This past weekend, over 130 ministers and heads of state gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference, created in 1963 as a response to the Berlin Wall crisis two years earlier. The conference is meant, as Arthur Herman writes, “to be an important venue for European leaders to discuss collective security concerns in an informal setting.” Herman argues that this year’s meeting failed to meet the needs of the moment.
The organizers of this cold-war relic could have given it an urgent new relevance in light of what’s unfolding in Ukraine—certainly the gravest security challenge to Europe in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
They didn’t. Like an unrelated but more notorious conference held in Munich in 1938, this last meeting showed instead how feeble European democracies can be in facing aggression even when it threatens one of their own, in this case the largest country in Europe. Hours after the conference closed, Vladimir Putin showed what he thought of that vaunted body by announcing his plans to move troops into eastern Ukraine.
Herman goes on to acknowledge some positive moments of the conference, such as a speech by the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and puts forth a series of suggestions regarding what the conferees might have accomplished.