GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2018 (Page 2 of 5)

Simulation and Security Issues with IFRI

After much preparation today was finally the day to show off the accumulation of knowledge we had gain over the past nine weeks on transatlantic relations. This was done in the form of our EU-U.S. simulation. The nineteen students of our program split into two teams. These two teams, one representing the U.S. interest and one representing the interest of the European Union, disputed three key policy foreign policy areas. We did this at Science Po, a renowned political science university in Paris. These policy areas being security policy (stance on the JCPOA), internet policy (stance on the GDPR and AI), and trade policy. For example, I found myself representing the interest of the European Union of the issue of security policy in regard to the United States withdrawing from the Iran Deal or JCPOA. Each of the six working groups came up with a two page policy stance paper that was then presented by a representation in a five minute speech at the beginning of the session. After each group presented their stance our teams split of to reconvene with our policy expert counterparts. As I was in the working group discussing the Iran Deal, I only gained this perspective in terms of debate. We discussed the current positions of both sides as well as what was plausible given Iran and other gulf countries’ stance in the region. It is an extremely complex issue with many moving parts and in our limited time discussing and deliberating our teams agreed to work towards policy that would bring the United States back into the agreement eliminating the need for secondary exemptions to tariffs put on European companies that do business with Iran.

This is a very different approach to what is being discussed currently in politics but isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility. After this portion of the simulation we went back to the entire EU team and presented our joint agreement. The other groups commented and added amendments then we returned to our policy expert groups to write up our stance that would then be combined to with the other groups pieces to make a two page Joint Position Paper that was then presented to the “press” at the end of the simulation.

After the simulation we left Science Po and headed over to IFRI by metro. IFRI stands for institut francais des relations internationals. They are ranked the second most influential think tank in the world and were founded by Thierry de Montbrial in 1979 to analysis international issues and global political systems. The information gathered and analyzed policy experts is used by political and economic decision-makers as well as academics, opinion leaders, and civil society representatives.

Our briefings at IFRI were done by Head of Security Division on French foreign policy priorities; expert on Ukraine crisis and relations with Russia; and an expert on counter-terrorism efforts and French security and defense policies. Our first speaker outlined 3 areas of focus that would be discussed during our time there. Those being European Defense policy, defense spending and a jihadi terrorist profile. He then went on to explain the first topic which highlights the French perspective in terms of defense policy. The speaker pinpointed the need for strategic autonomy while discussing defense policy and while this makes sense in theory there are 3 key problems that arise with this line of thinking. For one there is no exact definition for this term which can lead to asymmetry in its interpretation. Two, because of this strategic autonomy can be used to justify vagueness when it comes to coordination by the European Defense community. Thirdly, the defense community is also dealing with a burden sharing problem that is currently being addressed at the NATO summit and we will have to wait and see how this issue plays out among nation states. In terms of defense spending and budgeting specifically our second speaker gave us an update on where the French are. There are more than 30,000 soldiers in operations despite the tight budget. It is increasing however but still stretched too thin. France is conducting operations in Lebanon, Northern Africa, and the Balkan States as well as other regions. Macron has stated they plan to increase their budget by 1.7 million euros each year over the next 4 years and by 3 million the 2 years after that. Our speaker seems skeptical about the achievability of this plan, so it will be interesting to watch in the coming years. Our last and final speaker did a presentation on the jihadist terrorist profile that he had created using data analysis in his study. HE provided us with very interesting insight on the subject and open our eyes to the impact this struggle still has on their community overall. After our guests graciously answered our question the group then went back to change and spend our remaining few hours of the day watching all of Paris celebrate the return of France’s very own World Cup Champions as they paraded through the streets.


