All too often, NATO is seen as a relic of the twentieth century, a military alliance ill-suited for this century's challenges. Undeniably, the historical foundation of NATO lies within the tumultuous Cold War and a bipolar world. The rise of Asia paired with the collapse of the Soviet Union has undone that paradigm. In order to secure its relevance for the twenty-first century, NATO must pursue a new approach that prioritizes inclusiveness while still recognizing its pivotal role as a driver of global peace and security. NATO can and should make greater strides to bring itself to the ground level, by which I mean striving to directly connect with the public. One way to attain this goal is through enhanced grant-making activities.
I refer to this approach as "strategic engagement." It is strategic in the sense that NATO should efficiently allocate its time and resources to efforts which reflect a new commitment to outreach. This must work alongside robust public engagement. For an international organization conceived as a military pact, any opportunity to replace abstractions with tangible and peaceful connections to individuals will surely pay dividends.
Grant-making represents one of the clearest and most effective ways to implement a vision of strategic engagement. Currently, NATO grants are awarded through the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Program. Opportunities for funding fall under three main headings: projects, training, and workshops. The projects category funds multi-year applied research and development. Training grants are divided into Advanced Study Institutes (ASI) and Advanced Training Courses (ATC). ASI initiatives aim to develop training courses for post-doctoral scientists and require international collaboration between a NATO member and a partner country. ATC grants specifically enable knowledge-sharing between NATO members and partners. Lastly, within the workshop category, Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) grants provide for the formation of a 2-3 day intensive forum on scientific discussion.
First, NATO should expand its grant horizons to fields beyond science. Social science and humanities research will bring new perspectives to NATO thinking. Most importantly, these subject areas can get at the heart of NATO's role in the wider scheme of the international system and make policy recommendations that will augment the human element. Such support will contribute to the ownership and identification of NATO as a progressive force for positive change in the world.
Second, grants should be directed to new recipients. Students and faculties devote their energy entirely to research, and they are the front line in the battle of ideas. Imagine the widespread impact of a professor using NATO funds to undertake a project in the history of NATO or to develop a course on international security. Furthermore, what if the course that professor runs convinces students to study ways to make NATO operations more effective? Perhaps a doctoral student already wants to pursue a project on collective security efforts through NATO but needs additional funding to make it possible. These are relatively low-cost investments in a long-term approach of strategic engagement.
Finally, NATO should create a separate grant specifically to facilitate transatlantic scholarly exchange. For example, a grantee from the United States would receive NATO support to pursue research in a different European country. The grant could stipulate that the grantee must produce work of publishable quality during the travel, which will serve as a new avenue for NATO-relevant research and endow that individual with a potentially newfound appreciation for the work of NATO. This opportunity will help forge international linkages that will benefit the organization both directly and indirectly.
In this media-driven age, it has become easier to disseminate information to the public, but narratives develop in both a positive or negative direction. NATO must fight the strory that it is a monolithic enabler of war, and reaffirm its core mission of collective security in a new way. Collective security does not have to mean fighter jets and ballistic missiles. NATO also embodies a "community of values" but needs to tie that notion to action. Enhanced grant-making will show to the world that NATO is a multidimensional organization capable of impactful innovation. We should not romanticize what NATO once was at the expense of what it can be.
Edward Grodin is currently pursuing an MPA at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs at Cornell University.