GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Sarah Anderson


Today we started out meeting at the train station Starbucks for a one hour train ride to Brugges. Along the way, a lot of us studied for our upcoming “security” quiz which was to take place at the College of Europe conference room once we got there. However, upon our arrival we were informed that there was not a room ready for us, so instead we took the quiz sitting against one of the canals. It wasn’t too bad. Immediately after, we hopped aboard a canal tour which was to take us through the city. One of the first things the tour guide said was that we were not to trust her, because as she was not an officially train tour guide, everything she was about to tell us could have possibly been a lie or myth. Either way, she did have some very interesting facts to offer.

~For one, the bell tower in the city’s center leans exactly one meter to the right.

~Religion was very important in this city, which is why the 7 words of charity were engraved on the city’s gable.

~At one point all of the swans in the city were kept together in confinement because they were believed to have carried a disease, and upon release there existed a social hierarchy with certain swans dominating other inferior swans.

~At one point we passed by a statue of Nyobi, who was laying down looking into the river. She apparently was the extremely proud mother to 14 children, but lived to see the slaughter of all of them because she wasn’t humble enough. And thus, she cried so much that her tears created a river. So we were wading through Nyobi’s tears.

~Animals on the tops of buildings were carved there so that they would scare away ghosts.

After the boat tour, we went our separate ways to get lunch. The place that a few others and I went to was like a fast food pasta place. Quite good and filling for only 5 euros. After that we did some walking around, and ended up at a bakery that served some delicious cakes and tartes. Very delicious. At this point it started raining, so for the rest of the time we just walked around. We saw the city center with the market area, as well as the bell tower (although we didn’t go inside.) It was a very cute little town, and had a nice sort of charm to it. In a way in reminded me of a smaller version of Amsterdam, at least with the canals and the way it set up. Although it was definitely is a mix between French and Dutch cultures,  there was definitely a strong German vibe there.




International Security ft. Giorgio Cuzelli

Over the past two days we received lectures from Giorgio Cuzelli, a former military officer who later served in NATO for several years. The topics of these lectures focused on international security, which must be observed on three different levels: human, national, and international. Approaches and the evolution of crisis management were also discussed on the first day. On the second day, we learned about as much as one could ever hope to know about NATO, including its relationship with international security, as well as specific alliances on the Eastern, Western, and Southern fronts.

Day I: International Security and Crisis Management

“Security” was defined as the absence of danger as well as fear. It also includes the general stability of access to basic needs (food, water, shelter). Furthermore, the implementation of the term itself covers a far broader spectrum than just the mere use of military force. “Security” can refer to a risk of epidemics, the energy crisis, as well as even cyber security/ the security of digital information. When making a decision/ deciding that security must be more stringent, four basic questions must be asked. These include: who is the primary group in need of being protected, from what do they need protection from: (as well their perception of this threat… this is a very important point because perceptions themselves can cause fear), how/ who will carry out the implementation of higher security, and for what purpose?

*the answer to the last question is SUPPOSED to be something along the lines of  “allowing human relations for improve, to develop a more stable society.” However, as we later talked about in a discussion, there were many examples of when nations have intervened with an agreeable, just purpose, yet have had ulterior motives. One example would be the Vietnam War, when the US took advantage of the economic opportunities that France had been forced to leave behind, yet intervened in the name of democracy. A more recent example would be the US intervention in Libya. Although there were several atrocities going on at the time, the US saw an opportunity for a regime change and immediately grabbed it.

Cuzelli did note however that once something happens, it’s often too late. The goal of security in this sense is DETERRENCE; that is preventing the problem before it has a chance to manifest and develop.

In discussing the three types of security, and how they relate to one another, there was an interesting paradox.

National Security gives priority to the state, emphasizing it as the protector and defender of the citizens, (regardless of international relations with other sovereign states).

International security gives priority to peace between sovereign states, (regardless of national interests).

Human Security gives priority to the safety and well-being in of the individual, (regardless of international and national interests).

Therefore, in order for there to be peace and stability within a region, there must be a balance between the three types of security, since none of the goals of each directly align with one another. So many times what is best for a region of countries in conflict (such as the Middle East) is not going to be best for each of those countries individually, and therefore some sort of compromise is required practically every time. The first two paradoxes are fairly self-evident, and in a way they sort of counter-balance one another. However, the last one does not have such a counter-balance on it, and I believe that this is (at least one of) the root causes of conflict today.

