Brussels Study Trip: Blog 1

I’ve written before about the role teachers play in transatlantic relations (see, for example, this post and this one), and I teach about the EU in my classes, but this year I wanted to take it a step further- I decided to take my students to Brussels. For one week (July 8-15), I’ll be taking eight students on a study trip to learn about the EU and transatlantic relations.  During that time, we’ll be visiting the following places:

  • The EU Council (thanks to Alexandra Ekkelenkamp and Dominique Bryan for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU (thanks to Anna-Charlotta Erikson for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The European External Action Service (thanks to Nicole Meijer for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The European Parliament (thanks to Kirsten Jongberg for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • The European Committee of the Regions (thanks to Katie Owens and Francoise Dumont for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • Sweden’s Social Democrats in the European Parliament (thanks to Helena Strandberg-Luthi and Elisabeth Gehrke for helping to coordinate this visit, and thanks to MEP Jytte Guteland for agreeing to meet with us)
  • Deutsche Welle (thanks to Steffi Rosenbusch and Maximilian Hofmann for helping to coordinate this visit)
  • US Mission to the EU (unfortunately, they had to cancel our visit due to last-minute obligations)
  • #EUTweetUp (thanks to Jon Worth and Katie Owens for helping to coordinate this)
  • The House of European History
  • Bruges

To help them prepare, we met once a month, read a number of articles/papers, and visited the websites of each of the places.  I also created a Twitter list of the places we’ll be visiting and some of the people we’ll be meeting.

During our time there, my students and I will be sharing our experiences via social media and this blog.  To begin with, I had them write a paragraph about what they hoped to gain out of the trip.  Here are six of the responses:

Katie B.
I am so excited that my first time traveling to another country is to Brussels for this EU study trip! This trip is so full of wonderful opportunities and I’m so grateful I am able to participate. One thing I am especially looking forward to is our meeting with Sweden’s representative to the EU. I admire Sweden’s feminist approach to foreign policy, it is so comprehensive and well thought out and their execution is incredibly effective. I really think it is one of the main reasons they are such a successful, democratic, and advanced nation, so I hope to ask a lot of questions and gain a lot of information from that meeting. I am also really excited for our day trip to Bruges! The history behind art and architecture fascinates me, so Bruges, with its rich history and and gorgeous architecture, has been a dream destination of mine. There are so many wonderful things planned for the trip, and I can’t wait to go and experience it all next month!

Andy K.
In my entire life I have never been more excited about a trip and the prospects that it holds. As someone who is deeply passionate about politics, I relish at this amazing opportunity that this trip will give me to explore international relations.  I may not always agree on everything that the European Union does, however I must grasp a deeper knowledge on how it functions productively while balancing the wants of sovereign nations. Within this, I am specifically curious on economic policy and trade. For instance how does the EU ensure that trade agreements are beneficial to all member states with each individual state having diversified economies? Questions like this fascinate me and I hope I can get answers about them. On a different note I am looking forward to immersing myself in the culture of Brussels. For many years I have wanted to go to Europe and finally this trip gives me the chance to personally experience it. In conclusion I can’t wait for the knowledge that this trip will equip me with and the lifelong memories that I will make.

Julia P.
I’m super excited to not only see the past- the beautiful buildings and streets of the city- but also the future. I look forward to meeting with representatives from Sweden and the US missions to the EU and NATO to talk with them about what is happening now and their plans to change the world. I’d love to ask them how the Trump presidency has changed their personal experiences and/or altered their jobs. As this is a field I am considering for a career, I’d also like to ask them what their job entails on a day to day basis. Additionally, I hope to gain a broader, more internationally based knowledge on US issues. Living in the US can make a sheltered view on these topics, and I’m very interested to see how the international community views things such as border control, refugees, and healthcare. Lastly, I hope to also get to know the city of Brussels itself, and really experience the culture and pulse of this beautiful city. I’m looking forward to the trip!!

