GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2019 (Page 3 of 3)

Travel Weekend in Barcelona!

Hello GT EU Program! My name is Jack Sheldon and I am a rising second-year International Affairs and French student from Atlanta, GA currently participating in this year’s EU and Transatlantic Affairs study abroad program.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed an awesome long weekend away from Georgia Tech Lorraine in beautiful Barcelona, Spain. Although I did not have class for part of the week, I still had a weekend full of interesting museums and educational tours.

First on the list was the famous Sagrada Familia, designed by esteemed Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudi. Did you know that the building has been over construction for over 200 years? The project is publicly funded and has frequently run out of budgeting, while the revolutionary architecture required many revisions and modifications. The building draws inspiration from nature, and is intended to return the church-goer (or tourist!) to the fundamental yet intricate world around them.


Exterior of Sagrada Familia. Notice the Christmas Tree and bird’s nest in the center!


Pictures can’t do it justice- the colors were mesmerizing.

Our second stop was the Picasso Museum in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter. Picasso became somewhat obsessed with one painting called “Las Meninas” by classical Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, and duplicated it over 30 times! In doing so, Picasso experimented with his new cubist and distortive style, but still managed to maintain the integrity of the original. I was especially surprised by how such a classical painting could be so heavily “modernized”.


This is my favorite picture from the Picasso Museum. It shows one of Picasso’s studies of “Las Meninas”, while visualizing the contrast between old and modern with the medieval archway and gallery wall.

Finally, we visited Antoni Gaudi’s first residential project, called Casa Vicens. Located in the north of the city it was originally built as a country estate before being overcome by Example-style (gridded) city planning caused reductions to the estate.

It was amazing to see the level of detail that had been painstakingly restored over the past few decades. I also learned that one of my personal favorite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, is one of Gaudi’s professed contemporaries. Compare the next two pictures to see the similarities between their two styles.


Front facade of Casa Vicens. 


Scale model of Lloyd Wright’s Chicago home project.

In short, I had a great first time in Spain! Being exposed to so much art, history, and architecture allowed me to connect my inspirations and interests to another culture that is so much different than the one back home. Being on the International Plan at GT, I find these experiences invaluable and am so happy to be able to share them with you! Now on to Brussels!

– Jack


On Tuesday, June 11, the students of the European Union program traveled from The Hague, Netherlands to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. SHAPE is the headquarters of the Allied Command Operations (ACO) which is one of two military commands of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – the other being Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia. The ACO’s mission is “to prepare for, plan and conduct military operations in order to meet Alliance political objectives.” The students were greeted by a public relations director upon arrival, then immediately briefed on the basics of NATO, and specifically how it interacts with SHAPE. Further in the brief, students were informed of the organization of the ACO and ACT in regards to SHAPE. SHAPE is led by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe or SACEUR who is currently United States General Tod D. Wolters. The SACEUR plays not only this leadership role, but is also the Commander of US-European Command. Next in the line of command are the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe or DSACEUR, the Chief of Staff, and the Vice Chief of Staff, consecutively. The SACEUR works closely with NATO and the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Center (CCOMC) to understand the political breadth of situations. CCOMC is the body that enables SACEUR’s decision-making by putting his orders into action. As of right now, the ACO has two main strategies outside of their key core tasks discussed later in the post. They are defined as the Eastern Challenge, where NATO and SHAPE work to deter state actors, and the Southern Challenge, where they work to contain non-state actors and project stability in an otherwise unstable region.

In a continuation of the trip to SHAPE, on Thursday, June 13, the students visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The group was first greeted by former NATO employee and current Georgia Tech distinguished professor, Robert Bell, then sat down for the first briefing with Justin Suni. Mr. Suni works in the public diplomacy department, and he discussed NATO’s current priorities as well as further defining the difference between the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s political machine, and the Military Committee, made up of the ACO and ACT. NATO’s first priority is, of course, their main core tasks: cooperative security, collective defense, and crisis management. He specifically discussed the challenging security environment after the illegal annexation of Crimea, Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine in the Donbass region, and the enlargement of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. NATO’s second priority is deterrence and defense. This includes defense of NATO territory, and an increase in Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) and Tailored Forward Presence (TFP). EFP is NATO’s defense along the Russian border in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, while TFP is their defense along the Southern parts of the alliance that shows solidarity. NATO’s third priority is a projection of stability. This includes supporting the Middle Eastern and Northern African regions, creating a coalition to defeat ISIS, and assisting other nations beyond NATO’s borders. Lastly, NATO’s final key priority is enhancing the transatlantic bond. As of now, this mostly encompasses the idea of military spending. Only five NATO members spend the 2% of their GDP that member nations promise to give upon joining. In response, a new pledge has been released and signed saying members will attempt to reach this 2% GDP mark by 2024, but many are pessimistic as there is little to no definition on what counts towards military spending. A major question concerning this is whether pension payments to retired military officers are an applicable part of GDP to be counted towards NATO spending.