The power of perception was brought up several times. It was said that our personal reality is 90% perception, 10% fact. I thought about this for a while, and began to question more and more the opinion of Western media. I tried to look at recent events with an objective lens, but I soon realized that this was basically looking at things from an Eastern perspective and balancing it out with the views I was familiar with. But I realized that no matter what conclusion I came to, it would always be clouded with at least some sort of bias, because I would never have an aerial point of view. It’s still hard to say if the two takes really balanced each other out.

Part of the reason the US (and other countries as well) tend to intervene so much is because of “human security,” or a “humanitarian crisis.” However “human security” is highly subjective, and in a lot of ways Western countries are able to bend the rules a bit. What I mean is that once they get to a country, after invasion with a supposedly just pretext, they often implement “regime change” as a form of “advancing human security.” Is this justified? In some cases, it might be. But them just doing it on their own accord, without accountability is not. Even if a country is de-stabilized, does that give another country the right to implement a form of government that they deem fair/ right, because it works for them? If this were the case, then Russia would have been legally able to overtake any unstable country and implement communism in the Cold War. However, it is not the case. There is no law that gives any country the right to intervene/ take over a government, because on the international playing field, states are supposed to have equal sovereignty. But so often this regime change is done in the name of “human security.” Because so many of the big military powers are democratic NATO members, this behavior is often condoned. However, it doesn’t mean that it is fair. Just because something is popular does not mean that it is the best. The US thinks that it has some sort of “divine right” exclusively because that specific form of government supposedly holds public officials accountable and hasn’t caused any major revolutions. However, does that mean that it’s the best form of government? Has it prevented corruption and poverty?

Crisis Management:

A “crisis” was defined as when the core values/ basic needs of society are at stake. It is a situation in which there is potential to not only worsen relations between nation states, but also escalate and lead to worse consequences. The key to effective crisis management, as mentioned before, is deterrence. Therefore, it is imperative to have a system of strategic monitoring so that the instant a situation occurs, nations can be alerted and prepared for the best course of diplomatic action. On the other hand, if intervention is needed, strategic surprise is a key element of success. This “surprise” can be in the form of WHO is intervening, to WHERE they are intervening, as well as WHAT exactly they are doing. Even after a crisis is effectively managed, it is just as important to continue following up so that it does not occur in the future. The example of Obama’s withdrawal of troops in Iraq and the resulting conflict that followed was used as an example as a time when “stabilization” and “monitoring any future risk” were not properly followed. There are many different actors in an international crisis scene, besides of course the government. These include anything from NGO’s to intelligence agencies to the media. In order for a crisis to be effectively managed, all of these institutions must work together. One recent example of when a crisis was effectively managed was the Ebola crisis. I feel like the reason for that success was is due to the fact that all countries involved had a common goal: save lives. They didn’t have ulterior interests, and because of that they were all able to cooperate so nicely. If only we could do that with climate change.

One other important thing that is not looked nearly enough into is the principle of an exit strategy. So often countries intervene with plans of destabilization or regime change or humanitarian aid… but the reality is that they cannot stay there forever. And often times when they leave, the country on its own is not stable enough to prevent another crisis from occurring. Fortunately, countries are starting to realize this, and more recently in the European Union there has been discussion of African and Middle Eastern economic investment, to basically address the root of economic migration crisis.

Day II: NATO & International Security

Since its initial founding, NATO has expanded from “collective defense” to crisis management and cooperative security. Technically, its authority is derived from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which states that nations have a right to defend themselves and/or attack a perceived threat. A common misconception is that the organization was founded as a military alliance. While partially true, the original intent was to unify nations who share the same interest of defending their dear democratic values. The organization is consensus based, although member states can abstain without preventing any action. Coalitions are formed by nations, on a case by case basis. This makes a lot of sense, since Belgium has entirely different security problems than Poland, who has entirely different needs from Turkey or Greece.