Bailey A.
You are not often given the chance to widen your worldview when living in a small town, inside a liberal bubble, in a state people in the rest of the country can’t even point out on a map. These exact reasons are why I jumped at the chance to visit a place with a nearly continental government, an institution the likes of which have never been seen before. Traveling abroad is a wonderful opportunity and learning experience, especially when combined with in-depth learning about world politics in the current political climate. It deeply interests me to learn about how everything is juggled between institutions, getting regional support, working on better trade, cooperating with volatile neighbor countries, countries making unpopular decisions, and foreign policy, while still managing to agree and be a leading world power. These are ambitious goals that are completely achievable with a strong system like this, and I can’t wait to see how they all fit together. I am also looking forward to speaking with Sweden’s Representative to the EU. Next year one of the three countries our Model UN team is representing is Sweden, and I can’t think of any better way to learn about Sweden than from one of the people who knows it best. I am really looking forward to meeting some of the people who make this whole operation work, while visiting such an amazing and historic country.

Catalina G.
I am really looking forward to this trip.  It will be really interesting to gain some more insight on transatlantic relations between the EU and the US.  I would especially like to gain some insight from government members in Brussels, both a UN and EU hotspot on their reactions to the US backing out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.  It will also be fascinating to learn more about the EU in general, and to learn about how it’s going to have to function differently after Brexit because I know the EU hit some bumps in November after the Brexit outcome.  I would also like to hear more about what that’s going to mean for the EU economy and the UK’s economy.  Another huge point of interest for me is Swedens feminist foreign policy and I would really like to know more about the impact it has in the EU.

Greta S.
If I’m honest, my initial reason for wanting to go to Brussels was because I had never left the country before and I knew my parents would say yes to this. However, my reasons for wanting to go were not all superficial. I knew my parents would say yes because they never say no to an opportunity to learn, and they knew that I would learn infinitely more going to Brussels than I would from any textbook or class. By going I am going to Brussels, I can see how what I learn is applied and how it is really played out. I can also ask questions that I want to know, and can find the answer to the question I want answered, and not ones that other people want answered. I also wanted to go because I wanted to see something different, and Brussels will be very different for me. I’ve had really similar experiences to all of my friends at school and just by being surrounded by people who aren’t exactly like me will teach me about who I am. I really love learning, and by going to Brussels I will gain factual, cultural, and personal knowledge, and I’m really excited for it.

Thanks for reading.


Help Us, Europe- You’re Our Only Hope

Since his inauguration, President Trump has made it clear that American foreign policy will be based on the idea of “America first.”  What that looks like exactly is unclear, given the sometimes contradictory messages from various administration officials.  What we do know, however, is that America’s role as a global leader has now diminished so much that US foreign policy is an example of how NOT to approach global issues.  This is especially evident in a number of areas, including the UN and development assistance, NATO, and climate change.

The UN and Development Assistance
President Trump’s FY2018 budget “proposes that the Department of State examine options to: (a) reduce the levels of international organizations’ budgets, (b) reduce U.S. assessment rates, and/or (c) not pay U.S. assessments in full.” (p. 71 of Major Savings and Reforms: Budget of the U.S. Government“)  This would lead to an overall reduction of $786 million for international organizations contributions.

Additionally, in January 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), introduced H.R. 193- American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which called for the US to withdraw from the UN.  While the bill most likely will not become a law, it does illustrate that some members of Congress are taking the “America first” mentality to a whole new level.

If the US does not fulfill its responsibilities with the UN, then it falls upon Europe to fill the void.  On May 17, 2017, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke at the European Parliament and said that “A strong and united Europe is an absolutely fundamental pillar of a strong and effective United Nations.”  This is especially important given the White House’s current attitude.

When it comes to official development assistance (ODA), the US has consistently fallen short of the target of .7% of GNI.  In 2016, the US spent .18% of GNI on ODA, placing it eighth worst among OECD countries; however, it was number one in overall spending with $33.59 billion.  Imagine how much good could have been done had the US met the .7% target.  Unfortunately, the outlook is not promising, as President Trump’s budget would eliminate $2.5 billion in ODA (p. 67 of Major Savings and Reforms).

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 10.41.18 AM

Even though the US fell short, six of our European allies met or exceeded the .7% target, with Norway leading the way at 1.11%.  For those six countries, the total amount adds up to $54.65 billion, well above the US amount.  The irony here is that while President Trump has chastised our NATO allies for not spending 2% of GDP on defense, the US has not met the target for ODA.

