By Anne Bilala, Anna Maria Barcikowska, Jordan Becker, Benjamin Bilski, Benedetta Berti, Dustin Dehez, Hristiana Grozdanova, Francisco Galamas, Dominik P. Jankowski, Gonca Noyan, Jelena Petrovic and Timothy Stafford
Over the past six weeks, a group of young leaders from all over the world has been actively involved in discussing the future of transatlantic relations through the Young Atlanticist Working Group. This Atlantic Council initiative aims at fostering a dialogue and at laying the groundwork for a lasting collaboration among this group of emerging leaders. Through a private and confidential virtual platform established and moderated by the Atlantic Council, the members spent the past few weeks exchanging ideas and pushing each other to think hard about current and future security challenges.
The rules were simple and clear – members were free to debate all aspects of security and defence. In addition, they were encouraged to cooperate and produce joint articles and issues for publication in outside media outlets. All members committed to keep all conversations within the forum “off-the-record.”
In order to stimulate the debate, the Atlantic Council also added a twist to the forum, by turning it into a competition. Accordingly, the most active members of the group would be rewarded with the chance to participate in two of the world’s most important security conferences: the GlobSec Summit in Bratislava in April and the NATO Summit in Chicago in May of this year.
However, as the Atlantic Council ends its moderation of the virtual aspect of Young Atlanticist collaboration, the challenge is now how to continue with this important and worthy endeavour and how to ensure that the Young Atlanticist Working Group continues to thrive. As this phase of the group’s work ends, the question then is: what is the way forward? What will the Young Atlanticist Working Group’s “Life After Chicago” look like?
Some of the members of the group—strongly believing in the importance of keeping the conversation going—came together to think about the next steps. Here are a few suggestions:
• To keep the information flow alive. Each month one person will be responsible for preparing a short policy paper on defence and security issues relevant to him/her and his/her country. This person will be responsible for making the selection based on what might be of interest to the others. Relying on this approach can help offer fresh insight into the latest news and a possibility to explore issues from the unique angle of a colleague. A rotational system for producing the monthly paper could be established to facilitate advance planning.
• Share thoughts and expertise. The Young Atlanticist Working Group should hold meetings on a regular basis after the NATO Summit in Chicago. A yearly conference—to be organized alternately in Europe or in the United States—would help the group to continue growing together, as well as allowing it to expand. Similarly, other follow-up conferences and debates could be organized to foster dialogue on topics related to security and defence. Using their own professional networks, members of the group, with the help of the Atlantic Council, could organize virtual meetings with high level officials. This will allow for the creation of an even stronger bridge with the policy world, involving new generations in the debate about the world’s political and security situation. Finally, the group should also engage with other prominent forums, such as the Munich Young Leaders Round Table on Security Policy.
• Dig deeper. The Young Atlanticist Working Group can also be divided into smaller working groups in line with the members’ expertise (in areas such as smart defence, external operations, enlargement, nuclear policy, missile defence, public diplomacy). In turn, each sub-group would prepare presentations on specific topics, while also “digging deeper” into the issues and devising concrete policy recommendations to submit to both NATO and the European Defence Agency. The group could prepare a bi-annual joint report—collecting the results of the work of the subgroups—offering a medium and long-term perspective on NATO development.
• Going on your own. The Young Atlanticists could create their own platform to continue the dialogue, as well as to keep a database of all publications written by the participants. The Foreign Policy Association might be a suitable host for such a platform that will help to increase the potential audience and foster collaboration with professionals and academics outside the group. This would be done in parallel with reliance on the Atlantic Council’s closed virtual platform. This would also lead to the creation of a Young Atlanticist Working Group blog where the members could publish op-eds on the current affairs and invite guest, including high level officials to raise the profile of the group.
• Monthly night owl sessions. The Young Atlanticist Working Group members could gather monthly for an online discussion based on a pre-arranged subject. Each month, someone from the group could volunteer to prepare and post a short presentation on the topic up for discussion. These discussions, like the original working group, are likely to yield short opinion pieces outlining clear and direct arguments. Publication of such pieces would help increase the visibility of the group and their ideas.
• Be online and be social. As the initial discussions of the group occurred through social network sites, it is important to continue relying on online platforms. In addition to keeping up our group, we could create a list including members’ information regarding their presence at various social networking sites, like Twitter. This would make sharing news articles, announcing recent publications, and organizing social events more convenient.
• Make the most of it. Every member of the group should keep the others informed of his/her travels when appropriate, and seize the opportunity to invite other members to share his/her work through lectures and joint publications. What’s more, while on the road, one should always call and get in contact with the members of the working group – dinners and socials hours can also be a powerful tool to foster the growth of the group.
• Growing big. It is worth exploring the possibilities of finding a publisher (and a sponsor) and to collect all the op-eds and papers in one serious academic edition. The book could be distributed to selected universities, policy centres and think-tanks, students interested in security and defence policy, as well as selected decision-makers. Contributions based on observations in Bratislava and/or Chicago addressing the key items on the agendas of both might be also valuable.
• Leadership and institutions. The Young Atlanticist Working Group members are professionals who aspire to leadership roles in think-tanks, academic faculties and government offices. Good institutions raise up individuals, and good working relationships between institutions will greatly increase their reach and effectiveness. The members of the group should aspire to turn personal friendships and working relationships into professional institutional working relationships.
• Multilevel strengthening. In order to enhance group cohesion, members from the same country could agree to meet every three months, whereas members from the same region could aim at meeting twice a year in preparation for the annual Young Atlanticist Conference. This practice would not only strengthen the group’s cohesion, it would also contribute to a swifter exchange of specific information and ideas that would not necessarily be of interest to the entire group but that is meaningful for those living in the same geographical zone. Paired with the thematic sub-group organizations this would strengthen the ties that bind the Young Atlanticist Working Group members.
By taking these steps to strengthen the relationships that the Atlantic Council has helped forge in the Young Atlanticist Working Group, members can continue to walk together as they develop as leaders in their chosen professions.
Anne Bilala, Anna Maria Barcikowska, Jordan Becker, Benjamin Bilski, Benedetta Berti, Dustin Dehez, Hristiana Grozdanova, Francisco Galamas, Dominik P. Jankowski, Gonca Noyan, Jelena Petrovic and Timothy Stafford are members of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist Working Group.
The authors’ views expressed here are their own and do neither necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the institutions they represent nor the Atlantic Council.