In any organization, whether it is a student-run university advocacy group or a multilateral alliance between sovereign states, there is a risk of alienation and disaffection. Addressing this problem can take two forms. The first is to change the image of the organization: to convince its members that it allows for fairness and equality among contributing parties. It is, in other words, a matter of public relations and marketing. This method is particularly useful when targeting relevant yet distant audiences like member states' populations.
The second form of solution is more costly and complex. It is to truly address the problem in a way that could have implications for structural change and sacrifice. Despite the costs of addressing the original problem this way, the long-term benefits of having a truly united NATO are priceless: an organization in which member states feel a sense of loyalty and duty. A comprehensive solution to turning "they" into "we" will both communicative adjustments (that convince large yet distant groups of people) and tangible, structural ones (that is effective with those truly familiar with the organization such as member country representatives to NATO).
Making tangible changes to NATO in order to garner more "buy-in" from member nations will have to start at the top. The past four Secretary Generals and Deputy Secretary Generals have been from a handful of typical Western European states (as well as one American) including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy. The membership of NATO is diverse; roughly half of its countries are from Eastern Europe, yet none of its top leadership has included a national from one of those states. It is unlikely for a member of any group to feel like a truly valued part of an organization if they do not feel represented in its leadership. NATO must change its structure in a way that allows for Eastern European representation in the top echelons. One possible suggestion is to divide NATO members into 4 representative "districts" and require at least one Deputy Secretary General or Secretary General be from each district in any 10-year time span. Once Eastern Europeans gain this representation, their governments and people will be much more likely to feel a connection to NATO like they have never had before.
Another structural change should be to add an amendment to the Treaty requiring member nations to provide emergency relief to one another when a natural disaster or similar catastrophe hits a NATO country. While Article V is infrequently evoked, an article that allows for more constant, meaningful interaction between member states in a way that both increases NATO's positive recognition with domestic populations and is not prohibitively costly would go a long way in addressing the original problem this essay seeks to find a solution to. Food, materials, and other aid with "NATO" on it will positively reinforce their government's ties to it.
While disaster relief and a more diversified leadership will help politicians of member states realize the virtue of membership to NATO, there are two other specific programs that should be considered in order to convince the general populace that NATO is indeed an association to covet. The first is a student leadership program. This would take one (or more) student leader(s) from each country's top schools and provide them with a tutorial of the alliance at NATO headquarters.
It would have a two-fold goal: one would be to allow the students to meet and network with student leaders from all NATO-member nations, forming relationships that will last into the careers of these young leaders. The second would be to teach them the importance of the international alliance - a consortium of democracies dedicated to one another and making the world a better place.
While the first program targets the young, well-educated and often wealthier segments of member states, the second program would target the military servicemen of NATO nations. An externship program between each country and NATO could be implemented to allow forces to train with one another and learn from one another over a 4-month period of time. Not only would those who complete the program be trained in NATO tactics and be eligible for future tours, but they would also have established relationships with other military servicemen and feel a sense of duty and camaraderie with them that a domestic, homogenous facility cannot provide.
The fundamental role of NATO is "to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means." Diversifying leadership, establishing a disaster relief clause, and creating exchange/externship programs for NATO member states' bourgeoning student and military leaders are vital ways in which NATO can encourage ownership and identification among its member nations and their publics, turning "they" into "we."
Ned Shell is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in International Relations with a minor in Consumer Psychology. He was Editor-in-Chief of the Penn Political Review for the past 2 years.