Q1/2020 - Munich Security Conference (MSC)

Annual Conference, Munich, 14 – 16 February 2020

The motto of this year's Munich Security Conference (MSC) was “Westlessness”. The conference was overshadowed by a German-American controversy about the future of the global order. In his opening address, Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticised the United States: “And under its current Administration, our closest ally, the United States of America, rejects the very concept of an international community. As if the "let everyone tend his own garden" attitude were enough as global policy. As if everyone thinking of himself meant that everyone were being considered. "Great again" – if necessary, even at the expense of neighbours and partners.”[1]." This statement was sharply rejected on the next day by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “…over the past few years, I’ve seen … democratic leaders questioning America’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance and America’s leadership in the world.   These quotes frankly surprised me .... A quote [from yesterday] suggested, that the United States "rejects the international community." I'm here this morning to tell you the facts. Those statements simply do not affect in any significant way or reflect reality. I am happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated. The West is winning. We are collectively winning. We're doing it together”[2].

By now, cyber security has become a core component of the Munich Security Conference. The main issues this year were security concerns in relation with 5G, the militarisation of cyber space, the question of “digital sovereignty” and the handling of personal data. Marc Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) and Brad Smith (CEO of Microsoft) underscored the special responsibility of private companies to protect democratic processes and individual freedoms and rights of Internet users[3].

  • At this year’s “MSC Cybersecurity Roundtable” held under the title “Between 5G and G-Zero: The Age of Tech Geopolitics”  it was bemoaned that Europe was lagging behind the US and China. Yet the Roundtable recommended Europe not to turn to defeatism but to focus on its own strengths instead. These included European values such as data security and the protection of privacy. However, “European champions” were needed in the digital space. The table called for a sort of “digital airbus”. A major role was also attributed to the issue of legal security and international standards in the digital space.
  • As regards 5G, especially the representatives from the U.S. government such as Secretary of State Pompeo  and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, but also Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman of the Democratic Party, urged their European partners not to rely on the Chinese provider Huawei for establishing their 5G networks. On the eve of the MSC, the EU had published a “toolbox”[4]“ that is meant to enable a differentiated approach to 5G. Great Britain, for instance, had decided to exclude Huawei only for a narrowly defined security-related core of the future UK 5G networks. The question of alternatives to Huawei raised by former Estonian President Toomas Ilves in the Q&A session remained unanswered. Pointed out in the discussion was that Nokia and Ericsson were attempting to take the international lead in the already ongoing 6G discussion.
  • The discussion about a militarisation of cyber space focused mainly on the negotiations in the UN ecosystem (UN-GGE, OEWG, GGE LAWS). Opinions varied widely here, ranging from the advocation of new international legal agreements and a moratorium on autonomous weapons systems to an adapted interpretation of existing legal instruments. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opposed a militarisation of cyber space, but did not take a concrete position or commented on accusations concerning Russian cyber attacks: “The negative impact of innovative ground-breaking technology on global stability must be prevented. The initiatives designed to prevent the arms race in outer space and to prevent the militarisation of cyberspace are designed to achieve this.”[5]
  • Regarding the issue of “digital sovereignty” two trends could be observed. On the one hand, the European “digital or technological sovereignty”, which is also demanded by the EU Commission, was interpreted as practiced self-determination in dealing with the digital world. On the other hand, however, there also were many who understood digital sovereignty primarily as a concept for protecting national political, economic and cultural interests. Even various representatives of Western states took the opinion that in view of new threats – manipulation of democratic elections, disinformation campaigns, economic damage caused by organised crime – the nation-state must urgently assume a stronger role in regulating cyberspace. Governments should not shy away from taking measures that included the control of information content, also with regard to fake news and hate speech. Freedom of expression and protection of privacy were important goods, but in view of a new threat situation, a new balance had to be found between conflicting legal goods and values.
Mehr zum Thema
  1. [1] Eröffnung der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz, Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier, München, 14. Februar 2020, in: https://www.bundespraesident.de/SharedDocs/Reden/EN/Frank-Walter-Steinmeier/Reden/2020/02/200214-Munich-Security-Conference.html;jsessionid=6C393B90B2A1C3A6207D1F5D7A43C4AD.1_cid378
  2. [2] The West Is Winning, Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of State, Munich Security Conference, Munich, 15 February 2020, in: https://www.state.gov/the-west-is-winning/The West Is Winning, Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of State, Munich Security Conference, Munich, 15 February 2020, in: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/15/microsoft-says-fundamental-responsibility-to-protect-us-voting.html
  3. [3] Microsoft president says big tech has ‘fundamental responsibility’ to protect US voting process, CNBC, 15 February 2020, in: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/15/microsoft-says-fundamental-responsibility-to-protect-us-voting.html
  4. [4] See: Secure 5G networks: Questions and Answers on the EU toolbox, Brussels, 29 January 2020 in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_20_127