NATO can encourage ownership and identification among member nations and their publics through their youth. As evident in the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO is a value oriented security alliance. However, often individuals of the member nations view NATO as "they" rather than an "in-group" to which they belong. First, many individuals are alienated from NATO because it is a military alliance. Second, the groups that should identify with NATO, the youth of member nations' military, have little training or grasp of NATO and its values.
To encourage ownership and identification among member nations, NATO must address two groups within the youth population, the military group and the civilian group. By catering to these two groups, member nations can shape the norms of the younger generation to encourage ownership and identification. The following case-study focuses on the US and proposes a means to encourage ownership and identification among its youth.
In the US, the military group includes individuals in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC), Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and US Service Academies. None of these organizations have compulsory NATO components. Although instructors might weave NATO components into the curriculum, this is not done as part of the program of instruction but rather at the discretion of individual instructors, and it is based on personnel experiences rather than on learning objectives. Therefore, many cadets do not have an understanding of NATO's principals, its purpose, and its role in current and future operations.
The encouragement of NATO ownership and identification among the military youth is threefold. First, a NATO component must be integrated into JROTC, ROTC and Service Academy curricula. This component will concentrate on the values of NATO based on the treaty, outline the fundamental components of the organization, and teach NATO's history.
Second, military youth will participate in exchanges with member nations' military institutions. Although US Service Academies participate in cadet exchanges, they are language-specific cultural immersion and do not have a NATO team building component. A direct exchange program for JROTC, ROTC and Service Academy cadets with member nations that have a NATO focus will result in identification with others from member nations. This identification with military youth from other NATO member nations will encourage ownership and slowly result in turning the "them" into a "we."
Last, military youth will participate in projects with other member nations' military youth. Technology can be a means to encourage NATO ownership and identification in that military youth can work on NATO projects over technology such as email, video chat or forums such as 2nd Life. This will allow individuals to exchange ideas, provide the opportunity for virtual guest lectures with NATO leaders, and to engage in virtual training with NATO peers.
NATO is an organization established to protect the civilian communities of the member nations, and therefore the civilian population should come to identify with NATO, especially in security and international rule of law. The encouragement of NATO ownership and identification among the younger civilians is twofold.
Firstly, Model NATO must be supported, advertised, and expanded to the high school level. Model United Nations is internationally renowned and popular among the youth. If Model NATO can tap into this niche, it can encourage ownership and identification among the civilian youth. Critical issues of national and international security can be introduced. Moreover, students could deliberate on current NATO related issues and debate NATO's role in stability, security, humanitarian, and nation-building operations. Expanding Model NATO to high schools will inspire students to continue with Model NATO at the university level.
Secondly, NATO must take advantage of academic advisors and list serves at universities. The majority of students, especially those at large universities, receive much of their information through academic advisors and list serves. By sending periodic newsletters to advisors and ultimately through list serves, NATO will regularly reach, influence, and offer opportunities to the member nations' civilian youth, and therefore encompass the civilian youth in the NATO identity.
The examples above are not US-specific. They can be expanded and utilized in other member nations, specifically regarding programs like cadet exchanges, joint NATO projects, and Model NATO. By shifting the norms of both the military and civilian youth and the way they perceive NATO, an ownership and identity will develop among member nations and their publics. Ultimately, through curriculum, exchanges, joint projects, Model NATO, and networking through the Internet, NATO can transform the "they" into a "we" that identifies with and owns the NATO values.
Marielle Ness is a third year Political Science and German Language double major at the University of Florida, who is currently completing her exchange year at Universität Bonn in Bonn, Germany.