Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Crisis simulations: No easy answers at NATO exercise

How should NATO respond if a vessel carrying weapons and sea mines were hijacked in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait?

If a cyber attack triggered the collapse of Europe's financial system and set off street protests, what should NATO do?

Two fellow SAIS Bologna students and I tackled those and other questions during a recent two-day crisis management simulation organized by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). We were joined by 31 students from seven other universities at the event in Forli' near Bologna.

Panagiotis, Ally and David with NATO's representatives
Organized by the University of Bologna in collaboration with NATO's Allied Command Transformation, the exercise exposed students to the challenges of decision-making within the 28-nation military alliance.

Ally Carragher, David Vaino and I were among students representing nations within the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision-making body. Other participants covered the deliberations as representatives of the media.

Two NATO representatives helped lead the crisis simulations, which took us away from our studies for finals but gave us a glimpse into the challenge of reaching a consensus in the face of complex security threats. All of this while addressing the concerns of the press and, by extension, public opinion.

Ally, David and I represented, respectively, Denmark, Spain and Iceland. With no army and only limited financial resources, I faced the challenge of persuading the other member states to intervene in a crisis in Somalia -- at their cost, not mine.

What did we decide to do in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait exercise? We dispatched a NATO Response Force unit to seize the ship. To calm financial markets after the cyber attack, we evoked Article 5 of the NATO charter, declaring the attack an act of war. Both moves were successful.

The exercise taught me two lessons. First, NATO -- which was formed at the start of the Cold War -- remains relevant today as it faces new security threats in an increasingly interdependent world.

Second, there are no easy answers to new security threats such as cyber attacks -- threats we will have to deal with as future professionals.

Panagiotis Olympiou (BC13/DC14)

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