Although the organization began as a sort of Cold War organization, the cold war has been over for almost 30 years. So, NATO has gone through quite a bit of an evolution, in a way redefining themselves. Different summits in the 21st century have led to increased engagement against ISIL as well as counterterrorism itself, a new cyber defense initiative, as well as an increased “forward” presence in Eastern Europe. The latter hadn’t always been the case. In fact after the fall of the Soviet Union when several former Soviet states joined, NATO worked hard to form a bilateral alliance with Russia. This began in the early 1990s, and eventually evolved into a NATO-Russia Council, which was an active cooperation group. However, after the 2008 Georgia crisis, this was placed on hold. Although some cooperation resumed in 2009, this was abruptly halted in 2014 after the Ukrainian crisis. Currently the “forward presence” includes multinational battle groups in 4 eastern states as well as ballistic missile defense. Cuzelli offered an interesting perspective on Russia. He said that ever since the Treaty of Westphalia, Russia has never been the same. Basically this treaty introduced the concept of Western sovereignty, which would eventually evolve into shared Western Sovereignty. However, Russia has always seen its neighbors as a few weak states, never a true threat. But when all of a sudden those few neighboring countries joined an alliance of like twenty others, and “engaging in conflict with one, meant engaging in conflict of all of them, it is no wonder that they feel threatened. Russia is now symbolically bordered by a huge landmass of military alliances, geographically comparable to the size of the United States. This is quite a huge difference from a few weak countries, formerly part of their very own Soviet Union. And on top of that, they have no natural borders. Put in perspective, recent actions now make sense. Not only do Ukraine and Crimea have very close historic ties with Russia (Crimea also being a holy land) but they are also strategic points of land that once controlled enabled Russia to have a better defense and eye on the West. Although I don’t think Russia’s actions were necessarily justified, I can’t say that ganging up on them was the best idea either.

Many times in recent years, there have been are unilateral US initiatives and national/ continental issues of European countries that have sparked conflict. The most recent one I think would be the controversy of defense spending. Europeans have sometimes been described as “free riders” hiding under the umbrella of US nuclear safety. However with the recent 2% rule this is slowly coming to an end, as Europeans are starting to build up their military strength.

Later NATO’s “relevance” was discussed, and at least from my perspective it seems stronger than ever. The collective defense promotes not only “mutual commitment” but also “solidarity amount member states.” Not only does it strengthen Euro-Atlantic relations but it also helps stabilize the Eurasian continent by providing a counterbalance to emerging threats (as well as Russia). Recent agreements like the 2003 Berlin Plus followed by the 2010 Lisbon treaty have resulted in increased coordination and planning capabilities with the EU. It remains one of the primary respondents to international crisis, and the consensus-based decision making process ensures that decisions made are the best ones, always putting the common values of the member states before individual interest.

Towards the end of the lecture today, there were a few questions brought up, one of which had to do with Americans. I don’t remember the exact specifics, but I do remember the answer, which basically put Americans in a very positive light. This struck me as odd at first, because for a while I had been under the impression that at least in Europe, the typical American stereotypes was sort of what defined us, at least in current times. Of course, before coming on this trip I had taken history courses and knew enough about the European Union and the US and NATO to know that we were strong political and military Allies, who fought through not only two World Wars but also the Cold War together. Well obviously our governments are close, but what about the people? No, my experience with Europeans hasn’t been terrible, but I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten the vibe that we were absolutely loved, like Cuzelli said we were. He hasn’t been the first person to say that. In fact, each time any European official brings up the German Marshall Fund, there has been practically eternal praise towards the US.  Even though there has been quite a bit of conflict since the end of World War II, and things haven’t always really been that rosy between the US and other countries, I really don’t think we give ourselves nearly enough credit. Even though our current government and administration is so easy to criticize, the fact that we are able to criticize our government so much is part of what makes the system so amazing. Because we don’t have restrictions on public media, we are able to at least somewhat hold our government accountable. Not even all “democratic” countries have that. And even though the majority of Americans don’t look at the data/policy/information of each Congressman/ different US Departments provided to us, the fact that our government is so transparent is what makes it so great. It’s really quite easy to be cynical about our government and even the world in general today. But just looking at the past 100 years at least with the UN and EU, not to mention all of the international NGOs all working together, I think it is truly amazing how far countries have come. Yes, there are still a lot of problems in the world today, but what people sometimes forget is that so many of them have been at least partially solved, if not fully reconciled.

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