Summing Up The Practicum (Thomas Hughes)

| Thomas Hughes | 19 November 2012 | Mons, Belgium |

With only a month left in the NATO Practicum, I was happy when Josh asked me to reflect on my last few months.   Summing up the last few months could fill many pages.  For the sake of readability, I will focus on three things.  First – my work at the office, to include my reading, writing and research; Second – the learning opportunities outside the office; and Finally – the professional networking opportunties and contacts I have been able to make.

In regards to my work environment, every day with my boss Lewis Bumgardner is a learning experience.  Lewis is a retired USMC Colonel and served in the UN Mission to Liberia before becoming a legal advisor with NATO 7 years ago.  He drops more bits of wisdom each day than I can soak up.  On top of that I am allowed to participate in the weekly meeting we have with the Legal Adviser to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, to fill us in about any new developments at the Supreme Headquarters.

  • I just wrapped up the latest issue of the NATO Legal Gazette.  The gazette is a quarterly publication that our office puts out to over 500 members of the NATO legal community – to include legal advisers in the national MOFAs and MODs.  It includes articles from practitioners within the community that are screened by our office and the Allied Command Transformation Office in Norfolk, VA.  I am pretty proud to have edited, completely redesigned, and written an article for this recent issue.
  • I also just finished the first draft of the NATO Legal Conference Report.  This report is written every year to capture the key points of the NATO Legal Conference.  I will speak a bit more about the conference in a moment.
  • On top of the 40 hours per week at the office, the practicum requires additional reading and writing requirements.  I completed a short piece contrasting Shari’a Law and Tribal Custom in Afghanistan in light of recent executions.  I am also reworking a final draft on a paper about Egypt’s relationship with NATO in light of the recent assent of Pres. Morsi and his power struggle with the armed forces.  My longer directed research will focus on some of the legal issues surrounding NATO’s looming withdrawal from Afghanistan, through Pakistan.  The remainder of my time here will be focusing heavily on this final research paper.    
  • Lewis has provided me with a library of reading over my time here.  These readings have focused on everything from the history of the Alliance and principles of international law to the future of peacekeeping operations and issues of targeted killings.

There have also been some more specialized learning experiences that I have been allowed to access:

  • In September I spent 10 days in Tirana, Albania as one of the conference organizers for the 2012 NATO Legal Conference.  This is an annual conference put on by our office for the NATO Legal Community and brings together members of different NATO offices, National Ministries of Defense and Ministries of Foreign Affairs, as well as some leading academics in International Law for a week of panel discussions, breakout sessions and conversation.  Just a few of the keynote speakers at this year’s conference were Lt. Gen Jodice who was the commander in charge of the NATO Operation in Libya, Dr. Alberto Bin, the Director of NATO’s Partnership Security Policy and USMC Col. DJ Riley, the legal advisor to General Allen in the ISAF Mission in Afghanistan.  I also was able to travel to Albania for 3 days in August to finalize a lot of the details leading up to the conference.
  • In early October I completed the week-long NATO Legal Advisor’s Course at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany (a beautiful little town in the German Alps).  This course provided classroom instruction from some leading practitioners in the fields of International Humanitarian Law and a lot of useful information about NATO.
  • I also attended the 2 day International Committee of the Red Cross Colloquium on International Humanitarian Law from October 17-18 in Bruges, Belgium.
  • Currently, I am attending a week-long Shari’a  Law Course at the International Institute of Higher Criminal Studies in Siacusa, Italy.

Now obviously all these opportunities I have mentioned have been great learning experiences but they have also allowed me to interact and network with some amazing people.  For the NATO Legal Conference I was tasked with coordinating the travel and presentations of the speakers so I was able to forge a relationship with the individuals I mentioned above as well as people like the Legal Adviser to the NATO Secretary General in Brussels, Mr. Peter Olson.  While I have kept in touch with many of these prominent speakers, some of the most rewarding relationships were developed with the younger participants who like me are going to be practicing in this area for many years to come.  A colleague of mine at SHAPE, Klara Tothova, a young Slovakian lawyer was actually just accepted for a fellowship with the American Society of International Law in Washington D.C.

Fortunately while in Europe I have still been able to job hunt for life after law school.  I was able to interview for the USAF JAG Corps in Spangdahlem, Germany.  I just took the Foreign Service Officer Exam in Brussels.  And I have applied to numerous positions in the Department of State and Homeland Security.  The opportunity to mingle and converse with people practicing in all these positions like JAG Lawyers, Members of the State Department – like Peter Olson who I mentioned above was a State Department Attorney for 30 years before coming to NATO – has been extremely valuable in giving me some perspective on future employment.  On top of that this program has really been a blessing in interviews and my conversations with these practitioners.  Everyone is amazed that such an opportunity exists and goes on about how they wish it would have for them.  I feel truly fortunate to be the first participant in the NATO Practicum and hope that St. John’s continues to push the envelope in these International Law Programs in the years to come.


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