In February 2020, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace produced a report on “Who and what was and was not at the Munich Security Conference” – an annual event attended by political, military and business leaders and marketed on Twitter as “the world’s leading forum for debate on international security”.
According to Carnegie’s dispatch, the “Who” for the 2020 conference included “many old white men among the hundreds of invited attendees, but many other people as well.” Among the “whats” that weren’t there, meanwhile, was the very theme of the conference: “the absence of the West”, defined on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations as “the growing uncertainty on the fate of the transatlantic alliance”. between Europe and the United States. In Carnegie’s view, the absence of the West was basically not a problem in Munich given the “undeniable persistence of a community of nations which sees itself as such and which attaches current values to a particular common history. “.
Fast forward to this year’s 58th Munich Security Conference, held Feb. 18-20 at the city’s Hotel Bayerischer Hof, and it seems there’s still a community of shared values.” Westful” persistent — at least in terms of commitment to, like, white patriarchy.
Although event organizers were careful to point out that 45% of speakers were women, a photograph of a CEO luncheon at the conference suggests that “a lot of old white men” are still running the show. The photo shows around 30 monochrome men seated around a long white table with bottled water and wine (and no face masks, might I add – so much for “safety”).
Dr Jennifer Cassidy, a diplomacy researcher at Oxford University, tweeted the image with the accompanying remark: “This is the reality. This is where the power lies. Where some of the most important decisions are made. In a later tweet, Cassidy felt that “the most diverse thing that happened in this room” was a businessman wearing an orange tie.
German politician Sawsan Chebli meanwhile tweeted that the photo looked like something “from another world”. But it’s actually a world we know quite well.
In 2017, The Washington Post noted that in the United States, “men, and primarily white men, dominate the business world” – in addition to politics and academia. For example, 96% of chief executive positions at companies in the S&P 500 stock index were held by men – mostly white.
And in the European Union, the European Institute for Gender Equality concluded in 2019 that an increased female presence on company boards had “not translated into more women in corporate hierarchies. management”: the previous year, women made up 17% of senior managers and 7% of CEOs.
However, on the eve of the kick-off of the 2022 Munich security conference, Germany announced that it would finally vote in favor of an EU proposal dating from 2012 – and so far blocked – on “improving the gender balance among non-executive managers”. directors of listed companies and related measures”.
Politico quoted Robert Biedrón, the newly elected chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, as welcoming the news: “Fortunately, for the first time in many years, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Biedrón, it should be noted, is a man – which certainly does not prevent him from caring about women’s rights but which could raise questions about , I don’t know, the “light”.
But to what extent does the imposition of gender quotas and “related measures” really impact the reality of the average person living in today’s “Western” context? Ultimately, the cosmetic pursuit of gender and racial diversity doesn’t change the fact that capitalism in its transatlantic iteration thrives on racist patriarchy – a situation that understandably does little to promote “security.” general human being, neither in Munich nor beyond.
Consider an article in the Harvard Business Review by Victor Ray, assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at the University of Iowa, which describes American businesses and educational institutions as “long-term social structures”. date built and managed to prioritize whiteness”. Discrimination is institutionalized and “white normativity [is] built into seemingly non-racial organizational expectations”. Between 2012 and 2019, Ray writes, “black representation at the top of organizational hierarchies” fell from six to three CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.
What these capitalist hierarchies ultimately guarantee, of course, is the pursuit of tyranny by an elite minority – whose members need not be 100% white males at all levels. to propagate a system run by, well, white men. For example, structurally speaking, US Vice President Kamala Harris is as good a white man as any in terms of his devotion to corporate America and other forms of imperial patriarchy. This despite the recent assessment by Josh Rogin of the Washington Post: “European officials I spoke to in Munich were impressed with Harris herself, a unique figure among the mostly elderly white male contingent at the ‘event.”
US President and white man Joe Biden, for his part, appears as the main endorser on the official website of the Munich Security Conference: “Like no other global forum, Munich connects European leaders and thinkers with their peers around the world. A 2018 Politico article clarifies that Biden is a “regular since 1980” at the conference — which, “held in a cramped old-world hotel well past its heyday,” is billed as the place where “the brokers of the power of the world truly meet”. and a “winter rite” for the “true ‘global elites’ of the earth”.
The exclusive guest list also included former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who in 2003 used the forum to proudly present his case for the annihilation of Iraq. As the New York Times Magazine put it: “In order not to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, [Rumsfeld] argued, would be not to learn the lesson of Munich” – a reference to the infamous 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler.
But back to this year’s CEO lunch in Munich and a patriarchy that should be well past its peak. There are those who would say that all that is needed in this midday photo is superficial diversity – a few women and other skin colors tossed among bottled water and wine. What would really help, however, is the overthrow of a transatlantic regime of racist and sexist domination that fuels economic and military brutality.
Because as it is, the current “lesson from Munich” is that while you can always put an orange tie on white male hegemony, business is still business as usual.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.