As for NATO, President Trump spoke in Brussels on May 25, 2017, at the unveiling of the Article 5 and Berlin Wall memorials.  In his remarks, the President pretty much scolded our NATO allies:

“The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on NATO’s eastern and southern borders.  These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.

This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.  And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.  Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO countries combined.  If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion for our collective defense and for the financing of additional NATO reserves.

We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats, even 2 percent of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing, readiness, and the size of forces.  We have to make up for the many years lost.  Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats.  If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.” 

The picture below sums up the response by the other NATO leaders in attendance.

NATO Leaders Smirk
Photo from Deutsche Welle.

If that wasn’t enough, Trump also pushed the prime minister of Montengro out of the way during the meeting.

A few days after the meeting, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said, “The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days… That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”

After the trip, Press Secretary Sean Spicer remarked that “the President is acting to strengthen alliances, to form new partnerships, and to rebuild America’s standing in the world.”  The reality, of course, is that threatening to cut funds to the UN and alienating allies weakens alliances and demolishes America’s standing in the world.

Climate Change
President Trump and the White House also have an abysmal record on climate change.  According to the White House website, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”  His budget calls “to eliminate funding in 2018 related to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds (CIFs)” (p. 75 of Major Savings and Reforms).  Furthermore, the budget reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31.4% down to $5.7 billion (p. 42 of Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness).  Additionally, the President has made it clear he is no fan of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate.  As this piece is being written, it is expected Trump will announce the U.S. is withdrawing from the deal.

Across the Atlantic, however, our European allies are committed to fighting climate change.  At a recent UNFCCC conferenceMiguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said, “We came here to Bonn to advance our work on the rules and instruments to implement the Paris Agreement. We leave Bonn with steadfast progress in many areas. And while much work still lies ahead of us, the cooperative talks and the tangible results show once again the unwavering determination of all of us to turn our commitments into real action.”  Quite the opposite from President Trump.  The EU has also adopted a 2020 Climate & Energy Package and a 2030 Climate & Energy Framework.

President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has left a vacuum of global leadership that could potentially be filled by the EU.  This is a perfect opportunity for bodies like the European External Action Service and EuropeAid to step up and show the world what European cooperation and coordination can accomplish.  For the UN to succeed, and for progress to be made on the Sustainable Development Goals (one of which is climate action), Europe is our only hope.

Thanks for reading.

Ways for Embassies to Engage America’s Youth

I recently saw a job posted by an embassy in Washington, DC, looking for someone to help with youth engagement across the United States.  Since this is an area I am passionate about, I immediately began brainstorming.  The three ideas that I think have the most potential utilize social media, Model UN, and teacher materials.

Most embassies already use social media as a tool for digital diplomacy.  Personnel could use that to engage with both students and teachers across the United States.  For example, I was able to have somebody from the Italian Embassy speak to my students via Skype (not exactly social media, but still a form of engagement via the internet).  Additionally, embassies, or their consulates, could hold Twitter chats.  If they have exchange programs, they could encourage students to post photos to Instagram or Flickr.

Model UN is an opportunity for students to be engaged in international politics, diplomacy, and global issues in an academic setting.  There are a number of conferences held across the country each year from coast to coast, including at least two in Washington, DC.  These would be great opportunities for embassies to hold sessions on their role in the world and international organizations.  As our school’s Model UN advisor, I try to set up trips to the consulates in Chicago when we attend the conferences there.  In the past, we’ve visited the consulates for Greece, Canada, and Mexico.  All of the trips were 1-2 hours long and provided students an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the respective countries.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to reach students is through their teachers.  Reaching one high school teacher, for example, means reaching approximately one hundred students.  If embassies had lesson plans on their country, relations with the US, or more, it would exponentially increase its reach among American youth.  For example, the UK embassy could create lesson plans for AP Comparative Government and Politics (as it is one of the six countries teachers are mandated to teach), AP US History, AP European History, AP English Lit, and so on.  When I taught my students about the UK under Thatcher, I used videos from The Specials and Madness.

These are just three ideas that embassies in Washington, DC, could use to engage American students.  If you’ve got any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.

