I am strongly convinced that a greater focus must be placed on transatlantic students and students in Russia, as well as the youth in Central and Eastern Europe. It is these areas that NATO has ambitions to expand its membership. Young people living in these countries will pull the strings of world affairs in near future and NATO's public relations should promote youth camps in Eastern Europe where young adults of NATO member states and Russia can work together on humanitarian projects. These projects could also involve other NATO partners. From my personal experience I can tell you that these projects create mutual understanding across states. Practical work could be connected to historical projects, with team spirit as a common goal. The objective then would be to overcome prejudices and clichés.
This seems important to me because, for much of the 1990s, NATO-Russian relations were marked by NATO's ambitions for eastward enlargement and consequently problems in the NATO-Russia relationship emerged. They stem from the fact that NATO enlargement is not only a matter of building a security order in Europe but also a project of norms, that is, promoting respect for human rights, democratic values and durable peace in former Soviet areas.
NATO should continue to invite Russia's constructive involvement in European and global security affairs. Russia's future is extremely important to NATO allies, especially now that demonstrations in Russia are taking place, pulling people out of their political resignation. This is a chance for NATO to create a more positive image of the Atlantic Alliance among young russians.
Therefore NATO's process of stabilizing the Balkans should go hand in hand with civil cooperation. Possible membership candidates like Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and even Serbia should be integrated into the concept of NATO's youth activities. A sense of togetherness must be created before actual NATO-membership gets validates to military and governmental approval as well as approval of the citizens.
Younger generations might easily identify with NATO's mission when they have positive experiences with the institution. NATO must be present in our everyday life without negative connotations. While soldiers form different countries cooperate in missions all over the world, children, too, should have the opportunity to get in touch with NATO.
I thus suggest NATO summer schools where teenagers of different NATO member states learn with children of NATO partners and children of countries that are preparng to apply for NATO-membership.
Curricula of such schools should involve some basic teaching on NATO history, NATO's aims and current missions. I believe that racism, skepticism and a lack of interest in political affairs are widespread among the younger middle class of Russian youths. Since the teaching of political matters, unpleasant history and general social studies is still deficient in Russia and some Eastern European countries; these could be part of the NATO summer school program. Language classes might also be important, as well as a many occasions to mutually discover customs, culture and traditions.
These projects must be promoted in schools, universities and on the internet. At the end of the day, the question of money has to be tackled. Money should be taken from NATO's PR budget; participants will have to contribute with a small attendance fee.
We should take advantage of young people's open-mindedness to help create an Atlantic community and its relationship with NATO partners. Cooperation between NATO and Russia should go beyond costly missile defense. NATO will find it easier to expand democratic values in former authoritarian regimes when it gets in touch with future generations. Where diplomacy is stuck, youth might bring along a wind of change. Therefore young people should get sensitized for the Atlantic Alliance via practical work and exchange. It offers NATO the possibility to deepen relations with its partners and make actual members aware of values, stability, security and weight in international affairs that NATO provides them.
Julika Peschau is a German student at the French-German European Campus of Sciences Po in Nancy (France).