Foreign Policy Blogs

Inspiration in Munich through Inclusive Security

Some have called the storied Munich Security Conference (MSC) the “Davos” of international security. Every year, any number of high-level delegates who are embroiled in the pressing security debates of our time attend this event and publicly posture to recalibrate policy outcomes. However, the collaborative inspiration that usually permeates from key advocates on the main stage who promote the strengthening transatlantic relations through keynote speeches and panel discussions seemed to be glaringly missing this year. Ultimately, the true work of the conference was not on the floor of the main conference hall, but rather in the bilateral meeting rooms, coffee shops, and restaurants across Munich where constellations of leaders sought to pursue shared values, display collective resolve, and forge meaningful lasting relationships that transcend borders.

The core sessions truly have evolved since the conference’s inception in 1963. Over the years, the complexity of our societies and new technologies have reshaped international security in unimaginable ways. Initially, mainstays like EU and NATO defense cooperation typically complemented addresses by leaders from conflict zones and fireside chats on technology or democracy; yet, this year, panels and keynotes were colored by a brinkmanship not seen in the last decade. Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German diplomat and chairman of the MSC, had hoped to suggest in his closing remarks that the world has stepped back from the brink, but he instead replied, “I’m not sure we can say that.”

Despite the geopolitical stakes, the most inspirational sessions were on the margins with a mixture of new and standing traditions. Since 2009, MSC and Körber Stiftung have infused the proceedings with more than 200 emerging leaders in security through activities of the Munich Young Leaders. Women in International Security (WIIS), through its international affiliate chapter in Germany, has consistently hosted side events that have transformed the demographics of MSC proceedings—all while addressing emerging security concerns such as the security for women in the context of rising far-right populism. Organizations like Deutscher.Soldat have driven new traditions, such as a high-level round table discussion on the policy implications of demographic change and increased diversity for NATO forces that featured Canadian Minister of Defense Harjit Sajjan and German Ministry of Defense State Secretary Dr. Katrin Suder. Truman National Security Project supported another initiative in Deutscher.Soldat’s launch of a transatlantic inclusive security network in policing and defense through a Young Leaders Breakfast supported by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. But shouldn’t some of these issues be addressed more readily in the core sessions?

Women and other diverse voices were largely absent from MSC’s main floor, consequently leaving out any emphasis on the inclusion of affected communities in security outcomes. In this absence, young leaders who recognize the role of diverse voices in durable security outcomes stepped forward, organizing side events at MSC so as to highlight the importance of pluralism and the efforts they are leading. From the sidelines, there emerged inspirational, action-focused discussions on topics such as the inclusive recruiting efforts put forth by European Organization of Military Associations (EUROMIL), lobbying for increased tolerance by the LGBTI Commissioner of the Federal Police Regional Office in Munich, support for gender equality by the board members for the Women in International Security, or bridging the cultural and gender gap through implicit bias training. All parties to these conversations realized that empowering diverse voices is inseparable from what we as leaders need to confront the future of global security.

Change has never been easy, but neither is tackling the world’s security challenges. Inclusion initiatives like Deutscher.Soldat’s Young Leaders Breakfast should be mainstreamed in the core agenda of the conference and become an honored tradition. After all, if MSC seeks to live out its initial core principles and continue to be the trendsetter for global policy debates, it will need to include the diverse practitioners fighting daily to secure our communities. The Munich Security Conference can lead the future of security dialogue by advancing inclusive security and thereby inspiring other major security policy conferences to do the same. Such a commitment would unlock what may be the key ingredients to deescalating many of the conflicts we face: affirming those without a voice and empowering inclusive communities to determine their future in secure democracies.

Anthony Robinson is the Director of Training and Public Engagement at Truman National Security Project. Alex T. Johnson is the senior policy advisor for Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations in Washington, DC. Both were former White House appointees focusing on national security issues during the Obama Administration. Views expressed are their own.