Takeaways from the Marshall Seminar on Transatlantic Security

I had the honor of attending the German Marshall Fund’s Marshall Seminar on Transatlantic Security from April 22-24, 2015.  For three days, participants listened to experts discuss the challenges and possibilities in a variety of areas of transatlantic relations.  On the last day, we were asked three questions: 1) What was the most important thing we learned? 2) What will we do with the knowledge? 3) Where is the greatest potential for transatlantic cooperation?  Here are my thoughts on them.

What was the most important thing we learned?
While there were many, many interesting and important points made by the speakers, two ideas really stuck with me.

During the panel on Russia and the Middle East, Ian Lesser said that one of the most important issues in maintaining and strengthening transatlantic relations today is getting the U.S. to see issues/problems through a European lens.  While I agree with his assessment, I think getting both U.S. policymakers and the public to do so will be an uphill battle.  Europe does not receive as much attention in the media as say, Asia (i.e. China) or the Middle East (given our involvement there for over a decade).  A good example of this is the debate surrounding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  The U.S. government is not doing a great job explaining and promoting TTIP.  As Rep. Sandy Levin explained recently at the Bertelsmann Foundation, “TTIP is essentially unknown in the US Congress.”  If Congress doesn’t know much about TTIP, what does that say about the public’s knowledge of it?  So, the question we should ask ourselves is how do we get the public and our elected officials to care about Europe?  How should the government (e.g. the State Department, NATO, the US Trade Rep,  etc.) convince the American public that Europe still matters?

The panel on challenges to democracy was informative and gave me a lot to think about.  In his introductory remarks, Ivan Vejvoda brought up the point that democracy is an ongoing process.  Of course, if that is the case (which I believe it is), then is democracy truly attainable?  Brenda Carter, of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, shared some enlightening data concerning political representation and demographics of power here in the U.S.  Here argument that we should apply the same scrutiny to the U.S. as we do other countries when it comes to democracy was certainly thought-provoking.  Finally, Mohamed-Ali Adraoui asked the question, “If some people don’t matter, then what happens to democracy?”  His discussion of identity and exclusion in democracy was certainly relevant in both Europe and the U.S.

What will we do with the knowledge?
As a teacher, I plan on taking the information and turning it into lesson plans.  The panels on climate change and migration, global health, democracy were all very useful and provided ideas for the classroom.  They will be especially useful during my units on the Sustainable Development Goals.  The panel on democracy, as discussed above, is also relevant for my classes on government and politics.

Where is the greatest potential for transatlantic cooperation?
As far as the topics of the panels go, the U.S. and Europe can cooperate on a number of areas.  All of the issues covered were global issues, necessitating global solutions.  No one country can tackle them alone.  While a certain degree of competition among countries will always exist, the U.S. and its European allies must cooperate and work towards multilateral solutions.  Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic can learn from each other; however, that requires a greater degree of flexibility and innovation than currently exists.

I also believe, as I have written before, that teachers need to be more involved to promote transatlantic relations.  I am developing the rough outline of a possible teacher program that I hope to share with relevant parties (and perhaps on this blog) in the near future.  If we want the public to understand why Europe still matters to the U.S. and to see global issues/problems through a European lens, teachers must be involved.

Attending this seminar was the best professional development I have had in my thirteen years as a teacher.  I would love to attend more like it and even apply for fellowships or programs whose goals are to maintain and strengthen transatlantic relations.  Ideally, I would prefer to leave teaching and work full time on such matters.  Unfortunately, as I look for such opportunities, I realize that as I fast approach 40 years old, my chances are limited.

Thanks for reading.

Marshall Seminar Background Reading: Part I

Last year the German Marshall Fund held a blog competition on transatlantic cooperation.  Participants were asked to write entries on “what has the transatlantic relationship meant to you, and how can we preserve it and make it even stronger for future generations.”  I entered and wrote a piece titled, “Teachers and the Transatlantic Relationship,” and much to my surprise, I was chosen as an honorable mention.  As a result, I have the honor to attend the GMF’s Marshall Seminar on Transatlantic Security.

When I saw the preliminary agenda for the Seminar, I was quite excited.  I finally have the chance to talk with others who are as interested as I am in maintaing and strengthening transatlantic relations.  To prepare for the seminar, I starting looking for articles on each topic.  I was not looking to become an expert, but I wanted enough to have some sort of knowledge so that I can follow the discussions and maybe ask a question or two.  I have now made my way through about half of the reading, and I wanted to share them, in case somebody else out there is interested in the topics.

