By: Casey Cannon

“BEF is a week-long international conference providing students and young professionals with a complex overview of the international decision-making process, while at the same time offering an immersive learning experience to our participants. By simulating the roles of world leaders, journalists and advocates, students benefit from a unique opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the intricate workings of the Council of the European Union, NATO and the G-20. We put our participants face to face with decision-makers and experts in Brussels and give them the floor to ask their questions.”

The Brussels European Forum was a week-long event hosted by the Munich European forum with NATO sponsorship. The event required attendees to prepare to play the role of a state representative for either the G-20, NATO North Atlantic Council, or EU Foreign Affairs Council. Each group was responsible for following strict procedure and passing an agenda with points related to organization objectives.

As the Defense Minister for Turkey, Hulusi Akar, I was tasked with filling out a form with specific information from the CIA Factbook about Turkey and then to answer questions relating to Turkey’s position concerning conflict in the Black Sea, strategic objectives in the Mediterranean, commitment to collective defense and deterrence, the Arctic Circle, and NATO’s fight against terrorism. This research was essential because it forced me to consider these issues with a supposed personal and professional stake in mind. Through evaluating the listed challenges as a stakeholder, I gained a much more nuanced understanding of the issues surrounding them and gained a deeper awareness of Turkey’s state view.

Throughout the week, the NAC debated and found consensus on our resolutions. However, my greatest successes in the simulation came from supplementing work within the NAC room with negotiations with leaders outside of it. This included arranging a face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin to discuss mid-range nuclear agreements and counseling my president- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on missile defense deals- and extending an olive branch to China’s president – Xi Jinping – which eventually culminated in a mid-range non-proliferation agreement signed between the U.S., Russia, and China. What I took away from that experience was that Turkey holds a unique geopolitical brokering position considering its NATO membership, position between Europe and the Middle East, and relatively positive relations with states that the West has challenging dealings with, such as Russia. Considering that the NAC requires consensus to pass resolutions, I felt that I was in a unique position to direct dialogue to my benefit even when the other members disagreed. Beyond Turkey’s role, the NAC simulation offered a great exercise in mediation and negotiation and I will take these lessons back to my academic and professional life.

The other unique aspect of the BEF was the visit to NATO. Getting to visit NATO’s brand-new headquarters was a remarkable experience, particularly as a result of our presentation from Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Lieutenant General Steven Shepro. The General gave us a brief presentation and then answered questions from every willing participant in the room. Seeing the General’s generosity of his time and expertise at addressing the wide-reaching topics he was approached with gave me great respect for him and a much better understanding of NATO’s role and stance on a multitude of issues. Following the NATO tour, we had the opportunity to visit the EU museum and several other locations of interest around Brussels.

The week was extremely well coordinated and even included some surprise events for participants to tackle. I also think the event is well-suited for IMSISS students, as it requires them to concern themselves with real and current foreign policy issues on a deeper level. I both enjoyed and took away a lot from the experience.