GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Aradhana Chandra

Look Up

Today was one of our last days in Brussels before we head out to The Hague on Thursday, and it certainly was an interesting one. We started off the day with a couple hours of lecture from Dr. Fabry, and today we discussed the International Criminal Court, which we’ll visit on Thursday upon arriving in the Hague. We held a class wide discussion about our opinions regarding the effectiveness of the ICC, and it was interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts on the subject.

After lecture, we all had a quick lunch break, then headed over to the Horta Museum in Saint-Gilles. The Horta House was built in the late 1890s / early 1900s and was designed by the architect Victor Horta, and he lived there as well. The house is a prime example of the concept of “art nouveau,” which was developed in Brussels around that time period. Our guide told us about not only art nouveau in general, but also about Horta himself and about what inspired his architectural decisions.

The Horta Museum from the outside - we were not allowed to take photos inside.

The Horta Museum from the outside – we were not allowed to take photos inside.

Some interesting facts our guide told us about architecture during this period included using paint and mirrors to create depth, using a sloping method at the bottom of each house’s structure to have an organic effect, and using windows and natural light to instigate an open and airy feeling throughout the house.

An example of the curved structure at the bottom of an art nouveau house. Its purpose is to create an organic and seamless effect.

An example of the curved structure at the bottom of an art nouveau house. Its purpose is to create an organic and seamless effect.

Learning about the art and architecture in Brussels was extremely interesting, and it was strange to think that we only have a few days left in this amazing city, and I am just now getting to know the buildings here on a personal level.

After we explored the Horta museum, our guide took us on a short walk around the area and pointed out several architectural phenomena in our surroundings. He also drew our attention to the change from art nouveau to art deco architecture, which came about after WWI. Something interesting we saw was the transition from openness in art nouveau to a more closed and protectiveness in art deco, which our guide said most likely came from people being more afraid and reserved after the negative effects of the war.

The transition from art nouveau to art deco - a more closed and protected structure

The transition from art nouveau to art deco – a more closed and protected structure

It’s interesting to see how politics can affect every aspect of our lives, even art and architecture. The effect that politics and international relations can have is wide and the scope is large; I think this shows the gravity of the subject that we’re studying and how important it is to keep this all in mind holistically even when not implicitly studying the subject.

Something else our guide said really stuck with me – he said, “If you can, everyday, you should take a different route to your destination, and look at the buildings and architecture around you, because Brussels has so much to see.”

Hearing that made me think about how often I am on my phone while I am walking around the city, trying to navigate my way around town on Google Maps instead of just looking up and around me at the fascinating architecture and history that surrounds me. It makes me wonder how many times I’ve missed something interesting or beautiful because I’ve been preoccupied with not getting lost, or with a text someone sent me, or a Facebook notification.

Although staying plugged in is important in a sense, I think this visit to the Horta museum really reinforced in me the idea that it’s not at all the most important thing – in fact, it’s far from it. Especially in terms of studying abroad and experiencing new surroundings and cultures, I think it’s a lot more effective and important to simply soak in what’s around us and let it have an effect on us, whether positive or negative.

Tonight was also the last night that my host family and I will all be together, so we had a final goodbye dinner. We reflected on the past two months, and talked about how far we’ve come from when I first arrived to their house in May.

Although I’m beyond excited to take on the last leg of our trip in The Hague, Berlin, and Krakow, I’m struck with the feeling that I’ll miss Brussels the most, as it’s truly begun to feel like home to me. My time in Brussels is something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and I’m immensely grateful for the experiences I’ve had whilst living here.

Work and Play in Copenhagen

Today was our third full day in Copenhagen, and it was an incredibly exciting and fun one! We started off the day quite early when we visited the Danish Foreign Ministry and received a briefing from a Senior Advisor in the European Policy Department. He gave us some insight on where the European Union stands currently and how Denmark fits into the EU and its issues.


He addressed issues such as migration and the refugee crisis and how Schengen policies affect that, as well as Grexit and Brexit. Something really interesting he mentioned was in regards to borders closing due to the sudden and severe influx of refugees. He said that even two years ago, the idea of closing borders was “unthinkable.” I thought this was really fascinating to think about, especially in terms of how quickly things can change. It made me think of the domino effect that one action can have, and how those actions can illicit change so rapidly in a manner that was previously thought of as impossible.

