Wolfgang Ischinger "The West Must Save Itself”

Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of the Munich Security Conference and Germany's former Ambassador to the United States, in an interview with Handelsblatt, called for a stronger Europe at a time when it can no longer rely on the U.S. for its security strategy. The Munich Security Conference is the Trump administration’s first major policy foray. Vice President Mike Pence will be among those representing the U.S. during the three-day conference, set to take place in Munich next week.

The E.U. crisis, the Ukraine conflict, frayed ties with Moscow and the unresolved Syria conflict have stirred unprecedented feelings of uncertainty in many European capitals, Mr. Ischinger said in an interview with Handelsblatt. The election of Donald Trump has added to Europeans’ disorientation, prompting an outcry of “What will become of the West?”, Mr. Ischinger said. Mr. Ischinger questioned the longevity of European-American ties in a time of brewing trade disputes. Mr. Ischinger wondered if Mr. Trump held beliefs long thought sacrosanct in the E.U: “The previous agreement was that the E.U. project is to be protected and that NATO is the shield,” Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. The geopolitical situation currently bears more potential dangers than it has for decades, Mr. Ischinger said in the interview.

What will become of the West? Wolfgang Ischinger, Head of the Munich Security Conference

Transatlantic relationships are headed for rough sailing, Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. Security policy had been somewhat static since the times of Helmut Schmidt and Jimmy Carter, so that even world-changing events such as Germany’s reunification or the demise of the Soviet Union didn't critically change things, Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. The security architecture that rested on the pillars of NATO, the E.U. and the transatlantic alliance was stable, he added. Things have changed rapidly, Mr. Ischinger said. “I do not want to over-dramatize, but we are actually experiencing a new era,” he said in the interview. The many concurrent crises, and in particular Mr. Trump’s election have rendered this security architecture unstable and the future of the transatlantic relationship uncertain, Mr. Ischinger said. While some say things are not as bad as they look, “if the U.S. president says that he trusts Mr. Putin just like Mrs. Merkel, then that makes me cringe,” Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. The E.U. should not rely on strategic patience, but rather proactively reach out to Mr. Trump as a partner, Mr. Ischinger said, giving the threatened import tax on cars as an example. “We Europeans don't engage in wage dumping,” Mr. Ischinger said. A carmaker in Sindelfingen, the German town that is home to Daimler, earns more than his counterpart in Detroit, Mr. Ischinger pointed out. “The E.U. should present its own proposals on economic and foreign policy to Mr. Trump, and underline that 500 million people live in the E.U. many more than in the U.S,“ he said. The E.U, too, must change and cannot simply continue to outsource its security strategies to the U.S. for another half a century, Mr. Ischinger said. “It must speak with one voice and has to become more able to act militarily,” he added. Germany should lead by example and, as a conceivable first step, suggest majority decisions in foreign and security policy in the E.U., Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. While such a step would certainly be controversial, especially in Germany, it could unleash a big debate in the E.U. and end the debate about Germany's hegemony, Mr. Ischinger said. E.U. government heads should now decide on a clear path to a defense and security union, so that synergies, for example in armaments policy, could finally be utilized effectively, Mr. Ischinger said. He also called for a comprehensive plan for "pooling and sharing” weaponry and an end to sectionalism in defense policy. “We can no longer afford to maintain six times more weapons than the United States,” Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. Farsighted strategic decisions in this field, while required, may pose difficult questions, Mr. Ischinger cautioned, “think only of jobs in the defense industry.”This new European military heft would garner both Mr. Trumps and Vladimir Putin’s respect, Mr. Ischinger said. “Moreover, it would then be less likely that Americans and Russians negotiate a peace agreement in Syria, while Europe sits on the sidelines, at the same time bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis,” Mr. Ischinger said in the interview. "The West must save itself,” Mr. Ischinger said. The West now consists mainly of Europe, he added. “However, I believe that the E.U. will overcome this crisis. In a year maybe Donald Trump will say: Thank God we have the E.U.,” Mr. Ischinger said.