International Security Forum 2018

© Volker Lannert

From November 18 to 20, 2018, the Center for International Security and Governance (CISG) of Bonn University and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) of Johns Hopkins University hosted the third International Security Forum in Bonn.

Over the course of the three-day event, numerous foreign policy and security experts, practitioners, researchers from Europe, Asia, the United States and Russia gathered in the former capital of Germany to engage in lively and in-depth debates on the mounting challenges in international relations.

While the Forum laid a clear thematic focus on Europe and its ambitions to step up to bear more responsibilities in global affairs, the state and future of the transatlantic relationship remained one of the cornerstones of the debates. Increasing mutual understanding and strengthening transatlantic exchange at a time when the longstanding partnership has entered a difficult stage was the underlying theme of this year’s Forum.

In three sessions during the conference on Monday, participants aimed to find answers to three overarching questions:

  1. Are Germany and Europe stepping up to bear more responsibilities in international affairs as the United States withdraws from international leadership?
  2. What are the implications of a rising China for international order and security?
  3. How can global governance and international order adapt to the emerging multipolar world?

Main Takeaways

Most notable during the course of the Forum was a broad consensus on one vital issue: the irreversibility of current shifts in international relations. Most participants agreed that international politics is undergoing a fundamental change, making a snap back to the status quo ante even after a change in the U.S. administration extremely unlikely.

There was also a broad consensus that the question of whether Europe is stepping up can only be answered with a resounding “Yes and No”. While some substantial progress has been made with regard to initiatives such as PESCO, NATO’s FNC, and a European Global Strategy, a number of serious obstacles remain, most notably, the lack of public support for reform in multiple European countries. According to some voices, especially Germany shows signs of backsliding from its pledge to assume more responsibility as political majorities are shifting. It remains to be seen if Europe is ready and able to become an equal partner to the U.S. – while not knowing whether the U.S. even has an interest in such a relationship.

The wide range of diverging assessments and perspectives coming together at the conference showed that the process of adapting to changes in the international system will require an immense amount of effort, consideration, reflection and the political will to compromise and cooperate. Leaders and practitioners will need to find a way to make the great powers come together, and partners will need to make each other understand their respective positions and rationalities – regarding issues such as European defense spending, for example – to a greater extent than they have done in the past.

Forum Agenda

To kick off the event, guests gathered for a Dinner Talk on Sunday, November 18th. Over desert and coffee, a panel consisting of Julianne Smith, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Jackson Janes, Ben Hodges, Markus Kaim, and Klaus Scharioth discussed the implications of the U.S. retreating from its global leadership role for diplomacy and international security. Their thoughtful analysis, along with a firm call to rethink German international engagement, set the stage for the upcoming multi-day event.

Wolfgang Ohl
Brigadier General, Chief of Division Security Policy II, 
Federal Ministry of Defence

Julianne Smith
Senior Fellow and Director, Transatlantic Security Program, 
Center for A New American Security and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Foundation

Jana Puglierin
Head of Program, Center for European Policy Studies, German Council on Foreign Relations

Martin Schelleis
Lieutenant General, Chief of German Joint Support
and Enabling Services, Bundeswehr

Ben Hodges
Lieutenant General (ret.), Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies,
Center for European Analysis; 
Partner, Berlin Global Advisors

Heinrich Brauss
Lieutenant General (ret.), Former Assistant Secretary General for
Defense Policy and Planning, NATO

Open Discussion
Moderated by Jeffrey Rathke

President of AICGS

Henry A. Kissinger (via video)
Former United States Secretary of State and
National Security Advisor

Philippe LeCorre
Senior Fellow, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School;
Non-resident Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Xuewu Gu
Professor for International Relations, Director, Center for Global Studies, University of Bonn

Kim Holmes
Executive Vice President, The Heritage Foundation

Open Discussion
Moderated by Karl Kaiser
Senior Associate, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs;
Adjunct Professor of Public Policy Emeritus, Harvard Kennedy School

Susanne Riegraf
Head of Division, North America, G7,
Federal Foreign Office

Trine Flockhart
Professor for International Politics, 
Syddansk Universitet, Denmark

Amanda Sloat
Robert Bosch Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy,
Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution

Alexey Gromyko
Director, Institute of Europe, Moscow

Pascal Boniface
Director, French Institute for International Strategic Affairs

Matthias Herdegen
Director, Institute for Public International Law and the Institute for Public Law,
University of Bonn, 
Co-Director of the CISG

Open Discussion
Moderated by James Bindenagel

Head of CISG, Henry-Kissinger-Professor,
U.S. Ambassador (ret.)

As a special feature, this year’s Forum also coincided with the University of Bonn’s 200th anniversary. To celebrate the university’s long tradition of public engagement and to mark this special occasion, the Forum included a public lecture and panel discussion on Monday evening to address the growing uncertainties in international relations and the role of diplomacy in the 21st century. In front of a packed auditorium, Dr. Amanda Sloat, Elmar Brok, Dr. Karl-Heinz Kamp, David Kramer, and Ambassador Tacan İldem discussed what role diplomacy can play under today’s political conditions. While they partly differed in their analyses and assessments, the evening’s overall conclusion was clear: Even as the current political conditions are posing a serious challenge for dialogue and diplomacy, diplomatic efforts significantly contain conflicts, tensions and violence and must not be discarded – even, or especially, in difficult times.

On Tuesday, November 20th, the Forum was topped off by a special scenario round-table. The event was an “intellectual live exercise” chaired by Prof. Carlo Masala to bring together young professionals and experienced practitioners in order to blend fresh perspectives with practical experience. Participants discussed and developed strategies for two fictive, but conceivable security scenarios: Scenario One featured a drone attack on a NATO convoy transporting high-level NATO officials. The convoy’s route was predicted by the use of artificial intelligence software and Big Data installed in BRICS’ countries smart major city infrastructure by the Chinese tech giant Alibaba.  Scenario Two depicted President Trump’s decision to fully de-commit U.S. forces from NATO as a consequence of the European NATO countries reluctance to spend 4% GDP on defense.

While the experienced experts and practitioners in the fields of defense and security provided illuminating insights into the inner workings of NATO, international institutions, and governments, the young professionals focused on including a broader number of factors, aspects and actors to develop a multifaceted strategy. Thus, expertise and out-of-the-box-thinking came to together in a perfect mix resulting in new approaches and concepts to tackle possible future challenges.

Just like in the previous years, the Forum turned out to be another important contribution to the transatlantic and European exchange of ideas, arguments and perspectives.

A detailed report on all the sessions as well as the scenario round-table will follow in the beginning of 2019. The full reports will be uploaded to our homepages: www.cisg-bonn.com and www.aicgs.org. Stay tuned!