Messages From Munich

The US is being spurned by its traditional allies – but not the Arab regimes.

By Abdel Bari Atwan

The main headlines from this weekend’s Munich Security Conference portray a world on the brink, with any number of conflicts — including the US’ showdown with North Korea, Saudi Arabia’s rivalries with Iran and the war in Syria – threatening to explode into major wars at any time.

The Europeans have begun to appreciate the seriousness of these crises and prepare for their possible direct fallout on their own security. They are rethinking priorities and seeking to develop an independent defence strategy, including the formation of joint rapid deployment forces, without waiting for a lead from the US.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was candid in the unprecedented criticism he directed at US President Donald Trump, who he held responsible raising global tensions with his provocative and incoherent policies in several parts of the world.  He remarked that there could be no confidence in the US government under Trump, and wondered whether his policies should be assessed by his words, his actions or his tweets.

This drive towards European independence from the US was clearly in evidence at the Munich conference, and best articulated by two women, the French and German defence ministers Florence Parly and Ursula von der Leyen. Both affirmed in their speeches to the 500-odd delegates, who included 21 heads of state or government and many foreign ministers, that Europe had to become more self-reliant in guaranteeing its security, and more independent of the US and Nato, echoing sentiments voiced earlier by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

North Korea sought self-reliance and developed a nuclear and missile deterrent against American threats. Iran pursued the same path and developed a sophisticated missile arsenal, reinforced by a considered policy of regional strategic outreach bolstered by military muscle. Yet we Arabs continue to rely on others to defend us, to the extent that some of us have started seeing the Israeli occupation state as a strategic protector and ally.

The US is being spurned its traditional allies in Europe because its policies have become a cause of provocation and destabilization worldwide, especially in Europe’s Middle Eastern backyard: whether by seeking to wreck the Iranian nuclear agreement, recognising Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the occupation state, planning to keep its forces permanently in Syria, or trying to establishing a Kurdish entity to host its military bases.

It is regrettable that the Arab states have no effective role at the Munich conference, and whatever roles they do play are entirely negative. These consist mainly of using it as a platform for airing inter-Arab disputes, especially those between the Gulf states, and complaining about one another, as well as a venue for holding secret or perhaps open meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as he struts peacock-like around the chamber and in the corridors.

Israeli is also a key factor in the current American escalation against North Korea – which poses no real threat to the US thousands of kilometres away. This is due to Pyongyang’s cooperation with some Arab states, especially Syria, and Iran in military areas such as manufacturing missiles and exchanging nuclear, scientific and technical expertise. The Israeli F-16 warplane shot down over Syria last week was almost certainly downed by an old Russian missile updated with North Korean expertise.

The Arab condition is disgraceful by any gauge. Most of the Arab regimes have reduced themselves to a state of humiliating subservience to the US in the region and the wider world, just as its traditional allies in both east and west are distancing themselves from it. The Arab representatives who attend the Munich conference and most similar international gatherings are no longer united by a common cause. The main preoccupation of most of the Arab regimes has become to cause trouble for each other, spending tens of billions of dollars on these endeavours.

It was painful to read the Munich Security Conference’s Annual Report which warned that the war in Syrian could persist for years or maybe decades, and could spark a confrontation between the superpowers given the worsening cold war between them. But some of the Western participants at the gathering — whose short-sightedness and vindictive instincts outweigh all rational or moral considerations and responsibilities — may have rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect.