Merkel criticises US drift from global multilateral solutions

German leader gets standing ovation after airing US grievance list at security forum

After two years of needling, German chancellor Angela Merkel has hit back at the Trump-era attacks on the multilateral world order – and on Germany's own energy and security policies.

Hours after Donald Trump declared "walls work", Dr Merkel, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, delivered a blunt address that effectively declared a state of emergency in transatlantic relations.

Working through a shopping list of grievances, she said Trump administration policies had “collapsed into many tiny parts” the US-lead liberal global order.

She reminded the Munich Security Conference of the words of Alexander von Humboldt, the German-born geographer and explorer: “Everything is interdependent.”


That still held true in today’s world, she said, facing interdependent questions where answers could best be found through a multilateral approach.

But as differences grows, the German leader hit back at Washington by launching into a series of rhetorical questions that did little to hide her frustration with the Trump administration.

“Are we going to fall apart like puzzle pieces,” she asked, “and think everyone can solve their problems best themselves?”

Amid US speculation that Mr Trump would impose tariffs on European cars, Dr Merkel insisted Germany was proud of its global automotive industry – including US-built German cars.

"BMW has its largest factory in South Carolina, not in Bavaria," she said. "If that is viewed suddenly as a security threat to the United States, then we are shocked."

Iran deal

On US calls for EU countries to follow it out of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, dismissed by Mr Trump as “terrible”, she asked: “Will we help our common goal of limiting the difficult influence of Iran by cancelling our last remaining agreement?”

Like all chancellors before her, Dr Merkel has offered her personal guarantee as German leader for Israel's continued right to exist. But would the US, a staunch defender of Israel, help its ally or "strengthen Russia Iran's hand" in the region through its proposed withdrawal from Syria?

The German leader defended the Nord Stream 2, criticised by the US and Poland, saying Russian gas would keeping flowing from east to west, regardless of the route, just as it had done in the cold war without being a political concern.

"A Russian gas molecule is a Russian gas molecule whether it comes via the Baltic or Ukraine, " she said.

In another swipe, she accused the US and Russia of leaving Europe out of the loop by cancelling of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty to eliminate such weapons on their home continent.

The answer to growing tensions in the world, she suggested, "cannot be a blind arms build-up". Her proposal: a new treaty incorporating China.

Anticipating US criticism of Germany's failure to meet its Nato spending obligations, she said increasing spending from 1.18 per cent in 2015 to 1.5 per cent of national wealth by 2024 represented a massive leap – and would be matched by increased humanitarian spending.

Weapons procurement

Later US vice-president Mike Pence delivered an equally robust speech, demanding greater defence spending and one-fifth of the total on procurement of weapons from western partners.

“We cannot ensure the defence of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” he said.

He stepped up his already strong message from his previous address in Warsaw, warning European countries to stand with Washington and US allies in the Middle East against Iran.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining US sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” he said.

But Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, hit back at "arrogant" US demands that the EU follow its lead, suggesting Washington had an "unhealthy fixation" on his country.

“Certainly, some people are looking for war,” he said in Munich, naming Israel. “The risk is great and the risk will be even greater if you continue to turn a blind eye to severe violations of international law.”

The crowd departed Munich’s chilliest security conference since the post-9/11 freeze noting the contrasting responses to the big speeches.

The German leader secured a standing ovation, though not from US "first daughter" Ivanka Trump, in the audience. US vice-president Mike Pence's speech, filled with gaps for applause that didn't come, ended with a muted show of appreciation.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin