Every morning in Brussels reminds me that this study abroad was created to make students more professional. I started my day off by putting on my full professional attire and descending the stairs in our Maison to have our morning coffee and reading the newspaper with our host father. Then we walked to the Euroflat hotel for our first briefing, heels clicking all the way.
We met with Diego Ruiz Palmer, policy advisor to the director in NATO, to discuss the political side of NATO before we head to SHAPE, the military portion of NATO. NATO is an organization that was created in 1949 in order to create an alliance that would stand together against aggression. History only goes in one direction, but it definitely has its patterns in slowly changing historical eras. Currently, we are in a time of transition, where there is an uncertainty in international organizations. Interaction is the big difference in this era because globalization did not exist, especially not at this scale and speed. Before it used to be the West and the Rest with the West paving the way, but now we see a change to the Rest and the West. The United States seemed to be in the position of the Reluctant sheriff where it has to be the policeman of the world, but does it truly want to be? The United States seems torn between the idea of Manifest Destiny and Isolationism. This is a pattern that we have seen before as a nation, and the decision seems to rely on the administration in power. Brexit is another key example of the West withdrawing from the world, and it could be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to shine on the global stage and to prove it is self-dependent. However, withdrawing from NATO relinquishes the security behind the “one for all, and all for one”defense that NATO supplies.
Who knows what changes will come to NATO as the world shifts uncomfortably in power, and the greatest danger NATO has is instability. In the East and the South, the insurance of safety and security is of utmost importance. NATO is not an offensive force; however, it does aim to deter, defend, and protect stability. In the South, they have set up strength training teams and a crisis management center in order to aid in becoming more resilient and speedy in desperate circumstances. They, also, created the Joint Force Command in order to communicate what is going on in the South. In addition to creating a deterrence in the South, the Wales Summit established a readiness action plan for the Baltic states to deter Russia, created a defense investment pledges, and increased the presence of cyber defense. As much planning as the Wales Summit did, the goals are coming to a close and the Allies need to vote on a new readiness initiative that would require each of them to have a number of battalions that on standby and ready to go. In order to have such speed, there needs to be the appropriate infrastructure and reinforcement in place, such as signs detailing where tanks can fit or not.
After a few questions from the students, we boarded the bus to SHAPE. We enjoyed a lovely meal at the SHAPE Club and then moved to headquarters where we were briefed by a Polish Lieutenant Colonel. He, also, stressed the fact that this was a transitionary period for NATO especially after the 2014 Crimea Annexation by Russia and we are currently in a period of “Post-Truth.” This occurs when you have information that is based on emotions and not facts and perspective is retroactively clearer after results have been revealed. SHAPE carries out orders from NATO to ensure the Allies have the militaristic portion of NATO. “Post-Truth” is a problem for NATO because in order to give orders to SHAPE all member states must be in agreement with said orders and in democratic countries often the support from the citizens are affected by media that is clouded with bias and emotions. Even though this problem is still yet to be resolved, SHAPE still provides a “bridge of defense and security.”
After a brief coffee break, we were joined by an American NATO lieutenant colonel Bryce. He gave us a brief yet thorough overview of Russia and NATO relations. I thought it to be interesting that for a while Russia was a strategic partner in not only its location but, also, the fact that they were able to aid NATO in understanding the culture and language in the Western Balkans. Between NATO and Russia, there was an agreement of the 3 No’s that was no reason, no intention, and no plan to use nuclear weapons. According to Russia, there was a fourth No that was slipped in that was no new substantial forces in new members states. According to NATO, this No was neither documented nor agreed to by all states. This No, verified or not, was violated when NATO stationed new troops in the Baltic states after Crimea. Following the Georgia invasion, Russia was forgiven, but when they invaded again in Crimea Russia and NATO relations have reached a new level of tension. Russian invasion into NATO member states is not likely since there are currently Americans, Germans, and British soldiers stationed in strategic areas, implementing the “one for all, and all for one” threat NATO has.
NATO continues to work to defend itself in 3 directions: East, South, and Homeland. In order to provide such defense, it is crucial for NATO to remain transparent to combat “post-truth.” NATO is not a universal pill, for different pains you take different medicines. Nations can choose to act individually when they want, within their realm of power. NATO cannot continue to carry on business as usual though, especially after Georgia. Russia is continuously unpredictable and NATO needs to be able to reach a consensus looking towards the future in next month’s summit. It is all fear-based politics. History seems to be cycling back into the period of the Cold War. This is quite disappointing because both found nations found out that the other never had any intention of invading it was simply for defense measures. I could not imagine repeating the Cold War, but with two very hot-headed, unpredictable leaders in power on opposite sides.
After taking pictures with Georgia Tech’s own, General Breedlove, previous SACEUR, we boarded the bus back. The entire bus ride was filled with a lot of reactions to the information that we received earlier. Two hours later, we arrived back in Brussels. After a lovely meal with my host family, we decided that the best way to decompress after a long day is to go to Maison Antoine to get some fries with mayonnaise.