibility in tackling global challenges.
“Given the incredible speed of the changes in world politics, [Germany’s foreign policy] is indeed moving too slowly,” he said. Germany, he said, had shown “too little decisiveness.”
Ischinger said he was “deeply troubled” about the “unforgivable failure” of the international community in war-torn Syria, and also lamented that a Libya peace plan hammered out recently in Berlin had fallen flat.
Defence ministers from the coalition against Islamic State met earlier on Friday in Munich to discuss the latest developments, principally military operations in Iraq.
Those attending the meeting included US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who also met separately before the coalition talks.
Both senior officials reaffirmed the need to apply “unwavering pressure” on Islamic State, with Kramp-Karrenbauer saying the group was “not yet defeated.”
NATO tensions could also simmer at Munich, as Macron pushes for Europe to become more independent of its powerful US ally, including by cooperating on a nuclear deterrent.
Meanwhile, with leading US Democrat Nancy Pelosi also in Munich, both the camps supporting and opposing President Donald Trump will be represented at the conference at a time of intense political division in Washington.
Around 3,900 police officers are set to provide security for the event, which is set to draw protesters.