As part of Atlantic Forum's NATO Centres of Excellence engagement initative we were able to send five young professionals to Vicenza, Italy to join the NATO COE Director's Conference hosted by NATO SP COE Director Giuseppe De Magistris and supported by NATO Allied Command Transformation. Two young professionals were picked based on merits, ahead of the conference they formulated their thoughts on NATO's COEs as follows:
"As a young professional from the west coast of Canada, the difficulty of engaging youth across the trans-Atlantic alliance is clear. In my involvement in the SFU NATO Field School, I have seen first-hand that students of international affairs often lack a strong understanding of what NATO does or what Canada's role in NATO is. I believe that the NATO CoEs can play a vital role in expanding NATO's outreach to young professionals and students, a key tenet of NATO 2030. The NATO CoEs are crucial in expanding NATO officials' own knowledge of the CoE's specialized expertise, they can take this sharing of knowledge a step further by helping to educate the future leaders of NATO, particularly through partnerships with universities across the Alliance. Integrating the work and knowledge of the NATO CoEs more directly into the coursework of students of international relations, security, and defence would help strengthen student understanding and their support of NATO's relevance into the future." (Hannah Christensen, Canada)
"In order to rethink NATO's Centres of Excellence, it is important to first measure their effectiveness against the objectives set in their mandates and understand the added value they can contribute in the rapidly evolving global order. This means ensuring the NATO ecosystem (both the military and civilian structures) forge the right tools to respond and anticipate the threat landscape. Never has this been more pertinent than in the age of nebulous warfare, capitalising on the hybrid and information spaces to leverage a strategic advantage against the NATO alliance.
As a voluntarily raised, operated and funded initiative by Member States, national needs and interests play a central role in the formation of CoEs, while NATO accredits them. There is a risk that such a model can reflect local ways of thinking instead of global outlook, looking inwards to regional context rather than outwards to NATO's global footprint. So many Centres of Excellence, covering so many different thematic areas, inevitably carry the risks of duplication of expertise, and potential variations in methodology and investment, undermining their collective effectiveness. I propose that a forward-looking COE framework should encourage multinational and multidisciplinary COEs, broadening both the knowledge base and the exchange of information. Interoperability is central pillar of NATO, so it makes sense that COEs compliment each other and also reflect the range of demographics NATO protects. The intersectionality of security has moved us away from traditional model of conflict, towards increasingly recognising the agency and role of young people, women and ethnic communities as agents of security. It is therefore essential to include these voices in the design of peace and security apparatus.
I propose reenvisaging CoEs along holistic lines in a way that retains their individual knowledge, while better enabling the exchange and application of that knowledge by creating thematic "clusters". Connected COEs can combine the expertise and methodology of multiple Member States' sectors (academia, private, public, military) while retaining a degree of competitive autonomy. An example to illustrate this concept would be grouping the COEs for Civil-Military Cooperation, Defence Against Terrorism, Crisis Management and Disaster Response & Stability Policing into a multinational and multidisciplinary "Human Security Hub of Excellence". In the information age, knowledge is the most valuable currency, and ignorance is the cost. Aspiring to lead a credible multilateral security agenda means embracing this to innovate in line with the pace opportunities and challenges of the world around us." (Marc Tilley, United Kingdom)