The 45th Munich Security Conference, which concluded on Sunday, was sure to be remembered for the years to come as the new U.S. administration, determined to repair relations with Russia and Europe, set a so-called "new tone" in its foreign policy which could have deep repercussions around the world.
"I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America's relations around the world. That new tone--rooted in strong partnerships to meet common challenges--is not a luxury. It is a necessity," said U.S. Vice President Joe Baiden in a much anticipated speech on Saturday.
In the first presentation outside the United States of the President Barack Obama administration's foreign and security policy, Biden outlined two major points in this "new tone," first to develop a new transatlantic relations, and second, to improve Washington's relationship with Russia with enhanced cooperation.
New chapter in transatlantic relations
Distancing away from the Bush administration's proneness to unilateralism when dealing with the European allies, Biden said it's time to open a new chapter in the transatlantic relations. He promised that Washington will "sincerely" listen to its European allies and consult with them.
Bush's unilateral announcement of war on Iraq had caused a rift in EU-U.S. relations, and Biden came to the repairing, saying that "in sharing ideals and searching for partners in a more complex world, Americans and Europeans still look to one another before they look to anyone else."
The new gestures from Washington drew positive reactions in Europe. Gert Weisskirchen, a Social Democratic spokesman on foreign policy of Germany, said Sunday that it was the first time in quite a long time that the Americans said they were willing to listen carefully to opinions of the Europeans, and was ready to jointly work with the European allies to address the common threats through joint actions.
European leaders attached great importance to and put a lot of hopes on Biden's first foreign trip since his taking office in January, sending leaders of the three most important EU nations--German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband--to meet him.
At least, the Europeans got what they would like to listen to--promises of collaboration from the other side of the Atlantic.
However, Biden was quick to drop hints that a new transatlantic relationship means the Europeans would have to contribute more.
"America will do more, but America will ask for more from our partners," he said. And he immediately asked for European help in accepting detainees in the Guantanamo detention camp, which America aims to close within one year, and in providing more troops and more assistance to Afghanistan.
The U.S. government is planning to send as many as 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and has made no secret that he wants Germany and other European countries to increase their involvement in the NATO-lead peacekeeping mission, but Germany and France have been reluctant to do so. And the German government is particularly cautious on the issue as the country holds the general elections in September this year.
German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung told Americans on Sunday that more efforts should be spent in reconstruction and police training in Afghanistan, saying that "we will not win by military means alone."
Commenting on some European nations' reluctance to provide more troops to Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Saturday that it was not the right balance within NATO. New transatlantic relations not only need joint leadership, but also need the sharing of joint responsibilities.
"If Europe wants a greater voice, it needs to do more," he said.
Russia welcomes "strong signal" from Washington to better ties
Relations between Washington and Moscow had hit low over the recent years due to differences over NATO's eastward enlargement and Washington's plan to deploy missile defense system in East Europe.
Biden said on Saturday that America hopes to reduce tension in the relations, and relaunch cooperation in non-proliferation of the nuclear weapons, disarmament, arms control. He also said that both sides can keep differences while working together.
In a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Sunday, the first contact between top officials from the two sides since Obama took office, Biden repeated this position to his Russian counterpart.
Ivanov said Russia welcomed the "strong signal" from Washington to promote bilateral relations, and was ready to cooperate with it in all fields. Meanwhile, he demands mutual trust in the cooperation.
To Ivanov, what is more important is what Obama would do with Russia in the future. "we'll wait and see," said Ivanonv.
Analysts said that behind the beautiful promises from Biden, it seemed the United States would not make any concessions on some key spheres.
"We will strive, every day, to honor the values that animate America's democracy," said Biden.
And he reminded the Russians that his country would continue to develop missile defense to counter threats from "rogue" states like Iran. "We will do so in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia," he added.
He said America would not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, which Moscow recognized, and will not recognize a "sphere of influence," referring to Russia's traditional dominance in some former Soviet states.
Meanwhile, he warned against Moscow's opposition to some former Soviet nations' ambitions to join NATO. "It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances," he stressed.
Calls for multilateralism
The more than 350 participants to the Munich conference agreed that with the world fighting the financial crisis, climate change and other global challenges, no single country, no matter how powerful it is, could solve the problems by itself. Multilateral cooperation is needed more than ever to address these issues.
"We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America's power--they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and values," said Biden. "America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called Saturday for a more effective multilateralism to address the global security threats.
"To meet today's global security threats, the European Security Strategy calls for a more effective multilateralism as the only way forward," said Barroso.
While EU cooperation with the United Nations, NATO and the United States are essential for a more effective multilateralism, Barroso said that "it is time to encourage our other partners to see that they too have an interest in, and responsibility for, the global community because that is the only way we can consolidate and strengthen a stable, multilateral world, governed by internationally-agreed rules."
Both French President Sarkozy and EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana urged the EU and the United States to take seriously Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's proposals on restructuring European security arrangement, which features multilateral participation.
Analysts said that the G20 summit on financial crisis in April in London could immediately serve as a test as to how multilateral collaboration could contribute to addressing the lingering issue.
(Xinhua News Agency February 9, 2009)