General Reading
The North Atlantic Treaty with Accession Protocols– Articles 4, 5, and 6 are especially important when we start talking about concerns by Eastern European members about Russia and the situation with ISIS along the Turkey-Syria border.

NATO in an Era of Global Competition– If I were to pick a few ideas that stuck out to me: 1) impact of fiscal austerity, 2) how to build public support for NATO, and 3) the opportunities for the U.S. and Europe to collaborate on more than just security/defense.

NATO at a Crossroads– Short set of recommendations, but a lot to think about.  In particular, the recommendation on the need for more public diplomacy from NATO, especially for younger generations, resonated with me.  To my knowledge, NATO does not have anything on its website geared to educators in Member States that would help with that.

Wales Summit Declaration– Good to get a sense of what leaders see as important for NATO and what they foresee in its future. Addresses most of the topics for the Marshall Seminar.

Munich Security Report: The section on “Challenges” (e.g. hybrid warfare, war on terror, refugees, etc.) is especially useful.  I also appreciated the fourth section, “More Food for Thought,” which gave recommendations for further reading.

New Face of Warfare and How to Deal with Russia and the Islamic State
Counter-Unconventional Warfare is the Way of the Future. How Can We get There?– The definition of hybrid warfare was useful, as was the discussion differentiating counter-unconventional warfare from counter terrorism and counter insurgency.

Deterring Hybrid Warfare: A Chance for NATO and the EU to Work Together?– Argues that NATO and the EU working together creates more flexibility when it comes to deterring adversaries.  Mentions the work the EU has done in the realm of Security Sector Reform.

Energy as a Part of Hybrid Warfare– Discusses three actions Russia has taken using energy as part of its hybrid warfare in Ukraine. Great point at the end about Russia acting alone as a single state as opposed to the West, which has to coordinate actions, thereby giving Russia an advantage.

Russia’s Hybrid Warfare: A Success in Propaganda– Interesting discussion of the evolution of Russia’s use of traditional and social media in framing the narrative and how Western media has played a role in its current success.

Preparing Finland for Hybrid Warfare: Social Vulnerabilities and the Threat of Military Force– Argues that “societal preparedness” must be part of a response to hybrid warfare and gives five recommendations.

Nothing New in Hybrid Warfare: The Estonian Experience and Recommendations for NATO– Fascinating section on Estonia’s experience with Russia’s historical use of hybrid warfare. Great point that “It is the combination and orchestration of different actions that achieves a surprise effect and creates ambiguity, making an adequate reaction difficult, especially for multinational organizations that operate on the principle of consensus.”

Nonviolent Civilian Defense to Counter Russian Hybrid Warfare– Argues that nonviolent actions taken by civilians can be more effective and less costly than military measures.  Uses historical examples of Denmark in the Second World War and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The Future of Conflict– Brussels Forum panel including Gen. Philp Breedlove, Michele Flournoy, Yang Jiemian, and Marwan Lahoud.  Gen. Breedlove’s discussion of hybrid warfare, his use of the “DIME” model (diplomatic, informational, military, and economics), and his idea of an “all of government approach” was especially useful.  Best quote about information warfare came from him- “the way to attack the false narrative is to drag the false narrative out into the light and expose it.”

The Threshold for Collective Defense- Article 5 and Emerging Threats
Collective Defence– Basic information from NATO. Includes a section on collective defense in regards to Ukraine.

How to Avoid Wars: NATO’s Article 5 and Strategic Reassurance– Recommends that NATO “react strongly to Russia’s aggression.”  Also urges NATO to be more reactive, rather than proactive, when it comes to “new risks.”

Article 5 Revisited: Is NATO Up to It?– The discussion on Article 4 of the NATO Treaty is thought-provoking, as is the question posed at the end of the paper- “If not now, when?”

How NATO’s Article 5 Could Work in the Case of Turkey– Important to think about in terms of the threat to Turkey posed by ISIS.

I will try to post my thoughts on the next two Seminar topics soon.  If you have any other recommendations or thoughts, please let me know.

Thanks for reading.