US to confront Trump-driven political turmoil at the Munich Security Conference

FILE - European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, is silhouetted against television lights while giving an interview at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Feb. 18, 2023. The Munich Security Conference has been long regarded as a celebration of the U.S.-led post-World War II international order. In 2024, though, it will be more of a reflection of America's political turmoil. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File) (Petr David Josek, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MUNICH – Long regarded as a celebration of the U.S.-led post-World War II international order, the Munich Security Conference this year will be more of a reflection of America’s political turmoil.

The annual event kicks off Friday after former President Donald Trump threatened not to come to the defense of European allies in the event of an attack by Russia. There also are broad concerns about whether the U.S. will be able to keep providing billions of dollars in defense assistance for Ukraine and about increasing American isolation over its support for Israel's war in Gaza.

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As if that weren't enough, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be accompanied to the conference by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas just days after he was impeached by the Republican-led House on charges that Democrats say are specious.

The increasingly dire developments in Ukraine and Gaza, coupled with Trump's inflammatory comments, mean the event may be overshadowed by the unwanted ghosts of Munich's past — authoritarianism, appeasement and antisemitism — rather than dominated by an optimistic outlook for the future.

The Bavarian capital is known for many positive things, but recent developments in Europe and the Middle East and the volatile U.S. political situation have combined to recall Munich’s history as the birthplace of the Nazi Party in the 1920s, European appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, and the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Although participants including Harris and Blinken are expected to laud American leadership, the conference will hear questions over unprecedented challenges to global rules and regulations that it has championed during its 60-year existence.

And overshadowing it all will be Trump’s threat to not automatically come to the defense of European allies should they be attacked by Russia. That is a cornerstone of NATO’s founding treaty, which has taken on additional significance since Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine in 2022.

The additional U.S. funding for Ukraine's fight remains stalled in Congress, where House Republicans have lined up behind Trump, who opposes the military aid.

President Joe Biden has branded Trump’s remarks on NATO “dangerous” and “un-American,” seizing on the former president’s comments as they fuel doubt among partners about the future dependability of the United States on the global stage.

The White House said Wednesday that Harris would use her engagements in Munich to underscore that the Biden administration remains solidly behind NATO, a sharp contrast to Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the alliance is “stronger and more vital than it has been in 75 years having just added Finland and about to add Sweden.” He also noted that since Biden took office the alliance has gone from nine members meeting their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense to 18 this month.

Blinken, too, will be conveying that message in Munich, according to the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, James O’Brien.

O’Brien told reporters that U.S. administrations from the Democratic and Republican parties “have regarded NATO as the bedrock of our security, certainly in Europe but increasingly a global partner.”

Yet European leaders and NATO officials remain worried.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz assailed Trump’s comments. He said “any relativization of NATO’s support guarantee is irresponsible and dangerous, and is in the interest of Russia alone” and said “no one can play, or ‘deal,’ with Europe’s security.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said comments such as Trump’s call into question the credibility of NATO’s collective security commitment — Article 5 of the organization’s founding treaty, which says that an attack on any member country will be met with a response from all of them.

“The whole idea of NATO is that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance and as long as we stand behind that message together, we prevent any military attack on any ally,” he said. “Any suggestion that we are not standing up for each other, that we are not going to protect each other, that does undermine the security of all of us.”

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