SFU students to attend Model NATO summit

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WEB-NATO-mark burnham

Six students discuss international policy in Brussels

By Leah Bjornson
Photos by Mark Burnham

Six SFU students will make their mark on the global stage this summer at the second edition of Model NATO Youth Summit, which will be hosted in Brussels.

The delegation will be made up of six students: Max Budra, Gurpal Sandhu, Chantal Esperanza, Anneke de Geus, and Basak Kalkavan, as well as their ambassador, Michael Thorburn, who represents the state in the North Atlantic Council.

But what is model NATO? Most of us are familiar with Model UN, whether we experienced it in high school or simply heard about the UN in school or on the news.

NATO, on the other hand, is somewhat less well-known. Historically, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a system of collective defense which was created in the aftermath of WWII and during the start of the Cold War.

NATO’s original goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” After the fall of the USSR, NATO extended its activities into political and humanitarian situations with a focus on regional cooperation between NATO and its neighbours. “NATO has image problems,” commented Max Budra, one of the SFU students set to go to Brussels. “So I think [the Summit] is important, because its not just limited to official NATO members. It provides the outside with a look in, and shows that NATO not just about US imperialism.”

The Model NATO Youth Summit is the largest international simulation of NATO’s decision-making process in the world. Similar to Model UN, students involved in the Model NATO will represent one of 28 member states and debate on current social and political international issues, such nuclear nonproliferation and the conflict in Syria. No matter what stance they take during the summit, the delegations’ decisions must be based on the interests of the country they represent.

Although their first choice was to speak on the behalf of Canada, the SFU team will be representing our neighbour to the south in Brussels this summer. Despite his concerns that NATO is seen by some as an extension of US power, Budra is excited to represent one of the largest powers in the organization. But with great power comes great responsibility, and the team’s preparations reflect this.

“There’s going to be a lot of brushing up on US foreign policy and the intricacies of NATO,” Budra laughed. “It was our second choice, but I’m happy to represent the US. It’s like being king for a day.”

When asked if playing this prominent role at the Summit worried him at all, Budra responded, “Sure, there’s maybe a bit of pressure, because you’re kind of leading [the Summit], and America is not always the most popular country, but its nice to have a bit of power and be able to put forth proposals on your own terms.”

This group of students is the first from SFU to ever attend the Summit, and only the second group of Canadians. However, acceptance is only the first step on the road to Brussels. The trip to the Youth Summit will cost delegates roughly $400 for their participation fee, excluding all travel expenses. Already, the sixth member of the team has dropped out for financial reasons.

Despite the huge effort required to get to the Summit, the experience is likely to be one these SFU students never forget, and may even be a springboard for the delegates to future careers in international relations.

“I like to think Barack Obama will be paying attention to what I do,” chuckled Budra. “But who knows.”