New faces have appeared in NATO's Brussels headquarters in recent years as Partner nationals have seized opportunities to witness Alliance decision-making and operations for themselves. Since 1999, more than 20 young civil servants from Partner countries have benefited from a Partnership for Peace (PfP) internship programme enabling them to work at the very heart of the Alliance.
The programme, which was unveiled at a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in November 1998, has proved increasingly popular since the first Partner interns arrived at NATO headquarters immediately after the Alliance's 1999 Washington Summit.
Eight positions on NATO's International Staff have been created for the programme in divisions involved in PfP-related activities, two each in Defence Planning and Operations, Defence Support, Civil Emergency Planning and Political Affairs.
Costs of the internship programme are the responsibility of Partner countries. However, in order to ensure that individuals from all Partner countries have an equal opportunity to benefit from the programme, some NATO members have sponsored selected interns. A Ukrainian intern, who is just about to join, will, for example, be supported financially by the United Kingdom.
All PfP-designated posts are open to nationals of all Partner countries, but prospective interns are expected to have a good knowledge of one of the two NATO working languages. Moreover, parent divisions have the final say in appointments, which is based on prospective interns' qualifications and a fair geographic distribution of posts. To provide interns with the most valuable experience and ensure regular rotation of posts, internships are offered for a period from a few months up to one year.
The terms under which Partner nationals work at NATO is governed by a special policy, which seeks to marry the intern's need for information with NATO's security regulations. Although many provisions were drawn from existing arrangements for interns from NATO member states, Partner nationals do not have access to classified information or even parts of NATO headquarters. As a result, "non-escorted visitor" passes were issued to Partner interns to enable them to move between their offices, located outside NATO's secure areas, and their parent division. In addition, special arrangements have been put in place to give Partner interns sufficient access to restricted information to carry out their duties.
Eric de Labarthe, PfP internship programme coordinator, explained: "Special authorisations were issued to permit interns to attend meetings relevant to their daily work. Moreover, as a result of ongoing efforts towards the harmonisation of classification between NATO and PfP documents, interns already have access to a wide range of newly declassified information."
In addition to hands-on training, interns are given the opportunity to make a personal contribution to Alliance operations. In agreement with their parent division, Partner civil servants are able to take on individual projects, from the production of NATO publications to the preparation of in-depth analyses and case studies on PfP-related subjects.
According to Marie Holmberg, a Swedish intern who studied Partner country involvement in NATO land armaments and safety-related activities for the Defence Support division, "These individual projects demonstrate the unique possibilities offered by the PfP Internship Programme."
Experiencing cross-cultural cooperation and acquiring an in-depth understanding of the way in which NATO operates help dispell myths about the Alliance. Ms Holmberg said that she now views the Alliance in terms of "the nineteen nations behind it" and appreciates "the value of consensus in decision-making".
With a maximum of eight Partner interns at any time, the PfP internship programme is modest in comparison with similar programmes in the military field. Nevertheless, the initiative has proved popular both among staff at NATO headquarters and Partner participants, with the result that it may be expanded. "The idea has been warmly welcomed, although further consideration is required for such an endeavour to be implemented", Mr De Labarthe said.