Date: 4-6 February, 2013


Location: Rome

58th ATA General Assembly

4 – 6 February 2013

Organized by the Italian Atlantic Committee in cooperation with the Atlantic Treaty Association and the NATO Defense College

With the support of the NATO Public Diplomacy Division
Venue: Rome, Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament | NATO Defense College

The 58th ATA General Assembly took place from 4 February to 6 February 2013 at the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament and the NATO Defense College in Rome. Delegates from over thirty national ATA and YATA chapters participated in vibrant debate and discussion on a broad range of security-related issues at their respective conferences, from cyber security topics to missile defense and energy security. For the first time, the Council meeting spurred engaging dialogues on transatlantic security policy, while the subsequent forums gave delegates a deeper insight into these pressing transatlantic security challenges.

The Council meeting was opened in the exquisite Chamber of Deputies by ATA President Dr. Karl Lamers, who expressed his gratitude to the Italian Atlantic Committee for organizing the General Assembly on such short notice. Dr. Lamers detailed his goals for the ATA in the coming year, including a desire to expand partnerships in order to achieve the overarching goals of promoting democracy and civil society in emerging NATO partner states. Secretary-General Mr. Troels Frøling further expanded on these goals, highlighting the importance of YATA as the cornerstone of the ATA’s efforts, and YATA President Kristin Durant presented her vision for an active program in the coming year.

The presentations by the ATA leadership were followed by five reports on specific issues of particular concern to the ATA:

– NATO-EU relations
– Arctic security
– The role of Atlantic Councils in Public Diplomacy
– NATO-Serbia relations 
– Smart defense in the Visegrad region

Gen. Federico Yaniz, Secretary General of the Spanish Atlantic Association, detailed the partnership within NATO-EU relations, particularly within the past decade. Gen. Yaniz discussed the EU’s “unique and essential” role as a partner for NATO, highlighting their engagement in Africa as an example of cooperation in tackling a common security priority.  However, Gen. Yaniz further addressed the challenges to a cohesive relationship between NATO and the EU, such as the varying opinions of their differing memberships and, most importantly, the efforts by some to curb the United States’ influence on the EU by keeping NATO away from EU activities.

Ms. Kate Hansen Bundt, Secretary General of the Norwegian Atlantic Committee delivered a speech in which she discussed the “five R’s” impacting Arctic security: rapid ice melting; routes for sea transportation; resources; Russia; and regional cooperation based on security policy. Ms. Bundt stressed the critical role the Arctic is beginning to play in ensuring energy security, as Norway is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas. At the same time, she warned of increased ice melting leading to the pillaging of the Arctic’s resources and increasing Russian and Chinese interest and investment in the region.

Professor Szilveszter Vizi, President of the Hungarian Atlantic Committee, addressed the Council on the role of Atlantic Councils in communicating today’s security environment.  Professor Vizi spoke extensively on the role of public diplomacy in creating the image of NATO as a secure alliance. He examined public perceptions of security in regards to defense cuts, specifically positing how to make the right budgetary adjustments in times of austerity.

Mr. Vladimir Krulj, Director of the Atlantic Council of Serbia, discussed the challenges to Serbia’s accession to NATO and the steps that the Atlantic Council of Serbia has taken to increase its internal efforts to improve the way Serbs see NATO. On a national level, Mr. Krulj noted increased dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, in addition to Belgrade’s handling of its budgetary problems. He further elaborated on the efforts of the Atlantic Council of Serbia to bring the country more into the NATO fold, including joint events with the Slovak Atlantic Council to compare the two countries’ accession process.

Amb. Rastislav Káčer and Mr. Robert Vass informed the Council of smart defense efforts in the Visegrad region in Eastern Europe. They prefaced their presentation with the fact that on a political level, defense is becoming more difficult to talk about. As such, they stated that a critical means to keep defense strategies current is the work of NGOs, which keep pressure on governments to maintain defense strategies in the face of new threats like cyber crime.

