The annual Munich Security Conference, a Cold War era trans-Atlantic focused meeting to address severe military challenges, but which has over the years grown to include nations from around the world addressing pressing security issues, kicked off late this week on a pessimistic note. “The whole liberal world order appears to be falling apart,” Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, wrote in an essay introducing the conference. “We are experiencing an epochal shift; an era is ending, and the rough outlines of a new political age are only beginning to emerge.” And on Saturday German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of a “disintegration of international political structures” while stressing the importance of NATO as “an anchor of stability on a stormy sea”.
But concerning this “disintegration” the conference has already included a significant overture made by the Russian representative hoping to open the door to negotiations with the United States over the future of now shaky arms treaties between the two countries following the historic US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) within the last month. In the tit-for-tat accusations and lashing out that followed at the beginning of February, Putin alarmingly accused Washington of also imperiling in the long term the landmark New START treaty, signed in 2010 and set to expire in 2021. It aims to reduce the total number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, according to TASS:
President Putin has repeatedly said that we are ready to launch the talks on extension of the New START. It only expires in 2021, though time flies fast, and we have suggested to the US that such discussions be launched, considering the necessity to clear up certain issues that we are worried about.
He explained that the Russian worries center on the US’ decision to denuclearize certain nuclear submarines and heavy bombardment aircraft. “The agreement stipulates that kind of denuclearization, though only using the means technically acknowledged as reliable by the other side of the agreement. However, no fairly meaningful consultations have been offered to us so far, though we continue our efforts,” Lavrov added.
Set to expire in two years, it stipulates that Russian and US arsenals be restricted to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and less than 700 deployed strategic missiles and bombers. Russia has previously expressed desire to extend it to 2026, though at the start of Trump’s taking the White House, he reportedly told Putin the New START was “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration” during their first official phone call.
Indeed there’s been no response from the American side to Lavrov’s overture during his Saturday address to the Munich conference. Lavrov also lambasted the United States’ attempts to modify the international Chemical Weapons Convention after it alongside Canada and the Netherlands put forward a proposal to include certain chemical substances connected with the Skripal affair in the Chemical Weapons Convention’s Annex, which Moscow sees as motivated by political humiliation.
Lavrov said of the issue, “They are unwilling to let the international law remain as the Chemical Weapons Convention defines it. They want to use their own rules for interpreting that convention.” Lavrov said the Trump administration has to yet agree to hold any “meaningful consultations” on New START or other weapons agreements, according to Bloomberg.
US Vice President Mike Pence met with an icy reception during his speech to the conference on Saturday:
Other crucial comments of Lavrov included highlighting that Russia cannot be excluded from efforts to maintain stability in tense regions; simultaneously, he said there’s a current global trend for initiatives to resolve security crisis that are merely “NATO-oriented” or “NATO-centric”. He said, “We cannot strengthen one’s security at the expense of others.”
Meanwhile US President Mike Pence, fresh off the US-initiated Warsaw conference wherein he urged the world to “confront” top “terror sponsor” Iran, also addressed the Munich conference by continuing his message of demanding that the EU withdraw from the Iran deal, and that it cease attempts to financially circumvent US sanctions.
Notably, Pence also addressed the Venezuela crisis, repeating Washington’s call for the EU to fully recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, though a number of individual countries and key US allies already have.