Sort of going off of that, we also discussed the implications of Brexit on the EU and on Denmark. He mentioned that a possible Brexit won’t affect Denmark too heavily in terms of trade and economic policies, but that it will significantly impact the European Union as a whole. On the other hand, he mentioned that if Britain chooses to remain, there will be a final certainty about the UK’s position and commitment to the EU. It’s crazy to think that the British Referendum is only eight days away; we’ve spent so long discussing it and what could or couldn’t happen depending on what is decided, and now the decision is so close. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens on the 23rd.

After the briefing, we headed back to the hotel to change quickly and then head out for some lunch at the Torvehallerne Market, which was beautiful in today’s weather. The inside of the market was also packed full of stores and places to eat, and some of us were looking for something traditionally Danish, so we got fish cakes, rye bread, and remoulade from a fish stand.


After a great lunch, we went to the top of the Parliament building, called Christiansborg Palace, for a gorgeous 360 degree view of the entire city.


While we made our way to the top, we also worked through some interesting riddles that someone brought up. It was a lot of fun trying to figure them out (and very satisfying once we finally did), and I think that just goes to show not only how intelligent and inquisitive everyone on this program is, but also how quickly everyone has become good friends.

After taking some pictures of the view, we headed over to a canal tour, which was really informative and enjoyable. Our guide talked about Danish architecture and different buildings that were around us, and we also got a glance at the famous Little Mermaid statue.

Overall it was a fantastic day, balanced with both work (during our site visit in the morning) and play (for the rest of the day). I’m loving Copenhagen so far, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the Scandinavian trip has in store for us!


NATO – Our First Site Visit

Today was an extremely exciting and interesting day. After a little over a week of really information intensive lectures, we had our first site visits today to NATO headquarters and the EU Parliament. Today I’ll be writing about our NATO visit, and the Parliament visit will be covered in tomorrow’s blog post.

When we first arrived at NATO, we went through some pretty tight security checks. We were required to show our passports for identification verification, followed by a full body scan, similar to airport security methods.


After getting through the security precautions, we were met and guided by Alison Smith, who works in the Engagements Section and Public Diplomacy Division of NATO, who escorted us to the Martino Conference Room.

From there, we were shown a video outlining the history of NATO, which gave us a nice refresher on our lecture material from the past week. After a couple minutes, Dr. Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General, Emerging Security Challenges Division, met us in the conference room and we began our briefing and discussion on NATO’s current political agenda.

Dr. Shea gave us some really interesting insight on NATO and both its current and future state. In terms of NATO’s present state, Dr. Shea described it as Charles Dickens began his book “A Tale of Two Cities” – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Essentially, NATO is in a good place right now because there is simply so much to deal with right now in terms of security, especially in regards to Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East. At the same time, however, Dr. Shea called this a “sobering time” as well, meaning NATO is being stretched in a way that it hasn’t for a while, for the same reason of just having so many security issues to prevent and control.

In looking at Russia specifically, Dr. Shea discussed the fact that NATO doesn’t know exactly how to deter Russia and Putin. He compared the situation to the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears – “not too hot, nor too cold.” In other words, there’s a balance that NATO needs to find in order to stabilize the situation.

A second issue Dr. Shea brought up was the US – European Burden Sharing Issue. The U.S. does not want to pick up European slack like they did in the Cold War, so Dr. Shea mentioned tensions between the U.S. and Europe in terms of responsibilities and burden sharing in NATO, which spurred the famous 2% rule – in which all NATO countries are required to spend at least 2% of their GDP on NATO outlined security spending.

The third issue Dr. Shea mentioned was the dilemma of whether or not we are fighting the right war. He brought up the idea of a hybrid war, in which countries conduct aggression in order to sabotage other countries. He also mentioned the question of whether every country is vulnerable, where we are vulnerable, and how we would protect these vulnerable areas.

In terms of the Middle East, Dr. Shea called this area much more difficult to handle in comparison to the situation in Eastern Europe. He discussed the fact that NATO really doesn’t know quite where to start – with Tunisia, Libya, President Assad, or somewhere else? Dr. Shea also brought up the question of whether or not there is a military solution to the problems in the Middle East, and essentially, a lot of money has been spent on helping the issues, but it hasn’t gone anywhere really, so NATO has faced quite a bit of scrutiny and criticism in this regard.

