The first annual Model NATO simulation in Europe ended on July 13th on a high note of met expectations and enthusiasm.
Coming from the North American side of the pond, where Model NATO started, I was impressed with the scale of the event in Brussels. NATO is typically involved in the organization of such simulations through providing sponsorship, organizational and expert capacity, but this is the first time that the Alliance has done it to such an extent.
The simulation is a very useful experience for several reasons. First, it has high educational value for those who want to understand what NATO does, how it does it and why. The issues discussed included smart defence, missile defence, cyber defence and the justifications for an intervention, among other salient contemporary topics.
Particularly interesting was the crisis, which involved a cyber attack against NATO on Polish radar installations. With forty-five minutes on the clock to figure out what to do, the delegates very quickly managed to not only come up with a good resolution, but also had time to call in the representative of the Russian Federation for a question and answer session. This would be the sort of performance I expect out of an experienced committee. However, only the North Atlantic Council was able to address the crisis, whereas it would typically take place across all committees of the simulation.
A big highlight was a visit to NATO headquarters for a talk by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen about the three main tasks of NATO in the face of cooperative security, collective defence and crisis management, reiterating the need to uphold the values and principles of NATO to operate as a democratic, consensual organization, despite the challenges associated with doing so. Mr. Rasmussen also addressed smart defence, which is fast becoming the modus operandi for meeting NATO's commitments and operations. One important point that came out of that discussion was that the transatlantic relationship between Europe, the United States and Canada would remain firmly in place, despite Washington's Asia pivot in placing China at the forefront of its foreign policy.
In the aftermath of this talk, the students were accommodated by their respective national delegations for the next several hours to discuss their position papers and national strategies. Similar to what we do in Canada, this kind of activity enriches the simulation experience immensely, because meeting the people behind major decisions really helps put into perspective how international relations are negotiated in practice, not just in classroom textbooks and slide shows.
Comparing Model NATO in Europe to Canda, after having participated in both, I can say that the simulation in Europe is inevitably a richer experience - not just for its proximity to NATO and better access to the people who make the policies, but the shorter distances and better infrastructure also make wider participation possible. One feature I particularly liked, despite the mixed reactions to it, were expert panels, where for an afternoon, an expert in each issue area would visit every committee and discuss the question with the delegates to give them a better idea of how NATO would react to it.
Future simulations will creating a Model NATO culture in Europe, but it will not be the same as the one that exists in Canada. Yet, it is important to encourage the communication between Ottawa and Brussels, because with a decade of experience, we are well poised to provide valuable insight into making each simulation better than the last, and the fine planners in Brussels could have used our experience more so.
A small example: a typical agenda in Canada consists of four questions and a crisis, and lasts over a day and a half of committee sessions. The first MNATO in Europe had two questions and a crisis with more time for delegates to solve them. While this is understandable given the learning curve that must inevitably be climbed with a first-time event, it would be best to gradually increase the issue load per committee; the resulting tension would more accurately reproduce dealings inside NATO.
Georgi Ivanov is a graduate student in political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He was among the organizers of the 2012 Model NATO Youth Summit. For more information on the summit, click here.