Visiting the Louvre

On our first full day in Paris we visited none other than the Louvre. From the start with the I.M Pei designed entrance the Louvre was a masterpiece in architecture as it combined the modern entrance and lobby with the classic buildings surrounding it. The elevators seemed to be an object out of the Art Deco period that had somehow been realized by the technology advancements of the 21stcentury Our main objective for the day was to see the Delacroix exhibit which we were given tickets to. Each of us were assigned to a partner and the two of us could explore the Louvre together. My partner and I started with the Delacroix exhibit. Admittedly, and to my surprise, the exhibit was one of the most interesting that I’ve seen in Art museums. Personally, I am a great fan of modern art and did not think that I would enjoy the Delacroix exhibit as much however, I realized that I could not have been more wrong. My previous dislike of classical art in museums was most likely due to my lack of exposure and knowledge. I simply felt left out and did not know as much about the artists, and their works and was overwhelmed by the people at the museums who seemed to know a great deal. And like any subject that I am not well-versed in, I tried would stay away and let those more familiar with the subject to enjoy. However, the Delacroix exhibit did much to change that.


With no previous knowledge of Delacroix, his background, and his paintings, I felt as included as anyone else in the exhibit. I walked out of that wing of the museum with sufficient knowledge of Delacroix so that if he ever came up as a topic of conversation in the future, I would feel comfortable talking about him. I will now attempt to share some of my acquired knowledge of Delacroix bellow along with particulars that I found to be interesting personally.


Of particular interest to me was the fact that Delacroix was born into a family of fame and novelty as his father was an ambassador while his brother was a general and baron of the Empire under Napoleon. Having grown up in such fame and prestige he sought to recover some of it through art, since a military career like his brothers was not an option. He then went through three stages as a painter. From 1822 to 1834 he was caught up in trying to establish a name for himself as he rose as an artist. From 1835 to 1855 he became a more traditional painter with bewildering murals and the fame that came to him after the Universal Exposition in 1855. The last chapter in his artistic career was from 1856 until his death in 1863 when he was drawn increasingly to landscapes and nature.


In the first stage of his career, Delacroix had tried his hand at almost every genre, seeking fame through the exploration of what was desired at the time. From literary scenes (mostly lithography) to what was regarded as scandalous modern paintings at the time (The Death of Sardanapalus), he was not afraid to explore. However, one painting, his most famous, was also product of this era. A painting that needs no introduction and has come to be as iconic as the Statue of Liberty when it comes to notions of freedom and liberty. The painting is of course his 1831 masterpiece, Liberty Leading the People, which was painted a year after the revolution in 1830 to commemorate the event. This was for me the most crucial part of his life as a painter, and the one that I found most interesting.


The Death of Sardanapalus

Liberty Leading the People

Beyond his classics, I found the paintings he produced after his trip to Morocco to be fascinating as they were filled with details and were in a way portraits of the past. War scenes showing the heroic actions of the French in Nancy or in Greece are great, but they seem all too common to the untrained eye such as mine. Delacroix’s depictions of life in Northern Africa at the time were nothing short of mesmerizing for me. His paintings from this period allow you to step back in time and see what life in Algiers or Tangiers was like in 1832. Much like he takes his audience back in time through these paintings today, Delacroix himself also felt that the region was something akin to a time travel back to ancient times of the Greek or Roman empires and found it very inspiring. I appreciated the lack of drama and the need to depict the classical Roman times for a change. I am grateful that Comte de Mornay allowed Delacroix to accompany him on his diplomatic trip to the region as without him, Delacroix’s talent in depicting such scenes would have most likely remained unrealized.


Jewish Wedding in Morocco

Delacroix’s Sketches from his Trip to North Africa


Although disappointing to the art critics at the time who had grown used to seeing large classical murals and paintings from Delacroix, the final stage of his career truly highlighted his powers as an artist as he painted many landscapes and scenes from memory. Although of smaller sizes, these paintings had a beauty of their own that could. The ocean was depicted beautifully in his painting La Mer A Dieppe, to a degree that it was almost hypnotic, despite being a painting from memory. Also from this period were his paintings depicting Jesus and his followers in a boat. My first thought when seeing such these paintings was how remarkably similar they were to those of the refugees fleeing from Africa in hopes of a better life in Europe. In both cases the boats are small and the occupants seem to be struggling in battling the harsh waves of the indiscriminant sea that has no regard for the lives of children or those of holy figures. I stood for a while looking at these paintings and the sad condition of humanity that in the 21stcentury these refugees have to resort to such rudimentary ways of departing their homelands, in search of safety, opportunity, and at times, the right to survive. And yet our treatment of these refugees, in both the U.S. and the EU is simply shameful at times. Perhaps seeing paintings like this and the hardships of Christ and his followers can change the hearts of many who albeit “religious” and god-loving, claim to have an ancestral right to the safety provided in the EU and the U.S. which is somehow not endowed to these refugees. Maybe these paintings can do much in highlighting the hypocrisy of unfair measures against refugees throughout the world.



