“Munich provides fertile ground for new approaches”
Excerpts of an interview with Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger is the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference. In this Vontobel Interview, he sketches out the context of the current crises in Syria and Ukraine, making an appeal for new approaches to a solution – and for a strong Munich.
Wolfgang Ischinger is a German lawyer and diplomat. Since 2008 he has been the head of the Munich Security Conference. © Photo: Michael Kuhlmann/ MSC
Syria and Ukraine: Two crises in two different regions, with different geopolitical and ideological contexts. And yet, in both cases, there can be no path to a lasting solution that bypasses Russia. This is why new approaches to solutions and ideas for cooperation are required. And they can be found in Munich. The Munich Security Conference has been bringing together high-ranking political decision makers for years, an achievement that Ischinger is proud to look back on. Since 2008, he has served as the Security Conference’s chairman and has made it the key global forum for the debate on security policy issues. Vontobel has been one of the supporters of the Munich Security Conference since 2016.
Mr. Ambassador, were you surprised by the extent of the wave of refugees and its consequences for Europe?
Hardly anyone foresaw the current magnitude of the wave of refugees heading to Europe. But by looking at the almost incredible number of refugees that have been received in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2012, you could have had some idea of what was in store for Europe! Moreover, there were quite a number of observers – and I am one of them – who pointed out years ago that in the case of Syria, averting our eyes, as the West has collectively done, would have catastrophic consequences. Back then, a number of German policymakers argued that intervening would trigger a conflagration. Well, that fire has long since been set, and we have done nothing – or too little – to put it out.
"If you propose to combat ISIS with the assistance of Assad, you will just be pouring oil on the fire"
Where lies the key to a solution in Syria?
Now, if you propose to combat ISIS with the assistance of Assad, you will just be pouring oil on the fire. It was Assad’s war against his own people that made the rise of ISIS possible. Moreover, Assad has to answer for a multiple of civilian deaths compared to ISIS – and he is primarily responsible for triggering the flow of refugees as well. But we also need to recognize that the position of the Syrian regime today is stronger than it was two years ago, above all because of increased support from Russia. Therefore, we need to actively pursue two goals in Syria: first, in the long term Syria needs a fresh start, politically, without Assad. And second, we must now be resolved to fight ISIS. We cannot achieve everything at once, but we need to have an understanding with Moscow concerning the long-term objective.
Which countries or organizations would be particularly challenged?
There will only be a political solution in Syria with – and hardly against – Moscow, and Tehran. In addition, all the regional powers must now be included. What are the rich Arab brother countries actually doing in the Gulf to stop the catastrophe not only in Syria, but also in Libya? The regional powers and actors need to be more aware of their responsibilities.
After the attacks in Paris, many Europeans are wondering how great the threat of terrorism is here...
Unfortunately, we must steel ourselves for further attacks. The Islamic State and its ideas are exerting an attraction on its supporters that surpasses that of al-Qaeda even in its best times. In particular, returnees who have been tested in Syria represent a challenge to our security forces like nothing they have faced before.
Let’s change the scene: what solutions do you see for a settlement of the Ukraine crisis?
The Minsk II Agreement is the only basis for a containment of the conflict – even though it has significant weaknesses. To solve the crisis, a two-pronged strategy is required. On the one side, you have the reinsurance of the NATO partners, sanctions and comprehensive assistance to, and cooperation with, Ukraine. On the other side, we have to maintain the offer to Russia of renewed cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic area. Neither the territorial integrity and security of Ukraine nor its economic rehabilitation can be realized if our relationship with Russia is permanently antagonistic. But Russia also needs to find its way back to a more cooperative policy. It takes two to tango!
About Wolfgang Ischinger
Wolfgang Ischinger teaches today as a Professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Since 1995 he has occupied several key political positions in the international arena, among them German Ambassador in Washington and London.