Munich Security Conference closes with divided views on global 'rules-based order'

Ukraine has been at the forefront of western policymakers' minds, but international forum attendees view the conflict through different lenses

Left to right, German SDP co-chairman Lars Klingbeil, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and moderator Rym Momtaz at the Munich Security Conference. EPA
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The 59th Munich Security Conference wrapped up on Sunday with a continued sense of concern about how the Ukraine war will end — and what its long-term ramifications will be.

No tangible solutions were given. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the war would end only when Moscow “stops bombing … and Russia withdraws its troops”.

With no clear signal that Moscow could make that unilateral decision and without any clear path for diplomacy, the Ukraine war is set to mark its first anniversary on Friday.

Western officials used their speeches over the past three days to stress the importance of ending the war with a defeat of Russia, to protect “the rules-based order”.

However, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, spoke of the necessity of “a universal application of the rules-based order”.

Ms Rabbani Khar echoed the voices of several attendees whom she described as coming from the “global south”, saying that using a “moral argument” on Ukraine often misses the lack of morality in other global conflicts.

Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik school of government at the University of Oxford, said Europe and the US had needed a “unifying narrative” on Ukraine and thus went for the “moral argument”, yet it was not one that convinced many around the world.

One clear exception to the rules-based order being espoused by western officials is Palestine.

As Israel’s far-right government declares more settlement building and threatens its Arab citizens, it declined an invitation to be present at the Munich Security Conference to defend its position.

However, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert attended and gave an impassioned speech about the need to confront the policies of the current government, which he said “doesn’t want peace”.

In one of the last sessions of the conference, speakers and attendees expressed fears that the two-state solution in the Middle East would no longer be possible unless there was no clear alternative.

Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Al Safadi warned of “the very ugly reality” of a one-state solution built on apartheid if the two-state solution failed.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed the need for a “common message to Israel” on the rejection of its unilateral actions but it is unlikely that the same unity of purpose expressed for Ukraine could be replicated in the Middle East.

Ultimately, the conference in Munich is concerned with “Europe’s security architecture” but it was clear that from the Horn of Africa to global space programmes, Europe’s security relies on the world's security.

Without a renewed and reformed “rules-based order”, that security remains fleeting. And while war games — and peace games — were conducted behind closed doors this weekend, solutions on the ground remained elusive.

Updated: February 20, 2023, 9:18 AM