 At the NATO Defense College comprised of Youth Atlantic Forum delegates, from a wide variety of regions, coming together to work out contemporary issues involving youth and NATO activities.

– The New Generation and the Future of the Broader Middle East
– Future NATO Partnerships and how the organization is expanding geographically
– NATO 2020: future structure and activities
– Mediterranean – Middle East relations

The first panel of speakers discussed, “The New Generation and the Future of the Broader Middle East”, with each one focusing on individual geographic areas. The state of affairs in Egypt was discussed including the current status of the Egyptian revolution, the ineffectiveness of EU policy in the region and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Jordanian politics were also a topic of discussion, particularly the upcoming elections and government relations with Bedouin communities in the region. Issues in the Gulf States regarding increased repression and lack of social mobilization were also touched upon. The importance of youth involvement with social media was heavily emphasized by these speakers, and how they will affect the future of Arab economies and political regimes.

The second panel at the Youth Atlantic Forum centered on “Future NATO Partnerships and how the organization is expanding geographically”. There was considerable emphasis on Eastern European countries and the Caucuses region, both aspiring and current member states, and their relationships with Russia and NATO. Russia in particular was seen as preventing NATO expansion into former Soviet space. The speakers also called for strengthening Middle Eastern and Mediterranean partnerships, especially with the recent developments of new leadership. NATO’s relationship with Israel was also discussed and how it is affecting activities with other states in the region. Afghanistan was another major topic of discussion due to the upcoming withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. One major aspiration, on NATO’s part, is the growth of a politically active and educated civil society post-withdrawal.

The Atlantic Treaty Association events at the NATO Defense College, during the second and third days of the General Assembly, centered primarily on a few pressing topics currently facing the trans-Atlantic alliance. NATO’s future structure and activities were discussed at length during the NATO 2020 discussion panel. Due to the emergence of new global powers, the panel emphasized the need for NATO to reorganize as an institution in order to effectively carry out its mission in a world that is constantly evolving. This message was prevalent throughout the panels that followed, focusing on topics such as cooperative security in the Mediterranean and the Middle East as well as modern defense and economic development.

Activities occurring in the Middle East and Mediterranean are of growing importance to NATO, as its membership has evolved to include extensive contact with the region. The role of Turkey as a bridge between the east and west has become a crucial strategic area and was discussed extensively in the context of Europe-Mediterranean relations.  Several non-NATO partners in the Middle East, which are currently collaborating on NATO missions, are still experiencing the regional instability effects of the Arab spring. The panel stressed the importance of maintaining dialogue and cooperation with new leadership in order to help contribute to their national security. Issues were also raised regarding whether or not NATO has a role in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Panel speakers from both sides of the debate agreed that it was time for the two peoples to come to a decision to end the conflict and how NATO could play a role as a mediator in that discussion.

Ideas for the long-term related to defense and economic development were extensively deliberated following the Mediterranean-Middle East panel. In order to effectively manage the direction NATO moves in this area, it was stressed that the organization needs to adapt to the new rules of the game. Weapons technology is constantly changing, requiring more funds for research and development during a period of steep defense budget cuts, particularly in the United States.  Many countries are closely observing these developments and are investing heavily in the growing field of cyber security. The proposed restructuring plan for NATO suggested by the military personnel, academics and industry experts on the panel aims to better adapt the organization to the changing international security environment.

In conclusion, this year’s ATA General Assembly fostered crucial debate and discussion on some of the most pressing topics in international affairs facing NATO today. Both ATA and YATA delegates took away a renewed sense of awareness of these issues which will greatly benefit them in their respective areas of work. Many thanks go to the Comitato Atlantico Italiano for graciously hosting the delegates in Rome this year under such short notice. We would also like to thank the panel speakers for attending the assembly in order to share their insight and expertise during the discussions. We greatly look forward to seeing you all again at the next ATA General Assembly.