1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

MSC 2023 closes with call for more German defense spending

February 19, 2023

A Munich Security Conference dominated by Russia's war in Ukraine has ended. Its chairman, once Angela Merkel's foreign and security policy adviser, concluded with an appeal for Germany to ramp up defense spending.

Heusgen giving the closing address at the 2023 Munich Security Conference
'We do not accept that in the 21st century, borders in Europe are changed by force,' Heusgen said in closing remarks at the security conference Image: Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture alliance

Welcome to our coverage from the last day of the 2023 Munich Security Conference, which concluded early on Sunday afternoon in Bavaria. 

Highlights from the final day, which focused on the future of the European security infrastructure, included: 

  • MSC chairman Christoph Heusgen calling for European and German defense spending increases
  • Poland's Andrzej Duda saying the main impediment to 'recovering a sense of order and predictability' in European security structures was Russia
  • Estonia's prime minister recommending European countries pool their spending to combat ammunition shortages
  • EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appealing for more engagement with the global south to 'debunk' Russia's narrative about the war

MSC 2023: Ukraine war has been a 'wake-up call' for Europe

MSC chair Heusgen closes conference with call for more defense spending

The new chairman of the Munich Security Conference is Christoph Heusgen, who formerly worked as a close adviser to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and as an ambassador to the US.

He concluded the event on Sunday by saying the various panelists had made clear that Europe "has to do its homework" in order to "continue to have this very strong trans-Atlantic unity" which he said was on display throughout the weekend. 

"European and German defense spending has to go up," Heusgen said, adding that this message had been "very strong" during the event. "We have to have the capabilities to support Ukraine, but also to build up our own defense." 

Heusgen said that his main takeaway from the event was a strong sense of unity across the Atlantic and beyond. 

"Unity that we do not accept this breach of civilization. That we do not accept that in the 21st century, borders in Europe are changed by force. We do not accept this horrible war that is being waged," he said. 

Reflecting, Heusgen also said that of all the speakers, for him, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had been the "most impressive." He noted that Zelenskyy could not attend in person. 

"We had him on screen. Last year, he was here. It was his last [foreign] visit before Vladimir Putin decided to invade his country. He was here on screen [this year]. And we all have the hope that next year, he will be here in person, which means this horrible war would be over." 

Poland's Duda anticipant ahead of Biden Warsaw speech on February 24 anniversary

Polish President Andrzej Duda said that Biden's visit to Warsaw for talks with nine eastern flank nations and to give a major speech on the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion "will be of world dimension." 

The White House has already said that Biden would give a speech on "how the United States has rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine." A few days prior to Biden's address, a relatively rare speech from Vladimir Putin is also scheduled.

Duda also noted during the panel that his country was the only EU and NATO member to border both Ukraine and Russia, making the idea of being a frontier country particularly resonant in his home. He was asked whether the EU's expansion process, which has been relatively stagnant in recent years since several new members joined early this century, had now been given the impetus it needed to restart.

"Ukraine has won the right to negotiate membership in the EU by its amazing sacrifice," Duda said. "I don't think it would be happening quite as fast if it wasn't for that. And my advice to them is: don't think there will be shortcuts. You are not negotiating some kind of halfway deal between Ukraine and the EU." 

He said the EU had a body of laws, negotiated over several decades, that it would not and could not change. 

"The faster you do it, the faster you translate EU law into Ukrainian and pass it in your parliament, the sooner you will become a member," Duda said. "And I think that intellectual clarity about the nature of the process is important for the sake of negotiations, but also important to explain to your own people: that you are adjusting to join something that exists already." 

Duda also defended Russia's suspension from the Council of Europe, saying this was the arena where it should have taken what it claims to be its main concerns about Ukraine's government, in a bid to reach a legal settlement. 

"Russia would have been perfectly within its rights to say 'we don't like this particular Ukrainian law on the language, or the rights of Russian-speakers in Crimea.' Fine. You can do that. But you mustn't invade!," Duda said. 

He said the obstacles in "recovering a sense of order and predictability" in the European structures that did once incorporate Russia "is the Russian regime, which has broken these rules. And so I don't think the architecture can be restored without change in Russia."

DW Chief Political Correspondent Nina Haase reports from Munich

This is the first Munich Security Conference in years to take place with Russia sending no delegation. Typically the conference lays an emphasis on inviting as many participants as possible, no matter how tricky ties might be. Russia however confirmed earlier in February that it would not send a delegation at all, saying that in recent years it had become more and more of a "trans-Atlantic forum." 

Estonia's Kallas proposes EU joint ammunition purchases 

Expanding on an idea floated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday, Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas recommended that the EU pool resources in a bid to accelerate ammunition production and deliveries to Ukraine. 

A year of war has put strain on western and Russian ammunition stockpiles and production capacity alike, with a sudden increase in usage of supplies that can usually be stored and stockpiled for years if not required. 

Kallas suggested that "we could use a similar mechanism as we did with the [COVID] vaccines," with European countries pooling funds and then centrally placing procurement orders with manufacturers. This increased revenue could give the industry the financial firepower needed to accelerate and scale up production, she said. 

"Because the Russian military industry is working in three shifts. Russia is firing in a day the monthly European production of artillery shells — the monthly production. And the European defense industry hasn’t boosted its production. So where is the obstacle? Because clearly, if you read the room in terms of the trends that are in Europe, then there is clearly the demand," Kallas said.

Estonia's prime minster said that in her discussions with armaments makers, they had complained that they did not have large enough orders pending to justify scaling up their production and working hours or to recruit new staff.

Following on from von der Leyen's first mention of the idea on Saturday, the EU's Josep Borrell said he completely agreed with Kallas' proposal, "and we are working on that and it will work." 

Taiwan represented at MSC for 1st time since 2015

As well as being the first Munich Security Conference with senior Chinese representation since the COVID pandemic, the 2023 conference also has a Taiwanese presence for the first time in years. 

DW's chief international editor Richard Walker spoke to Vincent Chao at length on the sidelines of the summit. 

"I do think that it's very important for Taiwan voices to be represented" at the conference, given its focus on security, Chao said. "I can think of no other security hotspot, other than what we see in Ukraine, obviously, than across the Taiwan Strait."

You can watch in full here. 

'China is changing the rules of the game'

Sweden's Kristersson: EU has a security architecture, but could use it better

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said during a panel discussion that in his view, Europe already had a security architecture. 

"It makes more sense to talk about using it than changing it," he said. 

Kristersson explained how, by chance, he was holding talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto the day before Russia's full-scale invasion last February. Now, Sweden and Finland are together seeking to join NATO, having remained neutral during the Cold War. 

"And obviously, we didn't know what was going to happen at four o'clock the morning after. But we did discuss that the immediate risk was there," Kristersson said. "But what we did discuss actually, was the other risk: Will we stay united? Will the European Union countries stay united or will there be serious divisions between countries? And even more, will we stay united with the US, or will these well-known differences that we've had in previous years, will they be so obvious?"

"And just to state the obvious, we did stay united. And we still do, one year later."

However, Kristersson also mentioned how he had visited Kyiv for talks on Friday. He said he had great respect for Ukrainian officials when they say "you do deliver weapons, but you deliver them too late, too reluctantly, instead of doing it earlier and more decisively." 

EU's Borrell: 'We must accelerate our support to Ukraine, and quickly'

Europe's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell opened the first event on the main stage on Sunday, called "Visions for the European Security Architecture."

"The first and most urgent thing that a geopolitical Europe has to do is arm Ukraine," Borrell said. "As all the European leaders said, yesterday, that Russia must not win this war, that Ukraine has to prevail, then let's go from the words to the facts, and accelerate our military support to Ukraine. Because Ukraine is in a critical situation from the point of view of the ammunition available." 

Borrell said he thought that Europe should acknowledge it had taken too long to reach some "critical decisions" on military exports, naming the delivery of battle tanks as an example. 

"Everybody knows that in order to win a war, a classical war, with ... maneuvers of heavy arms, you need battle tanks. You will not win a war without these sorts of arms," Borrell said. Although European governments agreed in theory to deliver battle tanks several weeks ago, in practice finding available units to donate is proving problematic, with Germany appealing for more European countries to join a group coordinating the deliveries.

Borrell: 'We have to increase, accelerate military support to Ukraine'

With the current issue of ammunition shortages, he said it would not be feasible to wait for the production or procurement of new supplies — saying that any such orders for the weapons industry would be liable to go to the back of a long queue of existing orders and projects. Lead times for the production of military equipment can be quite long. 

"We have to use what we have," Borrell said. "What the member states have, and they have to provide for Ukraine a part of their ammunition, [while] waiting to refill their stocks" with new supplies once they have been manufactured.

But Borrell also cautioned that Europe needed to do more to "debunk" Russian narratives about the war further afield and show that Russia was behaving "as an imperialist power, as [French] President Macron said, a neo-colonial power." 

"Traveling around the world, especially to the global south, I see how the Russian narrative that wants to reduce the war in Ukraine to a conflict between the West and Russia is powerful," Borrell said. 

He said there were good reasons for being susceptible to this narrative, with African countries recalling Soviet support against European imperialism in the 20th century, and with Latin American countries recalling western support for dictatorships during the Cold War. Working to show that western support for "the United Nations Charter and principles" was universal and not just a concern when "Ukraine, our neighbor" is attacked would be the long-term and most challenging task for diplomats, he said. 

"This is the big challenge in front of us. Short term: Quick, ammunition. Medium term: Increase the capacity of your defense industry. And from now, from tomorrow, and for a long time: To look at our partners in the south in order to make them participate in the world reaction against Russia for the war in Ukraine," Borrell said at the conclusion of his speech.

Highlights from Saturday at the MSC

Arguably the most significant, and also somewhat uneasy, guest at the conference on Saturday was China's top foreign policy spokesman Wang Yi. 

Wang held talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday evening, having been highly critical both of the US shooting down a Chinese balloon earlier in the month and of NATO's response to the war in Ukraine. 

Ukraine war dominates second day of MSC

Wang said China would be putting forward a peace proposal for the conflict and would try to broker talks between Ukraine and Russia. Western leaders, including German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, responded warily, saying the terms for any potential talks were crucial.

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin also said her government would still "prefer" to join NATO simultaneously with its neighbor Sweden, as Turkey in particular resists ratifying the Nordic countries' membership bids. Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson was among Sunday's speakers in Munich. 

Sanna Marin: 'It's an act of peace for Finland to join NATO'

US Vice President accused Russia of "crimes against humanity" in its invasion of Ukraine, the first time the US administration has used that particular phrase.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said EU support for Ukraine would be "unwavering." 

EU chief vows unwavering support for Ukraine

msh/nm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)