Beer, sausages … and defence
It is ironic that one of the world’s foremost gatherings on defence and diplomacy takes place in the city linked to one of the most colossal gaffes in the history of statesmanship.
Perhaps the great and good who make the annual trip to the Munich Conference on Security Policy shudder to recall that here was where major powers signed a 1938 pact with Nazi Germany that merely emboldened Hitler in his quest for European domination.
Yet still they keep coming year after year to spend two days closeted away in a plush Bavarian hotel to pore over today’s security worries, be they the chill in Russia-West ties, transatlantic exasperation, or what to do with Iran.
Launched in 1962, the conference attracts presidents, chancellors, four-star generals and diplomats by the score.
Aficionados know it by the German name “Wehrkunde” — roughly, “defence craft” — and call it the Davos of the defence world because of its pulling power.
By and large, regular attendees — including the hundreds of journalists jammed into a press room so cramped it is like spending a weekend strapped into an economy-class air seat — expect and get a pretty good show.
Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin turned up to unleash a volley of abuse at the United States, accusing it of trying to become the world’s “one single master”.
“I do hope historians in future don’t say another world war broke out here,” Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit weekly said at the time in comments that were only partly a joke.
In 2003 German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer stunned the audience with one of the most blunt diplomatic put-downs seen in public, telling U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld he did not believe the case for invading Iraq — barely minutes after Rumsfeld himself stepped up to the podium to present it.
Some credit that exchange itself for contributing to the subsequent downhill slide in U.S.-German relations that are still being repaired.
True, some Wehrkunde events can appear a little formulaic.
The Americans accuse west Europeans of not pulling their weight militarily, who in turn indignantly preach “values” to the Americans.
Then everyone agrees on the vitality of the “Euro-Atlantic partnership” before heading for the beer halls and the sausages.