How does your internship sponsor or agency contribute to the mission of national security?
I’ve found that NATO, active since its 1949 founding, is often taken for granted. While the United States provides much of the military heft behind the alliance, the United States is simultaneously made safer by being embedded within a cooperative framework. For starters, NATO offers collective defense far greater than that the United States could muster independently. In fact, the only time Article 5 has been invoked in NATO history was in defense of the United States following 9/11. Moreover, having outside input and collaboration helps refine U.S. policy choices without infringing upon sovereignty. In sum, the benefits NATO offers to national security far outweigh the oft-invoked financial costs.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from this experience?
The decision-making process of NATO was something totally foreign to me upon arrival but is something am beginning to wrap my head around. NATO is a consensus-based organization. That means there are no votes on decisions and no tyranny of the majority. Instead, the 29 allies negotiate, discuss, and compromise until they have reached a policy solution amenable to each and every one. Thus, something is decided not by an affirmative decision but rather a lack of dissent. Consequently, NATO diplomats are forced to creatively and tactfully advance their country’s position. Understanding this intricate yet successful formula for cooperation has been fascinating for me to witness. Being exposed to diplomacy in action has broadened my conception of what multilateral achievements take and how headline policy gets implemented at a working level.
What are two interesting things about Brussels that the average person doesn't know?
Belgium, and Brussels specifically, has a rich tradition of street art. Aside from frequent appearances of Belgian comic classics like Tintin and the Smurfs, the city is littered with different murals and street art. A particular favorite of mine are the shopfronts. Most Belgian shops pull down metal shutters to protect the premises at the end of the day. In a cool twist, these shutters are decorated with street art, often with a theme. For example, in my neighborhood, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, many of the shutters depict famous artists from around the world, including Edith Piaf and Nina Simone.
Another under-the-radar hallmark of Brussels is “Plux.” In the co-op I’m living in, I heard my European roommates constantly talk about Plux. Confused and convinced my French was rustier than I remembered, I asked about this mysterious term. Plux turned out to be shorthand for Place de Luxembourg, the main square outside of the European Parliament building. On Thursdays, the city fences off the square from traffic and interns and young professionals from across the spectrum of European institutions descend for drinks and networking. While overwhelming at first, the multinational, friendly, and professional atmosphere quickly reminded me of the Washington, D.C. scene.