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Munich Young Leaders, February 2017 – Blog

(Den deutschen Blog finden Sie hier.)

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze [om] and Manu S Pillai [mp], two participants of the Munich Young Leaders 2017, are going to share their personal impressions from the 53rd Munich Security Conference and the discussions of the Munich Young Leaders in our blog. They will be supported by Elena Lange-Bratanova and Christian Klein, who are going to write for our German blog. You can subscribe to a list of all tweeting Munich Young Leaders 2017 here.

Read the blog of the Munich Young Leaders 2016 here

Sunday, 19.02.2017, 13:30


“Shall Life renew these bodies?
Of a truth
All death will he annul, all tears assuage?
Or fill these void veins full again with youth,
And wash with an immortal water, age?”

The words of Wilfred Owen at the end of World War I rang truest for me as the 53rd Munich Security Conference came to its certain end. Where did this journey take us? From the scourge of violent extremism to the desert plains of Syria still in strife, the “new” we create to entrench political positions and the posturing – Oh the posturing!

Men (for, they were mostly men – except among us young leaders, where women made up more than half, and the brilliant women leaders who stood toe to toe facing the many men in the sometimes overwhelming manels) talked about the challenges facing the world. They argued over semantics and decisions – each taking care to strongly defend their position. We know more about the challenges now. So, what happens next?

As Wolfgang Ischinger begged in closing the Conference, people must work together and reach agreements for the betterment of humanity and not be so self-serving they do more harm. He urged for a reconceptualising of security in a way that understands that we need development and diplomacy for it to make any sense. He underscored the need to ensure that funding for defence is strongly supplemented and supported by development aid, humanitarian efforts and diplomatic engagement. A plea that had come more strongly from civil society actors than it did from some of the government people present.

Reflecting on the three days of intense deliberations – I realise more and more why young(er) leaders are needed. Not only to be the flies on the walls of conference halls and to comment when called upon, but to come up with the fresh solutions needed.

The Conference is over, but the hard work isn’t.

If we are indeed committed to global peace, security, justice and prosperity, then I challenge my fellow young leaders to accept that until we reach these goals, the nights will be shorter! We won’t be young forever, but we must take up this challenge to continue to lead.

And to Wilfred Owen we can answer:

“Life (We!) will renew these bodies
Of a truth
All death, will it (we!) annul, all tears assuaged
It will fill what were once void veins full again with youth,
And wash with an immortal water, age.”

Sunday, 19.02.2017, 11:30

(mp) I write this as the Munich Security Conference comes to a conclusion, and all the Young Leaders prepare to depart, enriched by the experience of the last three days-- and several pounds heavier to show for it.

Yesterday was a distinctly stimulating day for the Munich Young Leaders, the highlights being our meetings with more than one distinguished woman-- the German Defence Minister (a woman with sparkling energy who flattered us by telling us we looked barely over 21) and the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of China, who spoke most impressively in the interests of her nation though the arguments offered might not always have been entirely convincing.

The most remarkable, I thought, was the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC (who graciously lent us her Chief of Staff as a fellow Young Leader!). She spoke with refreshing passion, commitment, and conviction about her mandate and the work of the court. Madam Prosecutor was also most wise-- she brought along deputies whom we bombarded with questions so that she could also nibble on a quick lunch.

There were, of course, the main Security Conference sessions as well, and after an elaborate dinner and some prolific drinking (on my part, that is), we retired, preparing for the final segment of the programme today.

As I leave Munich today, I take back with me not only a store of memories and most instructive gains of knowledge, but also a new host of friends from around the world who have brilliant minds-- and selfie clicking skills.

Thank you Lisa and Jacob for being such stars and for enduring us! May you enjoy your forthcoming travels, Lisa, and may you always sport exciting haircuts, Jacob.

Signing off now-- MSP.

