NATO Summit 2012: A Multicultural Experience

Article written by:
  • Muddassar Ahmed (CEO, Unitas Communications Ltd., United Kingdom),
  • Samir Battiss (Lecturer, Université du Québec à Montreal, Canada),
  • Anne Bilala (Senior manager -DRS Technologies, United States),
  • Dustin Dehez (Senior Analyst - Political consultant, Global Governance Institute , Germany)
The authors are all European citizens either with multicultural heritages or a strong professional and personal involvement in Africa and Asia. They have been selected for the Young Altanticist Program 2012 of the Atlantic Council of the United States. (ACUS)

09.07.2012 | 16:07 | REDAKTION

Although most of the media attention focused on the Chicago NATO Summit (20th to 21st of May 2012) – aiming at discussing the alliance’s strategic direction–another summit, less publicized seemed perhaps to hold the keys to the alliance’s future: the “Young Atlanticist summit.” Through this summit, over 50 young emerging leaders from around the world had the unparalleled opportunity to engage in a dialogue with heads of States and Government, and senior NATO leaders, creating a truly interactive and dynamic exchange of ideas.

Who is behind it? The Young Atlanticist (YA) Program was set up by the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, a non-partisan, think tank on international affairs chaired by Senator Chuck Hagel, with the cooperation of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Its objective? To identify and connect the next generation of leaders in the Atlantic community, and beyond. At its heart, this initiative was designed to foster an international, multicultural community of young thought-leaders who can debate on NATO full range of complexities alike  policymakers face on a daily basis, as well as help to raise public awareness of key issues. Ultimately, these emerging young leaders aim to influence and impact their own communities.

As Europeans with multicultural backgrounds, becoming NATO Young Atlanticists has allowed us to enjoy, celebrate and learn from this unique opportunity: to explore how different political cultures could agree on common security challenges, and above all to understand the importance of forging a long term vision of the future of transatlantic relations. Speaking as Europeans, the program led to comprehend the necessity to have a unified and strong European Union alongside the United States as to not become acquiescent but an equal partner. Indeed, Europe’s continued relevance to international affairs will only be sustained by fully participating in NATO but also be at the helm of its own security. However Europe must also face-up to its own internal challenges. For many years now, many European countries have increasingly veered toward a nationalist populist path, flirting with the ideology of the far-right – an ideology by no means in the interest of the European people. This trajectory may be radicalized in the context of the deepening of the Eurozone crisis, which is arguably exacerbated by the fundamental inability of European political leaders to do one thing: to impose short term pain for long term gain. At the end far greater long term issues must be tackled to ensure success. Thus, the time may be ripe for a more robust, long term social and economic vision for the EU, and only this might present a path that could avoid the dangers of nationalist populism and more financial distress.

But while it is easy in times of crisis to point with hindsight at obvious failures and continuing vulnerabilities, it is important to recognize where the US and EU economic models have had differing degrees of success. While North America offers better labor mobility, openness to new ideas, and greater opportunity for start-up enterprises, Europe enjoys far better health care and pensions systems. Yet there is a major common challenge: demographics – a society of retirees is not sustainable; young workers, producers, and investors are sorely needed. While reactionary demonization of immigrants from poor countries as the source of our economic and social woes may seem a quick way to win votes, this overlooks the fact that sound economic research proves it is in our common interests to seek immigrants precisely to contribute to our flagging economies. It is therefore imperative that the European political project should not adopt a ‘fortress’ model simply due to a lack of political courage. This may bring short-term political gain, but at the end it will bring long-term ruin of the European scheme.

European politicians need to make this case loudly, robustly and convincingly, for the sake of our common future. If our generation does not speak out now, current dysfunctions facing European democracies could intensify, leading to increasingly exclusionary political discourses that threaten individual rights and properties, and bring the outmoded politics of the past into the challenges of the twenty-first century. Particularly critical for Europe is the emergence of a new generation of leaders, represented in the YA program. Our multicultural and multinational background testify to the need for policy to be developed based on dialogue, drawn by the wealth of experience across both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, one of the unique quality that made the Young Atlanticists stand-out was the ability to cross traditional national or cultural barriers in order to foster collaboration as to find common ground. Despite the fact that the US, EU, and NATO have already established critical strategic and political dialogue programs between Islam and the West, Asia and the West or Africa and the West; but such programs need to be taken to the next level: they should mobilize their national emerging talents with multiple cultural heritages in order to improve NATO and EU decision-making capabilities through broader perspectives and experiences. Each Young Atlanticist meeting has shown that the absence of human capital for such a strategy is problematic.  The participation of young multicultural leaders in the debates around how we confront contemporary challenges will be increasingly pivotal for the strength of US/European relations, in building the foundations of an honest and deep dialogue among allies and toward the other continents thanks to our particular ability to decode/recode different social norms.


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