After Mr. Suni, the group was briefed by Mr. James Hursch on Alliance Management from a U.S. perspective. He began the briefing by giving two quotes that define U.S. alliance management. First, “Sometimes the U.S. manages the alliance, and sometimes the alliance manages the U.S,” and second, “The only thing the alliance hates more than U.S. leadership is when the U.S. doesn’t lead.” After discussing the key points of U.S. leadership within the alliance, Mr. Hursch gave the group a chronological rundown of important events in NATO that changed the landscape of member relations. He also discussed, per curiosity of the group, the difficulties of dealing with differing voices in the U.S. government, and how to speak about the U.S. position with allies without causing too much confusion or distrust.

After Mr. Hursch, Professor Bell briefed the group on NATO’s Nuclear Posture and Policy. NATO’s posture on nuclear weapons is, “as long as nuclear weapons exist we will remain a nuclear alliance.” NATO promises its members that it will retain the full range of weapons necessary to maintain adequate defense measures, and, at this time, nuclear weapons encompass that. NATO’s nuclear policy, however, is much different. NATO preaches heavily for nonproliferation, arms control, and nuclear armaments, and is in full support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). On the other hand, NATO does not view the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in such a favorable light. This treaty is in direct violation of their promise to member nations, and NATO has no intention of accepting it.

Following Professor Bell’s discussion, the group was treated to a delicious three-course meal from NATO where many students had the opportunity to sit with some of the briefers and discuss topics that weren’t covered or they wanted to speak more in depth about. After the lunch came to a close, the group continued the day by participating in a Q&A with a panel made up of Mr. Milos Nikolic from the NATO Montenegrin Delegation and Ms. Tina Tarvainen from the Finnish Mission to NATO. During the panel, students got an in-depth look at how NATO membership can be crucial for nations such as Montenegro, which needed the strength, security, and partnership after declaring independence in 2006. In an interesting reversal, Finland works closely with NATO, and has been offered acceptance, but doesn’t want it. For Finland, their cooperation with NATO and the possibility to join in the future is the assurance and security they need. For the final briefing of the day, Mr. Diego Ruiz Palmer and Mr. Bell discussed their individual perspectives of working on an international staff. The students were also given time to ask questions pertaining to their own future careers, many of whom aspire to work at organizations like NATO.

The International Criminal Court – Week Five

The International Criminal Court – Week Five

The Hague, The Netherlands
June 10, 2019
Kyle Smith

“The glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution – nor by the courts – nor by the officers of the law – nor by the lawyers – but by the men and women who constitute our society – who are the protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law.”

– Former United States (US) Senator and Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy.

Today, students in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s European Union Study Abroad Program visited the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. This international treaty-created body is the first and only permanent court established for prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and genocide. The Court got its start when the Rome Statute gained ratification from 60 state-parties in July 2002 and has since grown to have 122 state-parties. Although the Court is meant to complement national legal systems and relies on the cooperation and support of state-parties, it has been able to seek and provide justice to victims of some of the most brutal and unimaginable crimes. It is this pursuit – that of seeking the truth and providing justice for those who would otherwise not be able to attain it – that puts into proper perspective the important role that the Court as an institution plays. It is also this pursuit that truly embodies the “glory of justice and the majesty of law” that Robert F. Kennedy spoke about. For it is the members of society that are not only protected by the law, but also create the norms and values on which the spirit of the law, as well as that of justice, are based. Kennedy’s quote, however, also embodies another fundamental notion on which the ICC is based, namely that of the necessity to have and maintain the support of the people in the communities that the Court seeks justice on behalf of.

Throughout the visit, students raised questions about the lengthiness of Court proceedings, the Court’s seemingly disproportionate focus on Africa, the future of the ICC, the politicization of the Court, the role that the Court plays in ensuring relief and aid to victims, and the reasons that some states have been unwilling to become state-parties to the Rome Statute, a few of which are discussed below.

Beginning with the discussion on the length of ICC proceedings, students learned that proceedings can often last years for a number of reasons, some of which include that the ICC relies on the cooperation of state-parties and does not have a police force to apprehend or compel witnesses or accused suspects to come before it. The Court may also face language barriers especially as it relates to ascertaining a witness’ testimony and maintaining the integrity of the information provided without altering the meaning of words and phrases. To date, the Court has secured two convictions, one guilty plea, and completed a total of nine cases (The Washington Post 2018). This exceedingly slow pace has caused many to reasonably ask whether the Court is efficient with regard to using its limited resources to faithfully pursue justice. The benchmark, however, for evaluating the Court’s progress on this front should not be other well-established national court systems but rather what existed before, which was an ad hoc system that created tribunals to hold individuals accountable following vicious atrocities on a case by case basis. Such a method was not only inefficient but also was no guarantor that future acts elsewhere in the world would be punished or prosecuted, especially if it was not politically expedient for leaders of the international community. The ICC, in contrast, is a permanent institution with the backing of 122 states, demonstrating the legitimacy of the Court in the international community. Its permanent status provides a level of continuity that the previous ad hoc system was unable to provide.

