The U.S. secretary of state has declared that "the West is winning" as he pushed back against assertions that Washington was retreating from global engagement, and against warnings from Germany’s president about a new "great power" competition.
Mike Pompeo's comments, made during a forceful speech on the second day of the Munich Security Conference, were met with a rebuttal from France's president, who asserted later on February 15 that there was a "weakening of the West."
The annual conference in the Bavarian city has long been a gathering of world leaders and has occasionally been conducted during times of strained U.S.-European relations, such as during the debate over the Iraq war in early 2003.
Tensions between Washington and its European allies have rattled the alliance. U.S. President Donald Trump, in particular, has been vocal in his criticism that NATO's European allies were not spending enough on defense budgets to support the alliance.
Trump has also voiced doubts about the alliance’s core component: the treaty clause that stipulates an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members.
Ahead of the conference's opening, organizers released a report titled "Westlessness" -- which they called "a uneasiness and restlessness in the face of increasing uncertainty about the enduring purpose of the West."
On the conference's first day, Germany President Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested that Russia and China, along with the United States, were stoking global instability, as he warned of the danger that the three were slipping into a new "great power" competition and nuclear arms race.
"And our closest ally, the United States of America, under the present administration itself, rejects the idea of an international community," Steinmeier said.
"'Great again' -- even at the expense of neighbors and partners," Steinmeier said, a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again.
Pompeo pushed back against that argument, saying that the Trump administration was engaged in European security, and he asserted that NATO remained strong.
"Those statements don't reflect reality," Pompeo said.
"I’m happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over exaggerated. The West is winning and we’re winning together," Pompeo said.
"The West is winning, freedom and democracy is winning," he said.
Three Seas Initiative
Pompeo ticked off a list of concerns he said were shared by Washington and NATO: Russia, Iran, China.
He also said Washington would offer up to $1 billion in financing to Central and Eastern Europe to help the region avoid reliance on Russian energy.
The new U.S. financing would go toward the Three Seas Initiative—a loose grouping of 12 European Union member states located between the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Black seas. Except for Austria, all are NATO members.
The initiative was set up to counter what some Western officials consider to be a danger of overreliance on Russian energy supplies.
Russia is the largest supplier of natural gas, and a major supplier of oil, to Europe.
Not long after Pompeo spoke, French President Emmanuel Macron countered the U.S. argument, saying that the West was weakening. He called for Europe to come up with its own independent strategy for the future -- independent of the United States.
"We need a European strategy that renews us and turns us into a strategic political power," he said.
Macron also criticized existing Western policy toward Russia, in particular the persistence of economic sanctions imposed in 2014 in response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and Russia's foment of conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"It is not a policy, it's a completely inefficient system," Macron said. "There is a second choice which is to be demanding and restart a strategic dialogue because today we talk less and less, conflicts multiply and we aren't able to resolve them."
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also offered a defense of the alliance's importance, downplaying disagreements over trade and defense policy.
"We are 29 different allies, from different sides of the Atlantic," he said. "But the differences we have today, we have been able to deal with them."
"We have not lost our way, and our values have not lost their value. Freedom, democracy and rule of law have brought prosperity...remain a beacon of hope for people around the world," he said.
"I don’t believe in Europe alone, as I don’t believe in America alone. I believe in Europe and America together," Stoltenberg said.
In his speech, Pompeo said some countries were still "desiring empires," citing Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, cyberthreats in Iran, and economic coercion by China.
He said China, Russia, and Iran were using the cyberrealm to wield influence, and he focused specifically on the Chinese high-tech company Huawei. The Trump administration has aggressively sought to warn that the company was a "Trojan horse" for allowing Chinese intelligence agencies to snoop on electronic communications.
"Huawei and other Chinese state-backed tech companies are Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence. Russia's disinformation campaigns try to turn our citizens against one another. Iranian cyberattacks plague Middle East computer networks," he said.
Pompeo also downplayed differences between Washington and its European allies over policy toward Iran. The Trump administration has aggressively sought to isolate Tehran, and the administration pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal reached with several European nations. That deal lifted crippling economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran curtailing its nuclear programs.
Several European leaders criticized the Trump administration and sought to keep the deal from falling apart entirely.
"Everybody gets that the terror campaign -- the assassination campaign right here in Europe -- is being conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said.
"Everyone understands that these are folks that continue to build out their nuclear program. So, there is a common understanding about the threat. We have tactical differences about how to proceed," he said.
China's foreign minister rebutted both Pompeo, and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, whose speech at the conference focused almost entirely on China and Huawei.
"All these accusations against China are lies, not based on facts," Wang Yi Wang told the conference. "But if we replace the subject of the lie from China to America, maybe those lies become facts."