Sea Viewed from the Heights of Dieppe

Having focused on Delacroix for the majority of my blog, it is only appropriate to devote a small section to the Louvre as a whole as well. To try to express its grandeur and splendor in the confines of this blog is simply not possible, however, I can mention that seeing the Mona Lisa was both essential and humbling in a way. And furthermore, the crown jewels, the décor and architecture of the Louvre, and its sheer size expressed much about the powers, wealth, and size of the French Empire over the past centuries. I was however, as always, surprised by the number of artifacts from countries such as Iran and Egypt that end up museums such as the Louvre. I am no art historian or expert on the subject but I do see it as an unfair practice at times.

Crowd at the Louvre viewing Mona Lisa

Lastly, I could not end this blog with the mention of the Final FIFA World Cup match where France was pegged against Croatia. Having no particular interest in soccer itself, I found the spirit of the French people to be much more fascinating than the game itself. After a few attempts of getting into popular spots for watching the game, some of us had to settle for overcrowded local bars around the city. Observing people’s reactions throughout the game was an eye opening experience for me as I had never seen such unity and shared interests before. The ability of sports to bring people together like this is simply astonishing to me. Furthermore, as if their actions during the game were not enough, the streets of Paris after the game were unreal. I had seen the likes of it in the uprisings in 2009 in Iran as part of the Green Movement but this seemed even bigger than that. Champs Elysees was packed, people were climbing over buildings, and it seemed like humanity had snapped back a few stages on the evolutionary chain. Smoke bombs, pepper sprays, and irrational bikers adorned the streets of Paris alongside more traditional ways of celebration such as fireworks, flags, and horns. While the walk back to the hotel was tiring, it was an absolute pleasure to have been able to experience this, it was truly an experience of a lifetime. To a more rational person like I, there is no reason to flood the streets and engage in what was pure dangerous hooliganism at times just because 22 people passed the ball around on a grass field in Russia. However, I am clearly missing the point and part of the fun, having never been invested in sports, but even I, was glad to celebrate this victory with the French people.




Terrific Tour of Berlin!

Monday marked our first full day in Berlin. After a long day of travelling on Sunday, we were excited to finally see the city of Berlin and all that it has to offer. We met bright and early at nine to meet our amazing tour guide, Stevie, and our uber-cool bus driver Mike. Stevie has been living in Berlin since she was 19 and has had an impressive diplomatic career. Mike served in the German army and still actively participates by providing training and being part of the reserve. We boarded the bus and were on our way. One of the first monuments that we passed was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a Protestant church that was built in the 1890s, but was heavily damaged by WWII bombings in 1943. The church was not rebuilt, but a new church with a more modern design was built next to the ruins. The next major site was the Berlin Victory Column. The column is topped with a golden statue of Victoria, the goddess of Victory, and was erected to celebrate the Prussian military victories. In 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in front of 200,000 people at the Victory Column. As we kept driving, Stevie pointed out the Fernsehturm, a 368 meter tall television tower that is the tallest tower in Germany and the second tallest tower in the European Union. Our first official stop was the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a series of 105 murals painted onto the the Berlin Wall by artists from around the world. One of the most famous murals is one by Dmitri Vrubel which depicts Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing.

After taking pictures on both sides of the wall, we headed over to the Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument built after the Batavian Revolution in the 18th century. The Brandenburg gate is located in the same square as the U.S. Embassy and the Adlon Hotel. The Adlon Hotel is also the hotel where Michael Jackson held his son Prince Michael II over the balcony.

