By SMSgt Mark Winkler
GCMC Public Affairs
Twice a year, high-level civilian and military government officials meet in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to discuss a current security topic.
The relations between Russia, the EU, and the U.S. were the focus for this iteration of the Senior Executive Seminar at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. The seminar was part of a greater goal for the Marshall Center to help strengthen and revive the relations between East and West through conferences, forums and courses.
At the end of the week-long seminar, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Russia, Ulrich Brandenburg, spoke to participants in the course. He was one of many guest speakers.
He stressed in his speech that it was extremely important to resume the dialogue and to have exchanges at all levels with Russia.
"The fact that the negotiations are over and we have been able to ratify the START negotiations, is a huge step forward." It also goes far beyond the issues of disarmament, he said, and it strengthens the positive cooperation and the trust on both sides.
"The relationship between the West and Russia, much more than the relationship with any other country, depends on the political economy," the ambassador said.
Germany was supportive of the process of negotiations, but was not involved directly as it was a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia, said Brandenburg.
It will have an impact on disarmament and arms control, as well as the unsolved problem of the teardown of tactical nuclear weapons, he said.
Since 2007, the process of disarmament of conventional weapons in Europe has stalled when Russia suspended its obligations under the CFE Treaty. Now, the ambassador said, all parties must restart the process.
"We hope that the ratification of the START Treaty has given the disarmament process a positive push," he said.
Of interest to the German Ambassador was also the assessment of the situation of his colleague from Moscow, U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle, who was also a guest speaker in Garmisch.
"My American colleague has pointed out a similar assessment of the relations of Russia with the West," said Ambassador Brandenburg. "That was a little unexpected, but at the same time shows that Germany and the United States pursue a similar strategy."
Both ambassadors were able to have interesting discussions with students and had the opportunity to answer their questions.
"The Marshall Center has reached a high level in this forum, and I am convinced that it will be able to maintain it. The thing that I found most remarkable was that there wasn't even a hint of aggression in this discussion," said Ambassador Brandenburg.
It was regrettable, he said, that there were no participants from Russia at the forum. The ambassador said he hoped in the future, there would again be participation from this important country.
"Especially since Russian is also one of the three official course languages at this institution," he said.
The expert views the future relationship between the West and Russia with cautious optimism and said a greater opening of the country towards the West, and a continuation of the modernization process, could only be beneficial for Europe. He said Germany has close links with Russia on many levels including economy, culture, as well as through private contacts of millions of people and travel.
"Russia has practically become a neighbor," he said.
But, he said, unfortunately there is little mutual engagement on the issues of security and defense.
"Particularly in this area the Marshall Center has been an important institution since 1993 because it brings decision-makers and future leaders in this field together, and because it can build trust," said Ambassador Brandenburg.
It's this trust the ambassador has enjoyed many times on his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
"Professionally, I frequently meet graduates of the Marshall Center," he said. "This shows that the Marshall Center has chosen its students well, and training in Garmisch is bearing fruit."
He acknowledges the accomplishments of this U.S.-German joint venture institution over the last 18 years as a great achievement.