Getting to know NATO

  • 26 Jul. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 27 Jul. 2012 09:03

Three young people from Armenia, Russia and the United Kingdom were among 20 competition winners to win a trip to NATO’s Chicago Summit in May. Upon returning home, they took time to reflect on their experiences.

Called ‘iReps’ the winners, from as far and wide as Libya and Indonesia, spent three days talking to NATO and national officials in the margins of the Chicago Summit. They also debated the challenges facing international peace and security with their peers.

Having a chance to penetrate deeply into the NATO’s goals and mission, realising and analysing them, I found it surprising to change my stereotypes about it,” explains Emma Ohanyan from Armenia. “[NATO moved] from an aggressive organization into one of the world’s principal contributors in peace and security,” adds the 23 year-old who works as a Russian-English translator at ARKA News Agency in Armenia.

More than 300 people accepted the challenge of the ‘iReps’ competition, submitting a one minute video explaining what peace and security means to them. The winners flew to Chicago to take part in the Young Atlanticist Youth Summit which ran in parallel to the main Summit meetings. They discussed the same Summit agenda themes of Afghanistan, future capabilities and partnerships.

“NATO is no longer confronted by one clearly defined threat, such as was evident during the Cold War,” says 23-year old Thomas Durham, a graduate student from Durham University in the United Kingdom. “There are, in fact, a plethora of many diverse and multilateral threats - which make the peace building process behind NATO more relevant than ever,” he explains.

Evolving views on NATO

Twenty-two year old Ekaterina Markova is a student at the Moscow State Academy of Law. After reflecting on the debates and opinions offered during the Summit weekend, she was surprised to learn about the involvement of non-NATO members at the Summit and the Alliance as a whole.

Reflecting on the global nature of today's security challenges, Markova says it is increasingly important for countries to work together to achieve success. “The invitation to other non-NATO members to attend the Summit is a good decision for making concerted solutions, which entertain the opinion of every member of our common community,” she adds.

Discovering that NATO’s fundamental decision making system was consensus based was also new to some of the ‘iReps’, according to Durham. The idea of equality between all NATO members was particularly revealing. [Meaning that] each member has the power to veto any decision made by NATO… [where] a general consensus is required for each policy decision to be ratified,” Durham says.

Looking back

Along with students from the United States, the ‘iReps’ were joined at the Youth Summit by several Afghan Fulbright Scholars. “They were fascinating,” says Durham, “and at the same time wholly enlightening.” He feels the Scholars imparted a sense of “cautious optimism” when discussing the challenges that lie ahead for the future of Afghanistan. “[I learnt that] one should not always come from the angle of being disappointed when dealing with Afghanistan - that in fact, Afghanistan does have strong foundations.”

Neither Markova nor Ohanyan could identify one element of the experience as being better than the rest. ”It was an exciting opportunity for all of us to attend the press- conference of NATO officials and heads of state and government, and be involved in the process of discussion,” says Markova.

Ohanyan adds that “meeting new friends from all over the world, having the chance to hear their viewpoints on different issues as well as hanging out in Chicago was just part of the fabulous experience.”

The three iReps say they and their fellow winners came away from the NATO Summit in Chicago with a better understanding about the inner workings of NATO, as well as about their peers in other countries. “I think, NATO is a very powerful organization that can defend not only NATO member states, but also the whole world,” says Markova. “That is why NATO is important for peace and security.”