Overall, Dr. Shea gave us an excellent overview on NATO’s current situation, as well as a lot of insider information on NATO’s future and where it’s headed.

The next person who spoke with us was Jennifer Tierney, Political Officer for the United States Mission to NATO. Tierney specifically mentioned that she works in detail with the Ballistic Missile Defense and Arms Control / Disarmament Council.

Tierney began the discussion by talking about the importance of tracking NATO’s development from summit to summit; she called it “Wales to Warsaw.” She then outlined the main topics that will be covered at the Warsaw Summit in this coming July.

The first topic Tierney brought up was Defense and Deterrence, focusing primarily on the “Readiness Action Plan,” which is intended to model the NATO ally forces for the new security environment, given that threats are moving much more quickly than they ever have before. Tierney also brought up the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force,” which is a NATO quick reaction task force that will ideally be in a constant state of readiness to deploy anywhere necessary.

Tierney then brought up the Ballistic Missile Defense Capability, and the idea of Initial Operating Capability, which is the goal in which NATO wants to have full capabilities at even the lowest level countries. There are two parts – land and sea-based, and most contributions are from the U.S. The two countries that BMD’s are developing on that Tierney mentioned are Romania, which is operational currently, and Poland, which is just beginning. BMD development will ideally not end at Warsaw, but hopefully will continue developing, especially in terms of the Initial Operating Capability.

Tierney also talked a bit about correcting Russia’s behavior, and how it’s essential to bring it back to compliance with NATO standards and rule of law. Tierney emphasized the importance of some type of dialogue, and the idea that NATO simply “can’t let Russia get away with what it’s done.”

The second main topic Tierney discussed was Projecting Stability, where she brought up the idea that NATO can’t only focus just on Russia, and that there needs to be a 360 degree approach to security and threats. There were three main threats that NATO faces other than Russia and countries in Eastern Europe – maritime threats, North Africa / ISIL, and cyber threats, which is a constantly increasing and changing area, and NATO isn’t quite sure about its role in the issue. Tierney also brought up the idea of burden sharing, mentioning that the U.S. is the main leader in NATO, with France being the country that spends the least on NATO related expenses.

Finally, Tierney talked about EU and NATO relations, which was a nice bridge, I felt, between our two main topics of discussion in lecture. She mentioned that there is a bit of tension in NATO and EU relations, especially in terms of the migrant crisis. EU and NATO cooperation, Tierney said, will be discussed at the Warsaw Summit this summer, which is a U.S. led effort.

Some other interesting things Tierney touched on were the implications of Brexit on NATO, and the fact that there really isn’t a huge projected detrimental impact on NATO if Britain chooses to leave the EU. She also briefly discussed NATO in Asia and the importance of NATO partnerships with a number of other friendly countries, and the fact that through these partnerships, NATO understands other countries’ individual concerns.

Lastly, we got to speak with Francois Delatour, the French Delegation Representative to NATO. He spoke a lot about the challenge to make countries and member states invest in their security in NATO, and he mentioned that France’s contribution to NATO is almost up to the 2% requirement. I thought this was really interesting, because the U.S. Representative, Tierney, actually used France as an example for a country in NATO that does not pull its weight in terms of NATO spending. I think this was just one example of governmental differences, as well as differences in perspective.

Francois talked a little bit about future NATO challenges, and he brought up a really interesting point about NATO’s values changing. He mentioned that the alliances’ values are under “attack” so to speak, because it’s difficult to take the moral high ground when having to condemn Russia and other countries, and talk about migrant rights.

During lunch, we also got the change to speak with Jose Naves-Fidalgo, who is a current host parent and works in Human Resources and IT in NATO. He is currently launching a program or database that holds all of NATO’s documents, which will be incredibly helpful and convenient for future use. He spoke to us about his current projects as well as his past experiences at NATO, which was really interesting to hear about.

One thing I found really interesting was that all three of our main speakers mentioned one of the same things – the fact that it is becoming exceedingly difficult to come to consensuses with 29 member states in NATO, especially considering that the organization intends on growing even further. I thought it was really curious that all three of the people we spoke with brought up this point as a main driving factor for the future of NATO, so it’ll be really interesting to see how this affects NATO and its functioning overall in the coming years.

Overall, it was a fantastic day, and a great start to our site visit series. I’m really looking forward to the rest of our visits.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén