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Trans-Atlantic Leadership Center Seeks to Meld Democratic Values

September 1999
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Geopolitical crises become opportunities when future leaders plot new military and diplomatic courses for the next century.

A U.S.-German security education institution is seizing on discussion animated by international differences to build closer ties among North American, European and Central Asian nations. Military and government participants are encouraged to explore new ideas and approaches, rather than follow the lead of existing institutions and methodologies.

This “no wrong answer” approach is designed to lay the groundwork for a cooperative security zone that would extend from the United States and Canada in the West to Russia and Kazakhstan in the East. All nations encompassed by this region would participate in security measures cemented by common values and principles. These core precepts would be defined through trial and error, rather than through a top-down policy commandment from one powerful nation or alliance.

Instead of setting back European security goals, for example, the recent Kosovo operation may ultimately lead to greater communication and consensus among Western, Central and Eastern European nations. High-ranking officials recognize that a greater degree of consensus, including agreement on limitations, will be necessary to deal with future security crises.

Opening new vistas to future leaders in the North American, European and Asian continents is the mission of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Located in Garmisch, Germany, the center was established more than six years ago to educate officials of former Soviet republics in democratic defense management.

The center operates five programs: defense and security studies; research; preparation of foreign area officers for key assignments; foreign language training; and an ongoing schedule of conferences on security-related topics. Its most recent executive class featured 81 participants from 30 nations belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Partnership for Peace (PfP) as well as nonaffiliated nations. This class featured a 5-to-4 military-civilian ratio, with most of the military officers serving at colonel or lieutenant colonel levels. Amid this diversity, the center’s focal point is illustrated in its three official languages: German and English, the sponsoring nations’ languages, and Russian.

Dr. Robert Kennedy, director of the Marshall center, describes its task as “attempting to grow a new community of nations from the Atlantic into Central Asia.” Kennedy, who came to the Marshall center from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was a professor, explains that this new community would be built around shared values and common approaches to the difficult issues likely to be confronted in coming years.

The center addresses many issues that confront NATO as the alliance reshapes itself into a post-Cold-War security organization. These include dealing with peacekeeping; the roles of nations in peacemaking; and new challenges such as terrorism, crime, corruption, drugs and weapons of mass destruction.

Most challenging is the need for all participating countries—Western European as well as Eastern European and Central Asian—to grasp what democracy is, Kennedy states. “We in the West think we know what democracy is, but we really tend to relate it to a series of institutions, without really grabbing the essence of democracy.

“We own the idea of democracy because we are a product of the enlightenment,” he declares. “We do not understand it very well, and we cannot articulate it very well when someone from a Third World nation says, ‘It doesn’t seem like a very efficient system. Why should we adopt it? It seems to undermine our culture and our communal values and traditions.’”

Kennedy explains that a second challenge lies in dealing with transition economics. He emphasizes that this issue is fundamentally focused on Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Russia’s recent economic experience is analyzed for cause and effect, for example. Economics may not seem to be a security issue, but Kennedy points out that growing a functioning mixed-market economy in an emerging democracy goes a long way toward establishing regional stability. The center is attempting to bring in global experts, possibly including Nobel Prize winners, to help understand this issue better.

While Kennedy highlights these two challenges, he also notes that incorporating new information technologies also poses a formidable task. One of his biggest challenges is to overcome resistance to change and move the center “out in front” in the use of modern information technologies. This includes distance learning, distributed learning, visual communication technologies, multinational distributive crisis management and conflict management capabilities. “The things that we should be able to do, in five to seven years, to bring audiences together from the 44 countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council should be enormous. We could bring a high-powered person into the classroom through videoconferencing,” he suggests.

The center’s program does not aim merely at teaching non-NATO nations the ways and means of the alliance, however. Kennedy emphasizes that dialog among center program participants is a two-way street. “We don’t tie ourselves to ideas that may be coming from one or more capitals in NATO, but rather to ideas that may be coming from all of the 30-plus countries that participate here,” he says. “I reject, in principle, that we have to bring these [Eastern] people into the Western mindset. We must expose them to ideas, but we also must be exposed to ideas.”

This interchange of ideas is complemented by one-on-one personal relationships that these foreign policy officials are encouraged to establish with each other. One goal is to help promote these relationships through the time when these officials serve their countries in important positions.