We then visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which consists of 2,711 concrete blocks that are arranged on a sloping platform. There is also an underground exhibit lists the names of 3,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.

We passed through Checkpoint Charlie which served as a checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Close to Checkpoint Charlie is Potsdamer Platz, a square that houses the Mall of Berlin which contains three floors and three hundred stores. We passed the Topography of Terror which contained some of the main offices of the SS and now serves as a museum that showcases the inner workings of the Nazi regime. After grabbing bagels for lunch, we began the walking portion of our tour and walked over to the Neue Wache Memorial, or New Guardhouse in English. The Neue Wache serves as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Victims of War and Dictatorship and contains a replica of the statue of a Mother with her Dead Son by Kathe Kollwitz.

The monument is right by Museum Island, a series of five museums in close proximity of each other near the Berlin Cathedral. We concluded the day’s tour with a brief walkthrough of Museum Island which contains the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, and the Pergamon Museum. (Fun fact: Museum Island is near Angela Merkel’s home!) By the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but extatic to explore the city in more depth over the next few days.


Track 17, Wansee House and German MFA


Joined by our amazing Berliner Stevie once more, we began our day by visiting Track 17 at Grunewald Station. Track 17 is the primary location where the Nazis kidnapped deported the Jews of Berlin. The majority of which went to Theresienstadt and later death camps such as Auschwitz. The track was hidden, in a less populous part of town surrounded by a rich forest. Because of this, the Nazis viewed the track as the best location in which Jews could be deported out of the public’s sight. Nowadays, the track features a memorial listing the number and locations of the deportations alongside a monument. Stevie pointed out the Israeli flags nearby, most likely from a memorial gathering a few days prior. Besides this, the area was still filled with bikers and joggers, as well as a small grocery stand. This environment, much like what we saw at the bunker site of Hitler’s suicide, shows how Germany seeks to remember the past while remaining careful not to glorify it. This visit was a nice precursor to the Wannsee house, which we made our way to shortly after.

As we approached the Wannsee house however, it was interesting to note the area in which we were entering. The Wannsee area is a beautiful suburb of Berlin on the shores of the Havel river. The neighborhood was calm and lavish, hardly preparing us for what we were about to experience. The Wannsee Conference was held at this house, property seized by the Schutzstaffel (SS) a few years beforehand. The conference was a meeting of senior officials of Nazi Germany ordered by Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the logistical implementation of the “Final Solution” plan, previously agreed upon by Hitler and other high-ranking officials. Although the conference lasted a mere 90 minutes, the decisions and planning implemented here had an unimaginably destructive impact of Europe, WWII, and society as a whole. When touring the museum on the inside of the building, it was made apparent that something of this caliber could and possibly will happen again. Antisemitism, bigotry and institutionalized violence and oppression did not start with the Holocaust and it will not end with it. The house served as a reminder of scale on which these atrocities were committed. What was simply at short meeting out of thousands at the time, is now remembered as a crucial and devastating part of world history.

After leaving the Wannsee house, we made our way to a biker restaurant and indulged on some homestyle German food. We then made our way to the German Federal Foreign Office. As we were walking in, it was interesting to see a world cup viewing area, complete with a giant tv and refreshments. We then made our way to the briefing room at were greeted by a high-level official rom the Office of European Correspondent. Our briefer began by describing her role within the MFA and how her office coordinates between German’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the European Union. The office was busy as the EU would hold a FA ministerial meeting the following Monday, a monthly attempt to coordinate member-state foreign policy according to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and bring awareness to various issues of concern. We then moved into Q&A and discussed several current topics include migration, tariffs, and the Iran Deal. Many of us asked similar questions to those we asked in Brussels as it was interesting to hear the purely German perspective on various topics. In the realm of security and tariffs, Germany has distinctive positions, somewhat contrary to those of France and the rest of the EU. Exploring this dynamic was an interesting way to examine the issues from varying perspectives. We then delved into the transatlantic relationship and specifically, the German-US relationship which has transitioned from the Obama-Merkel bond towards a weaker relationship. We finished up with a few more questions, putting a busy and informative week in Berlin behind us.



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