We have an international body for nearly every global concern. NATO ensures security among its partner countries, the UN builds multilateral cooperation and Amnesty International fights for human rights and protection across borders. A piece of the pie that is blatantly missing, however, is journalism. Where is the global people's journal, the internationally-recognized public forum, especially in our current age when shifting political and economic dynamics are drastically affecting the lives of individual citizens?
A Citizen Voices initiative at NATO would be the first step in a long-awaited and necessary element to international community-building. As the security stronghold for the Western half of the world, much more is it at stake besides security policies and other defensive measures. Intrinsically tied to such negotiations are international relations, public perceptions of other countries, and the well-being of the citizenry.
Security hereby becomes not a distinctly national issue, but a collective one in which our futures are intertwined. Nuclear weapons, for instance, one of the main points highlighted under NATO's New Strategic Plan, threaten nations beyond the one for which they were intended. It also becomes a collective conscience largely due to NATO's fight against terrorism, another emphasis in the plan, as it is essentially a battle of ideals as we battle the perceived evils in the world. We may speak different languages, come from different national and familial histories, but today we are united by our mutual desire for security and freedom, particularly after the attacks of 9/11.
Because of these intrinsic dynamics within NATO, the most effective and resonating way to relate such relationships is to provide for the sharing of individual, personal experiences with the rest of our international partners. Personal voices leave a deeper impression than detached reports from news outlets.
In the age of the internet and the blogosphere, legitimacy and reliability of the storytellers would be the main distinctions between NATO's Citizen Voices initiative and online communities where interpersonal interactions already exist. Such legitimacy would be inferred through a system of recruitment and training initiated by NATO, as well as the fact that the portal for the initiative would be a separate "Citizen Voices" section on NATO's official website.
In each member state, NATO officials would accept applications from people wanting to tell stories from within their respective countries on a range of issues; from security to their views on foreigners. A group of accepted applicants, the number varying by size of the country, would go through a training course hosted by NATO officials in which they are educated on the Organization's history, goals, policies, as well as receive instruction from professional journalists on how to tell effective stories. They would then become the Citizen Voices initiative's gatekeepers for the year, writing stories about their country and engaging others to help them. Translators would also be recruited to make the stories language-less and hence borderless. At the end of their year, they would choose and train the next year's gatekeepers, with the help of NATO officials. .
Through this method, average citizens will be attracted not just by the reliability of NATO trained storytellers, but the similarities they share with these people who, like them, are not NATO authorities or professional journalists. The yearly turnover also ensures that citizens will always have a chance to reapply and become a gatekeeper, thereby increasing public interest and participation numbers. The results are twofold, the issues of security, politics, and foreign policy would become relatable between people of different nations and between NATO and the citizenry. Identity can be reframed from "us" versus "them" to a collective body of people with stories to tell and a common desire to be secure and free.
The strong popular support for NATO in both Europe and the U.S. points to the feasibility of generating interest in a public-engagement initiative such as this. Even after internationally controversial measures like the highly-publicized intervention in Libya, 62 percent of Europeans and an equal percentage of Americans responded that they believed that NATO was an "essential" institution. This underlines the hope that people on both sides of the ocean still have for the transatlantic organization, despite claims of a detachment between it and its citizenry.
So here is a long-awaited opportunity for NATO's citizens - everyone from architects and construction workers, students and teachers, mothers and fathers, lawyers and ex-convicts, activists and immigrants - to mobilize your personal experiences with security and globalization into stories that can be shared with your counterparts across the pond.
Yoonj Kim studies journalism and international studies at Northwestern University. She is a Fellow at the Center for Global Engagement.