Engaging the leaders of tomorrow

  • Last updated: 11 Jul. 2012 17:44

“NATO has never been set in stone,” says Dr Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General, Emerging Security Challenges Division, addressing a packed room of “Young Professionals in Foreign Policy” (YPFP) members on the Chicago Summit and its impact on the Alliance, on Tuesday 10 July at the European Parliament.

“Its future vitality and effectiveness depends critically on its leaders and in particular on their vision and engagement. Therefore it is important for young professionals to fully grasp the issues facing NATO's future post-Chicago. Because sooner than they think, they will be in the leadership positions where they will have to make the key decisions to safeguard Euro-Atlantic security in the 21st century,” explains Dr Shea, who spoke alongside Jan Techau, the Director of Carnegie Europe, and Geoffrey Van Orden, a Member of the European Parliament at the debate organised by YPFP.

Engaging with those who could be shaping the global security agenda tomorrow is an important part of NATO’s public diplomacy agenda today. Each year the Alliance sponsors and organizes a range of events and programmes in order to speak with and listen to young people all over the world.

“Young Professionals in Foreign Policy is a key network of people who are already making their mark as potential leaders and will make it even more strongly as real leaders in the years ahead,” says Dr Shea. “As a result, there is no more important group for NATO to engage with at this critical juncture in its evolution.”

A broad range of engagement

In addition to regular speaking engagements by NATO experts, the Alliance often gives tours and briefings to youth groups at its Headquarters. NATO also works on a number of initiatives and programmes to engage young people on the topic of peace and security.

“It is important that we as an Alliance engage with young people from all over the world because they are the leaders of tomorrow,” explains NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, who addressed students at Moscow State Linguistic University via video-link in April.

Youth summits are often organized in the margins of NATO’s summits, offering young graduates, professionals and leaders-to-be a chance to engage with NATO’s senior leadership and Allied leaders. An annual Afghan Youth Summit, which brings together university students from all over Afghanistan to meet and discuss ideas for the country’s future.

The ‘iReps’ competition is another example of NATO’s outreach to the successor generation. Some 20 winners from as far and wide as Indonesia and Libya were chosen to attend the Summit after submitting videos about what peace and security meant to them.

“In the years to come, today’s young people will set our agenda and their opinions should be both informed and heard,” adds Ambassador Vershbow.

A more complex world than ever before

“Organizations like NATO are confronted with a more complex world, in which the threats and challenges they were initially created to address are evolving, and in which new challenges are constantly emerging – often at a speed and scale that challenges the ability of foreign policy professionals to keep up,” says Gary Barnabo, President of YPFP after the event on Tuesday.

YPFP aims to foster the next generation of foreign policy leaders and has over 10,000 members worldwide in 80 countries with branches in Washington D.C., Brussels, London and New York.

“Early engagement by today's established professionals with tomorrow's leaders creates critical cross-generational relationships that help shape and develop young people so they will be effective, impactful leaders,” Barnabo adds.

Looking to tomorrow

"NATO may be over 60 years old – but we're still growing,” says James Appathurai, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political and Security Affairs, and Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, who recently took part in web chat with users of the Atlantic-Community forum. “Today, the Alliance is taking on new challenges, in new ways, and with new partners; and NATO's adaptation won't stop.”

“We need to hear from youth and young professionals - because we need to hear what they feel are the main challenges we should be taking on, today and tomorrow," he adds.