World leaders and foreign and defence officials will get an opportunity to get a better handle on the foreign policy goals of US President Donald Trump on Friday as the Munich Security Conference enters its first day.
US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly will lead the US delegation at the conference, which brings together 30 heads of state and government and 80 foreign and defence ministers.
Trump's former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had been due to attend. But his resignation earlier this week due to revelations that he misled Pence regarding a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador about sanctions sidelined those plans. A successor has not yet been chosen.
Trump caused serious concern among NATO allies during his presidential campaign when he referred to the military alliance as "obsolete."
Though he and his team have since reaffirmed the US' commitment to NATO, there is a deep sense of unease among allies, especially in light of questions about the new administration's relations to Russia.
At a meeting of defence ministers on Wednesday, Mattis delivered an ultimatum to NATO member states, saying they should up their defence spending or risk Washington reducing its own contribution. The US is the biggest contributor to NATO.
Earlier this week, the White House said that Trump expected Russia to "return Crimea" to Ukraine, marking a major departure from his previously conciliatory stance towards the Kremlin. Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in early 2014.
"Never before have there been so many foreign policy question marks," said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador and the head of the conference, in reference to the Trump White House, the crises in Syria and Ukraine, as well as populist movements within Europe.
Pence is expected to outline the White House's foreign policy goals on Saturday and to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ischinger said he hoped the conference would assuage some of the current uncertainty.
Other leaders to attend the conference include: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres; NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; and the presidents of Ukraine and Afghanistan.