Lose-Lose? A Way Out of The Vicious Cycle — Munich Security Conference

U.S. administration back to cooperation for mutual benefit? This is the central question of this year’s Munich Security Report 2024, which was presented on February 12 at the Bavarian State Representation in Berlin. Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), took the opening event as an opportunity to give the more than 200 guests an outlook towards the upcoming Munich Security Conference.
U.S. administration back cooperation in mutual benefits? This is the central question of this year’s Munich Security Report 2024, which was presented at the Bavarian State Representation in Berlin. Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), took the opening event as an opportunity to give the more than 200 guests an outlook towards the upcoming Munich Security Conference.
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How to find a way out of the vicious cycle of relative-gains thinking and following the presentation of the Munich Security Report by Sophie Eisentraut, Head of Research & Publications at the MSC, Heusgen discussed with Ottilia Maunganidze, Louise Mushikiwabo, Marek Prawda, and Margaritis Schinas about the “lose-lose” dynamics that are visible in current conflict hotspots and the partnerships that are needed to overcome these dynamics.

“In 60 years of the Munich Security Conference, there has hardly been a period with so many simultaneous crises and conflicts,” said Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the MSC, emphasizing the importance of this year’s conference. True to tradition, this year’s MSC Kick-off took place at the Bavarian State Representation in Berlin in front of more than 200 guests from politics, diplomacy, business, media, and academia. Following the presentation of the Munich Security Report 2024, Ottilia Maunganidze, Head of Special Projects at the Institute for Security Studies, Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Marek Prawda, Deputy Foreign Minister of Poland, and Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, spoke about optimism and hope in a world marked by crises and conflicts.

The Munich Security Report 2024 entitled “Lose-Lose?” is intended to stimulate discussion at the 60th Munich Security Conference and serves as background reading for security experts and the wider public. The core question of this year’s report is how to find a way out of the vicious cycle of relative-gains thinking and back to cooperation based on trust.

“There is now a prevailing perception among states that their own slice of the proverbial pie is in poor shape and a worry that they will benefit less than others from the existing order and international cooperation,” said Sophie Eisentraut, Head of Research at MSC, in her presentation of the Munich Security Report, summarizing the core problem that the report addresses. This year’s survey data from the Munich Security Index – a dataset on global risk perceptions compiled by MSC and Kekst CNC and presented at the Bavarian State Representation – reflects that perception. They show that people surveyed in G7 countries expect their slice of the pie to shrink over the next ten years and their countries to suffer a loss of power in relation to China, Brazil, India, and South Africa. Meanwhile, according to Eisentraut, there is growing dissatisfaction in countries of the so-called Global South over what these countries perceive as an unequal distribution of the benefits of the international order. Autocracies such as China and Russia, on the other hand, believe that they deserve a much bigger slice of the pie and are demanding it ever more vehemently – in Russia’s case even by force. According to the Munich Security Report, this increased focus on relative payoffs or even zero-sum games is already having negative consequences for the economic and security relations of states. It also harbors the danger of a vicious cycle of relative-gains mindsets, loss of prosperity and growing geopolitical tensions, which ultimately makes everyone a loser.

There is no simple recipe for stopping this vicious cycle and strengthening cooperation to grow the proverbial pie for everyone. Following the presentation of the Munich Security Report, the panelists talked about some recipe ideas. The need to both strengthen existing cooperation formats and forge new partnerships played a major role.

Strengthening international cooperation starts with the closest partners

“We must resist the intellectual appeal of pessimism,” appealed Schinas in his opening speech at the kick-off discussion. The European Union was founded on the idea of cooperation and integration for mutual benefit, which has brought decades of peace to Europe. Now that the so-called peace dividend has come to an end, we must not fall into a zero-sum mindset, but must work together to find innovative solutions to the current challenges. Prawda also spoke out in favor of a more capable EU that emerges stronger from crises. In the face of the Russian war of aggression, the EU must develop “from a rules factory to a community of destiny” that defends peace and democracy with all its might, he argued.

Trust and mutual understanding are the most important means of building new partnerships

In the face of global crises and challenges, partnerships based on trust are not only necessary at the European level, but also internationally. In response to the question of how international cooperation can be strengthened, particularly between Europe and countries of the so-called Global South, Maunganidze called for cooperation to always begin with an attempt to better understand the point of departure of the other party and to seek dialog with each other. Mushikiwabo emphasized that it is important for European countries to be less complacent when cooperating with countries of the Global South in order to enable cooperation on an equal footing. This is how partnerships to combat existential crises such as climate change can succeed. With regard to the pacification of seemingly intractable conflicts – such as between Israelis and Palestinians – Mushikiwabo spoke about her personal experiences following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. She emphasized the conscious decision of the people of Rwanda to resist the “lose-lose” scenario of mutual retaliation in order to rebuild their country together.

In a few days, the search for cooperation opportunities and silver linings of international security policy will continue at the 60th Munich Security Conference.

Recording of the MSC Kick-off 2024

Watch the MSC Kick-off 2024 in full length on YouTube.

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