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Security Conference

Interview: Michael Knigge
January 30, 2014

Amid a host of pressing global topics, the Munich Security Conference won’t focus much on its 50th anniversary, its head Wolfgang Ischinger tells DW. He also explains why the pope should come to the meeting.

Wolfgang Ischinger Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz 22.01.2014
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Wolfgang Ischinger has been chairman of the Munich Security Conference since 2008. Prior to that he served as Germany's ambassador to London from 2006 to 2008 and as ambassador to the United States of America from 2001 to 2006.

DW: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Munich Security Conference. How are you planning to commemorate the occasion?

Wolfgang Ischinger: There are so many urgent issues challenging us in early 2014, we will only spend limited time to celebrate our anniversary. Still, we will have three special features: First, I am very happy that German President Joachim Gauck has accepted my invitation to open the conference on Friday. It will be the first time that a German president gives the opening address in Munich.

Second, we will have a special anniversary panel on Saturday afternoon, which will bring together participants of the very first Wehrkunde conference (as the security conference was then known - the ed.), among them Helmut Schmidt and Henry Kissinger, with younger decision-makers.

And third, we have published our anniversary book "Towards Mutual Security - Fifty Years of Munich Security Conference" just a few days ago. The book features dozens of photographs and a number of documents from the conference's past. But, above all, it contains many interesting essays on the conference's history and some of the most important Munich debates as well as on key security challenges facing the international community today. The group of authors assembled is probably unprecedented: Helmut Schmidt, Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, John McCain, Bill Cohen, Javier Solana, Sam Nunn, Igor Ivanov, Carl Bildt, Radek Sikorski, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen are just some of the personalities that contributed to the volume.

Looking back, what would you consider some of the major achievements or success stories of the conference?

The biggest success for the conference itself is that it has continuously become more attractive to decision-makers and experts from all over the world. Our security environment has changed in many ways - and so has the Munich Security Conference, thus remaining or even become more relevant over time.

From my perspective, the MSC is a venue for open and frank dialogue. This is true for relations with our close partners. We do not always agree, but we try to work out our differences. Even in times of crisis, Munich has always been a place to exchange opinions and to find common ground - during the run-up to the Iraq war or now with the NSA revelations. This also applies to more conflictual relationships.

In Munich, we have seen the start of new initiatives such as the US "reset policy" which led to the New START treaty. It is no coincidence that Sergey Lavrov and Hillary Clinton exchanged the instruments of ratification here in Munich. Sometimes, the crowded venue forces people who normally would not be in touch for a number of reasons to actually talk to each other.

I hope that we can add a new chapter to this history this year, for instance by hosting a session on the future of Kosovo and Serbia or the Middle East Peace process. I also think it was right to invite Iranian leaders again and again although their contributions have so far often been disappointing. But diplomacy is always worth a try. As Winston Churchill once said: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." That's a good motto for our conference.

For this year's conference there are so many pressing global issues unfolding simultaneously that it is impossible to address all of them during a three-day conference.

You are absolutely right, this year it may have been an even bigger challenge than usual to do justice to all the significant issues. We always try to combine debates of the most urgent issues of the day with debates of important conceptual questions that will be critical in the future.

This year, Syria, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be key topics, as will cybersecurity, this year in particular in its transatlantic dimensions. Also, the current crisis in Ukraine is very important, not just for many of our participants. Moreover, we have to debate the next steps concerning European integration in foreign and security affairs.

Everybody will be curious to hear what the new German ministers Ursula von der Leyen (Defense - the ed.) and (Foreign Minister) Frank-Walter Steinmeier will say in this respect. Other noteworthy participants - among many, many others - include UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Last year saw the emergence of an unexpected new voice in global politics. Pope Francis has so far shown himself to be very politically engaged from condemning global economic inequality to discussing the Syrian conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Have you considered inviting him to Munich?

I'm confident that a participation of Pope Francis at the Munich Security Conference would be a remarkable signal to promote peace and security in the world. The pope has taken principled positions on various issues and is in a position to bring the grievances and concerns of our globalized world and the inequality to a wider internationalized platform.

And I agree with his words, "that we are far from the so-called end of history, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated." In this regard he would be more than a welcome guest in Munich to discuss these conditions someday at the Munich Security Conference.

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