Another area of inquiry was the Court’s involvement in cases that seemed to focus exclusively on Africa. Students heard from a representative from the Office of the Prosecutor, one of the organs of the Court, that a number of the cases that the ICC has prosecuted were referred by African state-parties themselves or by the UN Security Council, both of which require the Office of the Prosecutor to investigate. These circumstances make clear that the ICC has not made a concerted effort to single out Africa but rather that it is duty-bound to investigate the cases that are referred. However, there is still a reasonable argument as to the import of such a trend as it undoubtedly sends a message, whether intentional or not, that Western powers such as the US are in essence above international law. One could certainly argue that in light of a number of instances ranging from the Iraq War during the Presidency of George W. Bush or the events at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the former being classified as an act of aggression and the latter as war crimes, that there are issues for which the US should be held responsible and that, if given jurisdiction, the ICC should prosecute.

One area of inquiry that was especially significant to the discussion around states such as the US that have not become parties to the ICC is that the ICC is a court of last resort. This means that the ICC does not act if a state has demonstrated that it is genuinely prosecuting a specific matter. The ICC steps in if a state does not have the capacity or will to genuinely prosecute a matter. Therefore, the myth that the ICC will act as a supranational judicial body that can exert its influence over any state-party to the ICC is simply not the case. What is clear, however, is that any state that wishes to improve its commitment to the rule of law and furthering of human rights should welcome additional scrutiny and the opportunity to have a court of last resort to ensure that truth and justice are sought. It is incumbent on the publics of the various states that have yet to become parties to the ICC to pressure their governments to join as a matter of transparency and accountability.

Lastly, students also learned that a Trust Fund for Victims, separate from the Court, was established to provide relief in the event that the individual convicted is unable to pay for such relief. This is exceptional because it further demonstrates the Court’s resolve to ensure that victims indeed receive justice in all its aspects – culturally, financially, and legally.

As an aspiring civil rights or human rights lawyer, I appreciated learning about all that the Court is doing to further the pursuit of justice and truth around the world. I was deeply moved by the portion of the visit in which the work of the Office of the Prosecutor was explained in regards to getting victims to testify. Persuading a victim to testify is not easy given traditional circumstances within a national legal framework, but given the added challenges of traveling to another part of the world where one may not be familiar with the language, sharing one’s experiences with a group of strangers, and facing potential danger to oneself or one’s family is extremely intimidating. I found it encouraging that there is a Court and structure in place to empower these individuals to share their stories so justice can be sought. A fact that history demonstrates should not be taken for granted.

In conclusion, despite the numerous challenges that the Court faces when it comes to being legally constrained both due to jurisdictional restrictions as well as the reliance on the cooperation of state-parties, the ICC has been and continues to be a permanent institution and court of last resort for the victims of some of the world’s most horrific crimes. It is for this reason that I am deeply inspired by the work of this institution. We should remember that the Rome Statute, which created the Court, is not just a set of words but a fundamental recognition by over 100 states that the pursuit of truth and justice are paramount to ensuring a functioning civil society the world over. It is often said that “justice delayed is justice denied.” It is without question that the ICC has sped the wheels of justice for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in the world.

Verdun – Week Four

Hello everyone, my name is Cole. Since our last post, the EU Study Abroad Program has been hard at work at Georgia Tech Lorraine. We’ve spent the past few weeks attending classes and finishing up our exams. All of us are very eager to start the next chapter of our program in Brussels. While we have immensely enjoyed our time in Metz, we are also enthusiastic about our future travels.

This week, our program had the amazing opportunity to visit several World War I memorials around the city of Verdun. Recalling our history classes, the Battle of Verdun was one of the most important and crucial conflicts of the Great War. For almost a year, French and German troops fought in a stalemate, with an enormous amount of casualties on both sides.

Armies were confined to their trenches. Many men would be sacrificed in order to gain only a few feet of land. Despite the carnage, brutal fighting continued on both sides, fueled by nationalist sentiments. The French in particular wanted to regain the Alsace-Lorraine region that had been lost to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. In fact, this is the region that our program has been located for the past 4 weeks.

The first monument we visited today was the Montserrat Monument. This structure was built to commemorate the achievements and sacrifices of American soldiers during the First World War. In the center of the monument is a map of the surrounding area, which displays the combined efforts of the American and French troops.

While we were visiting, a tour guide showed us the positions of the opposing armies, and explained how the Americans and the French were able to outmaneuver the Germans. This monument is one of many around France that shows gratitude to the American involvement in both would wars, and they demonstrate the long lasting friendship and alliance between the two countries.

After this location, we traveled to the Mémorial De La Bataille De Verdun. This is a cemetery and place of remembrance for thousands of soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of Verdun. While this was a very sad and somber location to visit, it is crucial for us to remember the history that created the world today.

We were able to watch a short film that explained the harsh and brutal conditions during the battle of Verdun. Afterwards, we climbed to the top of the central tower, and looked out upon the expansive cemetery.



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