In many ways it feels as if my first day in Belgium was just yesterday (and I think it’s more than just the coincidence that my first day and yesterday both happened to be cold and rainy). This semester-long adventure is rapidly concluding and leaving will be bittersweet for sure.
I was asked recently by prospective applicants about the value of the program. Conversing by email I’m sure the questioner would have been happy with a two-line response that Europe is great and it really impresses employers, but I couldn’t help but to expand because the program deserves so much more. For the past five months I have had the pleasure of working with an international staff of experts with tremendous amounts of experience in the law. This program has given me the opportunity to be involved with projects that are usually only open to military personnel, state ambassadors, and experienced international law attorneys.
Networking is a key part of developing a career. Working at NATO has allowed me to connect with attorneys and policy makers in a wide range of fields. As just one small example, as I was drafting my term paper on maritime security and Operation Active Endeavour I had difficulty locating sources that discussed NATO and maritime interdiction operations (MIO). I was quickly introduced to an Italian navy commander who served in the Mediterranean and provided legal advice on interdiction. He offered me an interview for reference in my own work and provided copies of his scholarship and bibliographies of his current maritime research. As I returned his dissertation to him last week he was eager to provide me substantive comments on my work and to help me search for an avenue for publication.
While my work has been largely legal, I have also gotten the chance to see the political implications of dealing with a consensus-based multinational organization. I spent most of my time at SHAPE in Mons, but I had a few occasions to go to NATO HQ in Brussels. This past week I attended two meetings at headquarters: one in the morning about the CLOVIS project and one in the afternoon about a paper being written by the Defence Planning and Policy Committee (DPPC) on the legal considerations of ballistic missile defence. As we ate in the cafeteria waiting for our afternoon meeting, a parade of diplomats and heads of state walked through. I learned from our colleague that the NAC had met in the morning and this was a fairly typical afternoon at HQ where the permanent staff consists of well over 100 four-star generals and their civilian equivalents.
After lunch we surrendered our cell-phones and walked past the bank of conference rooms to where the DPPC was meeting. Two men guarded the doors and checked identification as we went in. To my surprise, we were meeting in conference room 1, the same room the NAC uses with the familiar round table and the blue NATO logo adorned with the flags of member states. It was exciting to be sitting in the same room where the Alliance makes high level decisions. I listened to the discussion through my earpiece with the interpreter cutting in when the conversation dipped into French. The meeting was a partial success as some of our comments were supported by the national representatives, but the work will continue over the next weeks and we will continue to advance our legal position to the participants.
Next week I will fly back to NY to begin my summer employment in the private sector. I have experienced profound professional and academic growth this semester that exceeds my expectations. This is in large part due to the support of the deans at St. John’s and my supervisors and colleagues here, to whom I am eternally grateful for giving me this opportunity. It has been a pleasure to serve as an ambassador for the university and to be a part of the NATO community.