In February, I had the opportunity to attend the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Germany for the first time. Often referred to as the “Davos for national security,” the annual MSC is the world’s premier global security forum and is attended by heads of state, government ministers, corporate executives, think tank representatives, and thought leaders from around the world.
I was pleased to represent the U.S. Chamber and speak on behalf of our members’ interests and concerns in a number of high-level meetings. The three-day gathering gave us new insights into emerging global business trends that could impact our members. These trends will help us formulate plans to mitigate risks for U.S. businesses in a volatile global environment. The driving topics of discussion were cybersecurity, 5G, China, Russia, Iran, the coronavirus, and diminishing trans-Atlantic trust, among others.
During our time in Munich, we held a series of bilateral meetings with foreign ministers; corporate leaders; government officials, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, and Assistant Attorney General of the National Security Division John Demers; members of Congress; and military commanders. We also hosted a foreign policy discussion attended by representatives from the Atlantic Council, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jones Group International, the Center for European Policy Analysis, and the U.S.-Russia Foundation.
What We Shared
In all our meetings, we highlighted where the Chamber aligns with administration policy and where we diverge. We shared our view that trade wars and tariffs are counterproductive and economically harmful. And we stressed that trade agreements are powerful instruments for peace and stability. They enhance national security and provide an environment for increased cooperation between governments on shared challenges, including transnational crime, international terrorism, and other threats to the rules-based economic system.
Having recently hosted the B7 at the Chamber, where we discussed a raft of trans-Atlantic challenges, we also amplified the need for Europe to get its economy back on track—Germany, in particular—by rolling back regulation and reducing taxation. These steps are necessary for Europe to make needed investments in national and regional security, infrastructure, and environmental programs.
What We Heard
In addition to sharing the Chamber’s perspective on a range of issues, we also learned a great deal from our meetings. Here are several key takeaways:
The Great Power Competition: Not surprisingly, China is a polarizing issue. China is portraying itself as Europe’s true friend and the U.S. as an unreliable partner. Meanwhile, Europe continues to struggle with needing China economically while dealing with the national security risk China poses. Currently, economic considerations are taking precedence over security concerns. For our own security interests, the U.S. must invest in next-generation military capabilities and technologies while continuing to nurture and sustain our allied relationships.
Industrial Ties in Europe: In several meetings, we heard concerns about the newly formed European Defense Fund and its potential impact on U.S. industries that are heavily invested in European security. We were encouraged to hear from our European allies that participation in this fund does not infringe on their sovereign rights to buy American.
Trans-Atlantic Trade Concerns: There was strong consensus among those we met with that trade wars and tariffs enacted by the U.S. would suppress business opportunities while further antagonizing U.S.-EU relations. EU-based CEOs noted the rising anti-U.S. sentiment and the negative implications for their businesses. Corporations and politicians in Europe understand the need to protect the relationship with the U.S; however, both are failing to convince their citizens.
Global Insecurity: We are witnessing a dangerous breakdown in international cooperation, which undermines our ability to collaboratively address climate insecurity, economic disparities between nations, political and ideological divides, and now a global health crisis. It cannot be assumed that everyone wants to see a unified Europe, and we continue to see more nations pursuing their own unilateral objectives. Left unaddressed, these global risks pose significant consequences for businesses in Europe and the U.S. alike.
China Trade Practices: Several regional business and political leaders recently echoed criticism expressed by the U.S. government over Chinese trade practices. We indicated that the U.S. private sector shares many of the same concerns when it comes to trade-distorting Chinese behavior such as industrial subsidies, theft of intellectual property, and forced tech transfer, though we made clear our opposition to the U.S. imposing sweeping tariffs to address the problem.
These critical discussions will continue to unfold in the weeks and months to come. To ensure that the Chamber remains at the center of the dialogue and that we are effectively representing and protecting our members’ interests, we will host government officials and top business leaders at the Chamber for in-depth discussions. We will continue to leverage our deep ties to regional AmChams, our leadership in bilateral councils, and initiatives like the Defense and Aerospace Export Council and our Cyber Council to provide U.S. business leaders with enhanced opportunities globally.
The U.S. Chamber is a global operation tackling a host of economic and security challenges on your behalf. Attending the MSC was an excellent opportunity to collect valuable market intelligence that enables us to stay on the leading edge of global risks and opportunities.