Saturday, 18.02.2017, 10:30

(om) “The time has come to do more.” – United States VP Pence

There is a lot that needs to be done to advance global security, stability and peace. I never thought I would quote American VP Pence in agreement – but life is full of surprises. That’s the only surprise for this morning, though. The rest of his speech was on building military might, “the arsenal of democracy” and fighting – everything and everyone (except, maybe, The Alliance…). The audience’s scepticism was on some occasions (there was noticeable hesitation to clap after he’d made a strong point) palpable. Almost as if waiting for President Trump to tweet, so they know whether Pence’s speech is fake news or not…

This cut an interesting contrast to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech and her responses to questions that preceded Pence’s speech (Pence wouldn’t take questions – much like his compatriot General Mattis yesterday).

Chancellor Merkel pulled no punches in her speech and subsequent remarks. It is difficult not to respect Merkel – she speaks with clarity and conviction. She gives you the sense that challenges are hurdles that can be surmounted. Inspiring, almost.

Talking on Europe and the Union’s position in the world, Merkel’s lament that the UK will leave was brief making it seem more like their decision was a minor annoyance rather than a serious blow. Of course, we know that Germany does not take the UK’s decision lightly. But from her speech, it is clear Merkel is more about forging a future than dwelling on the past. What that future holds is something she hopes Germany and the European Union will be an integral part of.

It is an election year in Germany and, coming from where I’m from, I expected she would use the opportunity to campaign. She didn’t (at least not patently). Her vision of and for Germany is national, regional and global. She neatly interwove the need to ensure a safer more prosperous Africa with addressing domestic concerns in Germany while fostering global governance underpinned by core values. It is inclusive rather than exclusionary – a difficult proposition at a time of great resistance to immigration, integration and uncertainty.

So, yes, VP Pence is right, more must be done. But what people are yet to agree on is what that “more” is.

Food (and coffee!) for thought.

Saturday, 18.02.2017, 10:00

(mp) As we sit here absorbing Chancellor Merkel's comprehensive speech reinforcing her faith in multilateral institutions, I'm doing what is called “multitasking” in order to update this blog with a brief account of day one of the Young Leaders' programme. (Next up is Vice President Pence but more about that tomorrow, perhaps.)

Yesterday was instructive, and this was the case well before we heard Senator McCain at his diplomatic best, the President of Ukraine excoriate Russian aggression-- and before Boris Johnson was told off by an MEP for terming Brexit Britain's “liberation”. Never a dull day!

After discussions with the Defence Ministers of Armenia and Norway, followed by interactions with the Foreign Minister of Estonia among others, we were all cheerfully shepherded by Lisa and Jacob (who valiantly saved us seats) into the actual Security Conference, the highlight (and irony perhaps) of which was the statement by China's Foreign Minister upholding the idea of free trade and globalisation-- an idea from which its own architects in the West have retreated.

Dinner was courtesy of the Lord Mayor of Munich-- and I'm going to avoid talking about the excessive generosity in terms of volume that the Germans have been showing us at mealtimes-- after which we had a stimulating chat with Anne Applebaum, who told us pessimism isn't such a bad thing over wine and cheese.

I must confess I abandoned the other Young Leaders for the final session late at night-- in my view, deliberations about world affairs may never triumph over at least 5 hours of sleep. Never.

Saturday, 18.02.2017, 09:00

(om) “Our children will not thank us for being nostalgic”

At the end of Day 2 – four (six, really) cups of coffee, several fresh pretzels and 16 hours of work later and we were still frantically chatting about global politics as we charted our way through the cold rain back to our hotel. It is possible we were then running on steam, but more likely that we wanted to make the most of the time we have together. We have a lot to talk about.

Our day included closed discussions with Dr Vigen Sargsyan, the Armenian Defence Minister and a Munich Young Leader from the Class of 2009; Ine Eriksen Søreide, the Norwegian Defence Minister; Sven Mikser, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia (another past Munich Young Leader); Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and Anne Applebaum, Washington Post & Director of the Transitions Forum. All very enriching exchanges that covered the complexity of global politics, the constant balancing acts and… again… Trump!

We also participated in the 53rd Munich Security Conference’s first day where the future of the European Union (united or divided?) was discussed. But, even then, as the MSC’s Wolf Ischinger so aptly put it, we can’t run away from more talk of Trump. He emphasised that there were questions, doubts and concerns on the new Trump administration that he hoped the “strong” American delegation to the conference would address (more on that later… it’s 9.47 and I’m still unpuzzling yesterday’s loud applause for John McCain’s “The West first” speech and VP Pence is currently preparing to give his speech – I may need another cup of coffee for the next blog entry!)

