NATO: Diplomacy, Defence, Development
Is the military a roadblock or bridge to world peace?
© 2016 FrontLine Defence (Vol 13, No 5)

It’s no secret that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), as an organization, is faced with a public relations crisis on Canadian university campuses. Some students come to the misguided conclusion that military equals militarism and that the military as an institution is an affront to (and actually preventing) world peace. These anti-military sentiments have culminated in some student groups calling for a ban of the CAF from university jobs fairs. It might at first seem odd that a solution to this public affairs problem might lie in a model NATO conference, however the Global Model NATO Summit has proven it can play a constructive role. After all, NATO is a politico-military alliance – in the NATO model of diplomacy, the military is a large part of the conversation. 

This summer, in a bid to encourage student discussion around the full spectrum of diplomacy, Simon Fraser University hosted the inaugural edition of the Global Model NATO Summit. Born out of an initiative by a team of SFU students and Political Science Professor Dr. Alexander Moens, the Summit sought to increase civilian / military interaction and showcase the vital role the forces play in Canadian society. With a goal of “engaging policy makers of the future”, the program would prepare and encourage young security scholars to assess the evolving security landscape that lies ahead.

A member of the Royal Canadian Navy briefs students aboard HMCS Regina.
A member of the Royal Canadian Navy briefs students aboard HMCS Regina.

More than 70 students from Western Canada and around the world attended the six-day event built around simulating NATO councils and committees including the North Atlantic Council, the Operations Policy Committee, the Defence Planning and Policy Committee and Military Committee.

Summit organizers realized that there was a critical gap that could filled through a forum for interaction between students and military personnel, diplomats, academics, and defence experts. The goal was to provide students with a realistic opportunity to step into the shoes of diplomats and military officers and experience diplomacy as it is practiced in the halls of NATO HQ in Brussels and at NATO summits. Minimal interaction with these groups and geography has caused a generation of young Western Canadians to be largely unaware of Canada’s national defence and the positive role of the Canadian Armed Forces in society. Access to high-level defence officials and political engagement for undergraduate students at Simon Fraser University interested in defence and security had been almost non-existent prior to the Global Model NATO Summit.

With support from the Department of National Defence, NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, and NATO Defence College’s Research Division, students were exposed to NATO procedures, and gained a new awareness of their own military. They also quickly learned the importance of conducting research on the role and scope of the military before attending committee sessions.

Students simulate NATO’s North Atlantic Council.
Students simulate NATO’s North Atlantic Council.

Rather than leaving students to debate security and defence with little guidance, which often leads to unrealistic results, organizers sought direct guidance on NATO committee procedures as practiced at NATO HQ. A Canadian and two Belgian officers, who had experience representing their countries at NATO, undertook a mentorship role and helped ensure that the simulations were proceeding as realistically as they would at NATO. As the week progressed, students became intimately acquainted with NATO rules of procedure and all three mentors commented that by the end of the conference the debates happening inside the committees closely resembled what they had seen working at NATO. As one of the mentors stated after one of the committee sessions, “for a moment I was taken back to my days at NATO when I heard the US delegate articulating his position, instinctively my head swivelled to the German delegate expecting to hear the typical response they would have given, instead the response I was expecting came from Norway, but still just as it would have in real life.”

A unique feature of the Summit was the educational aspect to help students see the bigger picture around their committee work. The first two days focused on education about the current state of international security, NATO’s contributions, current threats and challenges to global security, and most prominently Canada’s past and current role in these subjects. To achieve this, speakers from across Canada, Japan, Belgium, Italy and Australia joined in. It was remarkable to watch the students flex their analytical ability, and even more astounding to see how the speakers were invested in the student experience. The tenure of the speakers and mentors was of an unparalleled level for an undergraduate student event. As one of the committee mentors stated, “It was quite amazing that Michael Ruhle, the director of a NATO agency, and Colonel Ian Hope were watching the student committees. Not even at my senior staff course in Germany did I have such high level attendees.”

Students tour HMCS Regina stationed at CFB Esquimalt.
Students tour HMCS Regina stationed at CFB Esquimalt.

In its quest for increasing awareness of Canada’s military, the program included a trip to CFB Esquimalt, which served as a real world showcase of Canada’s military installations and allowed students to interact with navy personnel on the ship. Students boarded HMCS Regina and experienced a detailed tour and explanation of various functions of the ship as well as the roles of the crew members. Commander Whiteside also gave a briefing of the 9-month deployment that HMCS Winnipeg recently embarked on, and explained its role in NATO missions. Prior to this trip, the majority of students had never visited a military base, and many remarked that they had no idea there was such a facility in British Columbia. 

The Summit also helped raise awareness of the diverse military and DND postings through presentations from Commodore Marta Mulkins, head of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserves, regarding Women in the RCN. Shane Rooney, from the Department of Defence, presented on becoming a Policy Officer for the DND. 

Overall, the Global Model NATO Summit generated an appreciation for Canada’s military and the role that Canada has played in NATO. Some of the students also became quite intrigued with employment opportunities with the Canadian Armed Forces, Department of National Defence and NATO. The Summit is paving the way for a new partnership-style engagement with public and international governance agencies that will positively impact the future and aspirations of all students who attend. 

As stated by Colonel Ian Hope “For anybody in a decision-making office – whether it be in the government, DND, universities across Canada or any other institution that has the slightest bit of interest in Canadian defence and Canadian relations not just with NATO but multilaterally – this is the kind of event that needs to be supported more often.” 

Speakers discuss NATO functions with students. Left to Right: Colonel Ian Hope (CAF), Dr. Allen Sens (UBC), and Dr. Alexander Moens (SFU).
Speakers discuss NATO functions and processes with students. Left to Right: Colonel Ian Hope (CAF), Dr. Allen Sens (UBC), and Dr. Alexander Moens (SFU).

Looking at the future, the Simon Fraser University team hopes to propose a three-year collaboration to key partners. A NATO-model event like this may be a catalyst for attracting students to the field of defence and security who might otherwise not have been aware of the impactful opportunities that lie in this area of study. The Global Model NATO Summit showed students that academia and the military can and should be intertwined.

Colonel Hope summed it up best: “The reality is, we are entering a dangerous time in world affairs, and it’s not up to the old guard like myself to have an understanding of what might be happening in the world, but for the young, enthusiastic and intellectual of Canada to be allowed the opportunities to learn. It’s the responsibility of the government and institutions of Canada to provide that opportunity as often as they can.”

Cornel Turdeanu and Jazlyn Melnychuk are students at Simon Fraser University and organizers of the Global Model NATO Summit 2016.