A delegation of student fellows from LISD’s PORDIR and GDSC seminars traveled with Dr. Wolfgang Danspeckgruber to Washington, DC on May 16, as long-standing structures of transatlantic security architecture began to change. Finland and Sweden declared their respective intentions to join NATO, providing fitting context for a day of informal meetings with senior European diplomats. The trip was also the first seminar travel with LISD students since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, capping off an academic year of remarkable work in trying to understand a selection of critical global political and security developments: from geo-strategic challenges in regions like the Arctic, Afghanistan and its neighborhood, the wider Middle East, and North East Asia; to the public health and socio-economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic; and the security challenges of environmental degradation. The war against Ukraine took center stage during the visit and in the spring term, and has been analyzed in all its perspectives, including its religious and cultural elements, intergenerational perspectives, as well as the role of information and emerging technologies.
The opportunity to gain a better understanding of global challenges from different perspectives was particularly informative for fellows with predominantly US-centric frames of reference. One student fellow noted that they were “struck by the struggle of smaller states in international relations. For example, Moldova and Armenia have a fraction of the population of my [midwestern] home state, yet are navigating their countries' futures while caught between global powers.” The diplomatic approaches of small-state diplomacy were frequently cited as a major point of interest for the day, as well as the opportunity to gain a “better understanding of how diplomacy works in the real world - including in security protocols and relationship development” in the words of another fellow.
The meetings in Washington addressed a wide variety of current affairs issues: at the British Embassy, its Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Ambassador Michael Tatham briefed on UK perspectives; Carla Thomas, Head of Middle East and Africa desk spoke on UK policy in Middle East North Africa; while Catherine McCann, Head of Europe, Eurasia and the Americas discussed perspectives on Russia, Ukraine, and NATO. At the Embassy of the Principality of Liechtenstein, Ambassador, Georg Sparber, arranged for a series of private conversations including with Ambassador Bergdis Ellertsdottir of Iceland; Ambassador Carolina Perebinos, DCM of Moldova; and Ambassador Lilit Makunts of Armenia. Each diplomat graciously fielded questions related to student research, and offered many candid assessments of the context of their respective state’s policies and some of its challenges: from Iceland’s strategic location, vulnerability to climate change, and its history of traditional women-led politics; to the outsize impact of regional conflict in Transnistria for Moldova, and the Nagorno-Karabakh war for Armenia. Earlier in the day during a luncheon in Georgetown, the student fellows also had an opportunity to engage in spirited conversation with Carisa Nietsche and Martijn Rasser from the Center for New American Security in order to explore the policy and professional perspectives of a prominent American think tank, and specifically explore the security challenges of new technology and industrial policy.
Some reflections on the day’s discussions also kept open the doors of future debate and conversation, namely that “the perception that a US pivot to Asia was an abandonment of Europe seems to miss the fact that the US thought its European allies could stand on their own, and wanted to focus its attention and resources on a region and set of threats that would define the 21st century - including for Europe.” The experience of in-person intergenerational and international exchange has a unique and irreplaceable quality: “I feel more connected and committed to my colleagues and friends – and the work we do – after this event. I see more opportunities for researching international issues and contributing to foreign policy solutions through LISD”, another student noted.
Each fellow is currently in the process of conducting original research on an ongoing political issue. The discussions in Washington allowed for open and frank exchange of ideas on research topics, as well as provided insight into the everyday work of policymakers and diplomats. As one fellow noted, each meeting “reflected the fluidity and uncertainty of the present moment.” Whatever the issues – the future of American industrial or technological policy, municipalities and regions as global actors, or the outsize influence of common-sense problem-solving for small states caught between global powers – it is clear that solutions can only be found in creative and interdisciplinary thought and action.