The MSC is very Transatlantic & Euroatlantic – infrequent mentions of the Middle East & Asia come up, but I’m left wondering if anyone (other than Bono and Chancellor Angela Merkel) sees Africa. But there’s an underlying current that tells us ignoring other regions will be at many’s peril. All under the great US grey cloud though… Trump’s tweeting, hair and views keep finding their way into panels – even on EU values and the union’s future. It wasn’t until Wang Yi, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke that people were reminded that the new global world order might talk a lot about Trump, but it might involve more Chinese engagement and prominence…

We mulled this over a sumptuous dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor of Munich – we needed the fuel because we still had 4 hours to go.

One last cup of coffee and another pretzel.

At 22.30 (because there is no rest for the wicked… so there can’t be much rest for us!) we capped off the day with a Night Owl Session on the future of NATO – unpacking whether it is obsolete or very important. An easier conversation for those of us whose countries are lightyears away from the North Atlantic and countries where they don’t (yet?) intervene, but a heavy end for those for whom NATO is far more than an acronym.

If it wasn’t clear enough before, it’s clear for many of us now that talking about the many issues bedeviling the world is only a little bit of what we must do. The hard part, is putting our words into action.

Thank goodness for the pretzels!

Friday, 17.02.2017, 10:30

[om] The Munich Young Leaders 2017 programme kicked off with an intimate welcome dinner on 16 February hosted by the Körber-Stiftung – the institution at the heart of bringing younger voices to global security debates. Coming at a time when the world is undergoing seismic shifts in global politics, international relations and talk of a “new world order”, this year’s edition is set to tackle some complex issues.

Our group strikes a diverse and colourful young cluster – the 25 of us are all under 40 and we are drawn from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Among us are politicians, researchers, strategists, lawyers, advisors, and managers. Our conversations are similarly diverse. From our first encounters, though, it is clear that our mission is very much the same: We strive to bring fresh thinking to fields still dominated by older generations and we want to find workable solutions for a better future.

Inspired by Kurt Körber’s “Better to talk to each other than about each other” philosophy our group already began to discuss key concerns for our respective regions and what we, as young leaders, can contribute.

Already, our group has started to talk about seemingly disconnected, but clearly linked issues spanning from Turkey to Trump, from migration to stagnancy, from populist politics to pragmatism, and the impact of politics far afield on concerns more local to each of us. How we understand the world will require us to listen to our fellow leaders (young and old) and, hopefully, work together to come up with solutions to today’s challenges.

In welcoming us to what will be a grueling and intense conference, the Körber-Stiftung’s Dr Thomas Paulsen asked us to do three things:

  • Come up with fresh ideas
  • Be involved
  • Dare to make a difference

In return? The conference promises to be filled with great discussions, amazing networking opportunities and extremely short nights. So far, so good.

Friday, 17.02.2017, 10:00

[mp] I must confess that while I knew the Munich Young Leaders have an appetite for global affairs and international relations, the Körber Foundation knew that we also have a massive appetite for that other very significant thing - food!

The Young Leaders of 2017 arrived in Munich yesterday (Thursday, 16 February) and the Körber Foundation laid on for us a most delicious feast in the evening at Il Giro, a cosy, warm little place tucked away in one of the inner lanes in town. (Thanks Jacob for taking a wrong turn and pretending you were giving us a tour!)

While introductions were made and wine was poured many times over, the gathering descended into chatty discussions about every political and strategic subject under the global sun - as well as less serious topics such as the under-floor heating at the lovely Charles Hotel. Dr Paulsen of the Körber Foundation made a neat little speech welcoming us to Munich - and to the prospect of very short nights over the coming days, packed as every minute is with some very exciting meetings and discussions.

After four excellent hours together, we retreated to the hotel before presenting ourself before 8am this morning for our first closed door interaction with the Defence Minister of Armenia. Much was discussed but Dr Sargsyan's most telling piece of advice was, "Enjoy being a Munich Young Leader-- it doesn't get better!"

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