Davos, Switzerland ... Security and the Economy Intertwined
I spent a couple of good days in Bern, the capital of Switzerland last week. The Swiss, are -- of course -- famously neutral in terms of international politics. Yet they are good partners with NATO in places like Kosovo in the Balkans, where we see over 200 exceptionally professional Swiss soldiers supporting peace by ensure a safe and secure environment in Kosovo.
My time and talks there were with key officials in the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All were cordial and quite productive, and included a robust conversation about the future of the Balkans (of great interest to Switzerland, which has the largest population of Kosovars outside of Kosovo itself); the developing situations in Mali and Syria; European defense generally; and cooperation between Switzerland and NATO going forward.
As always, I came away impressed with the serious and capable nature of Swiss defense, a nation that has always been fiercely independent and capable of defending itself -- but willing to work with partners in worthy causes. I had especially good conversations with Lieutenant General Andre Blatmann about all these topics.
Since I was close by, I took the opportunity to attend the 2013 Davos World Economic Forum. This is an annual gathering (in progress for over forty years now), that brings together over 2,000 global leaders in all sectors -- economic, political, security, cultural, cyber, diplomatic, journalism, and so forth.
It is staged as a week of conversations, and is the flagship of about eight conferences globally each year. They produce reports, provide a forum for discussion, and generally connect actors around the global circuit. The theme this year was "resilient dynamism," which I think loosely means that we all need to be capable of responding to shocks to the global system without losing our intent to maintain forward momentum.
In addition to the many individuals representing countries, the World Economic Forum brings together representatives over 1,000 companies from around the World who are interested in private-public partnership to create security in many different areas, from counter-piracy, to cyber, to private security, and manufacturing.
I had a chance to speak at a gathering of more than a dozen current and former heads of state and government, as well as many foreign ministers, ministers of defense, heads of banks, and key businesses from around the world. The themes I hit were:
- We need to watch upcoming global hotspots in 2013 like the Levant, the Sahel, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran -- all worrisome but not acute. There is progress in Afghanistan, and diplomatic efforts are addressing North Korea and Iran. Syria, of course, is the most tactically concerning, especially with many metric tons of chemical weapons in a chaotic situation.
- More attention should be paid to trafficking issues: narcotics, human trafficking, and weapons smuggling. The financial and human cost here is staggering and rising. I am especially worried about poppy / opium / heroin from Afghanistan and its effect in Central Asia and eastern Europe.
- The solution for creating security includes international cooperation (like Afghanistan, where 50 nations have troops on the ground); interagency cooperation (Colombia is a good and successful example over the past decade, and peace talks are in progress); private-public cooperation (counter-piracy, down 70% since last year); and strategic communications (we must seize the narrative to tell the story of freedom and democracy as the Arab Spring unfolds)
Overall, the economic news was the best I've heard in four years from Davos: There is a nascent recovery in Europe, the U.S. moving along apace with an improving housing market, the emerging markets slowing down but remaining reasonably strong. I feel, like many around the world, a small bit of confidence after several years of real concern. Hopefully we'll move forward together into a global recovery.
Next weekend, I'll be in Munich for the annual security conference -- very familiar ground, where I will continue the conversation on the relationship between economics and security. Davos represented engagement with world economic leaders, where I tried to convince people that to have a secure economy we have to have a strong security capability -- and vice versa. Munich will be another opportunity to highlight the need for strong security capabilities.
Stay tuned for a report from Munich!
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command