Why did you choose this particular country/internship?
Belgium is a miniature Europe as it entails a localized version of the major philosophical questions about Europe. Much similar to the European Union-which it hosts, it was borne out of an accord aiming to minimize future conflict in Europe. Within Belgium, communities with distinctly different ethnicities with different languages are integrated under a higher identity which is essentially the ultimate goal of the European Union project. Even the national motto of Belgium “L´union fait la force-Unity makes Strength” seems as apt for the organizations it hosts, as it is for Belgium. Thus, it is no coincidence that all the major institutions of the EU are located in Brussels.
NATO is another institution headquartered in Belgium. NATO HQ is located in Brussels, while one of the military strategic commands – SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) is situated 60 km to the southwest in the small city of Mons. NATO HQ house the political leadership (including Atlantic Council-Highest decision body in NATO, national delegations and a network of committees) and a sizable Military Committee which acts as the senior military counsel. The Allied Command Operations is the formal name of the strategic command in Mons, but the complex retains its historical name-SHAPE from early cold war. Tradition is also extended to its commander who still retains the title SACEUR-Supreme Allied Commander Europe(Trivia; Victor Commanders of WW2-Eisenhower and Montgomery became the first SACEUR-Deputy SACEUR and stood up the first integrated military command)
Thus, Belgium is at the heart of the two international institutions which have beat the odds and are still going strong after half a century, despite various impediments, transformations and enlargements. They are still able to magnetize states and convince them to join and give up part of sovereignty. Thus, Belgium is very well suited for those that are looking into the future of international institutions and transatlantic partnership.
How will this experience help you in your job search and career?
For anyone in the international security related fields, a good understanding of the international organizations ie; their history, capabilities, troubles, structure, evolution is immensely useful in the efforts to understand today and predict future. The role of international collaboration and international organizations stay as one of the major areas of debate between realists and liberalists. The European project and NATO might face significant challenges in the near future, stemming from rise in nationalism and increasing rule of strongman in the region. Spirit of collaboration that gave birth to these organizations faces difficult challenges as the region experience major issues such as Brexit, disagreements over immigration policies and rise of illiberal democracies within the organizations. Thus, I believe a thorough study of these institutions will be very beneficial to my future studies in international security.
What are two interesting things about Country you visited, that the average person doesn’t know?
Chocolate, waffles, mind-boggling number of microbreweries or the fact that French fries is actually Belgian might be widely known. However, I was surprised to learn that Belgium was the first country to experience industrial revolution in continental Europe thanks to; coal and iron reserves, a favorable geographical position, innovations; effective banking system, good governance, contacts with Britain and in some cases industrial espionage. In 1830-40’s Belgium became one of the biggest steel producer and the foremost glass producer in the world. It opened up the first railway in Europe and had highest density of railways per square kilometer by 1850. Industrial revolution is such an important part of Belgium history that “The Atomium”–Large metal structure that became an important landscape of Brussels, is the depiction of an iron atom.
Another feature of the country is a history of social policies and strong labor organizations. One might see contradiction between the early industrial and capitalist advances and the strong social state of today. The change over time did not come from top-down but rather bottom-up. Belgium during industrial revolution carried all the trades of capitalism such that Karl Marx, who lived in Belgium for three years, called it “the snug, well-hedged, little paradise of the landlord, the capitalist and the priest”. Strong social institutions that were borne at the time (and still exists today) to protect future of workers. These social security organizations called “Mutualités” started from the bottom-up and were organized by the workers themselves. They were eventually incorporated by the state.