Mali mission may be model, says Berlin

More than 3,000 police and soldiers are guarding 70 delegations and 400 participants at this year's Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel. photograph: michaela rehle

More than 3,000 police and soldiers are guarding 70 delegations and 400 participants at this year's Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel. photograph: michaela rehle

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

Germany has said Europe’s defence interests are best served not by creating a European army but by pursuing a “strategy of resolute pragmatism” that “recognises the limits of our power”.

At this year’s Munich Security Conference, expected to be dominated by conflict in Syria and Mali, German defence minister Thomas de Maizière dismissed claims that Europe, and Germany in particular, was not pulling its weight on international security.

The international co-operation in Mali could, he said, point the way forward on improved military co-ordination and create an “anchor of stability” in the region.

Mr de Maizière noted the Mali military offensive involved French ground troops supporting local forces against Islamic extremists. They in turn were supported by German aircraft and US military transport and refuelling missions.

In a time of tight military budgets, such pragmatic cooperation between Nato, the EU and the UN – alongside local and regional forces – “seems to be an approach we might put to more frequent use”, he said. “If such a co-operation is successful it might serve as an anchor of stability with far-reaching effects on the region,” he said.


There is no shortage of issues to be discussed at the Munich conference, now in its 49th year. The weekend event at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof is a highsecurity lockdown, with more than 3,000 police and soldiers guarding 70 delegations and 400 participants, including the foreign ministers of France, Russia, Iran and Israel.

Once through the security cordon outside, delegates value the conference as a chance to hold informal talks without attracting attention. Their efforts at discretion are not always successful, with several officials quick to shoot down reports yesterday that Syria’s national coalition president Moaz al-Khatib would meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at the conference – as well as US vice-president Joe Biden and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

UN and Russian officials denied the reports yesterday.

“Media reports of a meeting in Munich in the format of Lavrov-Biden-Brahimi and Syrian opposition representative Alkhatib do not correspond with reality,” said a Russian official.

Others conceded, however, that a meeting could still take place between officials from Syria and Russia, the main arms supplier to the Assad regime.

European officials played down hopes of progress on the 22-month Syrian conflict.

‘Bitter, bloody civil war’

“As bitter as it is to admit, our influence on Syria from the outside is smaller than many believe,” said Mr de Maizière, describing the conflict that has claimed at least 40,000 lives as “a bitter, bloody civil war”.

In his opening address, the defence minister played down the significance of US president Barack Obama’s promised second-term focus on Asia, saying he saw no conflict with transatlantic ties.

“What prevents us from building bridges together? We should consider joint transatlantic options for co-operation in the Pacific,” he said. The run-up to this year’s conference in Munich has been dominated by a debate in Germany about its military role in the world.

Strategic observers have long been critical of Berlin’s automatic refusal to participate in military deployments, dubbing its strategy concept – providing arms instead of ground troops – the “Merkel doctrine”.

Some 42 per cent of Germany’s arms exports in 2011 – worth more than €10 billion annually – were to third-party states outside the EU and Nato.