The center is doing more than merely building international bridges, however. Kennedy hopes that these officials adopt new approaches to leadership. The information revolution gripping the world today is restructuring societies along the lines of bottom-up empowerment, rather than top-down control. Many program participants come from countries that used to inhibit independent thinking in favor of an overriding authority, and these newly empowered individuals are “energized” by the creativity that is released through individual initiative. When these types of leaders rise to positions of prominence, they have the potential to transform societies, Kennedy declares.

In recent months, the biggest impact on the center’s programs has come from the Kosovo operation. Of all the center’s work, Kennedy states that discussions of this conflict will have the most long-lasting effect. The conflict lies at the heart of the changing nature of the international environment, and it raises several key issues that must be addressed.

Foremost among these is whether the sanctity of the nation-state is in question. This point raises related issues such as whether limits exist on the behavior of authoritarian leaderships, the obligation of the international community for humanitarian concerns, and the relative weight of priorities and values in the international system. Kennedy notes that the United Nations charter describes the nation-state as a sacrosanct piece of the international systemic superstructure, yet the international system has documented other values such as human rights. “These are substantial issues that tomorrow’s leaders must address,” he declares.

Kennedy warrants that the center must maintain its credibility among participants who remain skeptical of NATO policies even after completing the program. It addresses the credibility issue by being “an intellectually open institution,” he says. “We are not here to advocate American foreign policy. We are not here to advocate German foreign policy. We are here to examine the tough issues that nations will confront in years ahead, together. Hopefully, some bright person from one of these countries may have a better answer in two or three years and help the rest of the community.”

Addressing the Kosovo operation, Kennedy allows that the majority of course participants probably would offer that NATO “did not orchestrate this well together.” A prevailing opinion is that alliance members could have worked the crisis better and engaged in more diplomacy earlier. Course members are committing to this track for the future, and Kennedy describes this as a step toward the center’s goal of identifying shared values and common interests.

The issue of how nation-states treat their citizens is a key question begging resolution. Center participants are discussing whether a government has an unlimited right to treat its citizens however it chooses, including ethnic cleansing and genocide. Where NATO thought it had made a determination on these issues, the actual resolution is not as clear-cut, Kennedy states.

The Kosovo operation will have a long-term effect on the NATO alliance and its relationship with potential new partners, Russia and Central Asia, Kennedy predicts. However, he declares that Kosovo is more of an opportunity than a pitfall. The opportunity comes from learning how to better understand problems associated with this type of activity. Kosovo also serves to illustrate how difficult issues can be in the 21st century, and it reinforces the requirement for nations to work more closely together at the onset of a crisis.

“Kosovo may, in fact, actually turn out in the longer term to be something that may help, even in our relations with some of the countries that have been our adversaries in the past,” Kennedy suggests. “[This is] because we finally have realized that we are all in the same boat together, and we had better start talking together. If it had gone easier, we might have forgotten that we need to talk.”

Since the center’s founding, changes are already apparent among the types of participants, Kennedy observes. More recent groups increasingly have been younger, better read and more fluent in English. Even higher-ranking military officers such as colonels tend to be younger than their predecessors who attended the center immediately after the Cold War ended. He credits this with changes that already have taken place in their societies.

The current makeup of participants is heavily weighted toward non-NATO nations. Of the 30 countries represented in this year’s first class, 22 are PfP nations, five are NATO nations, and three fall outside both categories. Kennedy wants more participation from NATO nations, for both sharing diverse ideas and establishing relationships. This is a question of space, and Kennedy hopes to oversee a doubling of the center’s capacity over the next two years.

“We need to keep all of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council engaged. We need to keep working, not just with our near neighbors, but with our far neighbors,” he states. “We must work as hard with our new members in the NATO community as we do with the aspiring members of the Western community, the Russians and the Central Asians. They are all part of the historic picture of this region, and stability in Europe will be dependent on those countries being a part of the community.”

He emphasizes the importance of Central Asia to future European security. “I think Central Asian countries can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. My sensing is—despite some historic trends that may still continue in some of these countries—they want to be part of the solution. They are looking to the West, looking to interact with Western and Central Europe. We should very much encourage that because they are in a state of transition.”