Report from Riga: Young Diplomacy Professionals Forum 2013

From September 6th-7th, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Young Diplomacy Professionals Forum (YDPF) in Riga, Latvia. Organized by the Latvian Atlantic Treaty Association, 60 participants from more than 30 countries under the age of 35 came together to discuss some of the most pressing economic and security challenges facing the Transatlantic Community. The YDPF was held alongside the eighth annual Riga Conference, Northern Europe’s premiere security conference.

From left to right: James Mackey (Head of Euro-Atlantic Integration and Partnership, NATO HQ), Batu Kutelia (Deputy Secretary of National Security Council, Georgia), Damon Wilson (Executive VP of the NATO Council), Thomas Melia (Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Dept. of State), Janis Sarts (State Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Latvia)

In the Hanseatic League-era Great Guild Hall, YDPF participants gathered on Friday for two panel discussions. The first, covering the challenges and outlook of NATO partnerships, brought together a number of speakers, including Batu Kutelia (Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council, Georgia) and US NATO Council Vice President Damon Wilson. The discussion led to a consensus that NATO partnerships are essential for the Alliance’s future. Indeed, with 69 member-states and partners, NATO is evolving into a global military hub; a forum to exchange military expertise. Kutelia in particular was able to offer unique input from a partner country’s decision-making perspective, having held his position during the 2008 August War between Russia and Georgia.

The second panel tackled the issue of integrating a gendered perspective into the international agenda. The panel included speakers from an array of backgrounds, including the NATO’s Advisor for Women, Peace and Security Irene Fellin and USAID Europe and Eurasia Bureau Administrator, Paige Alexander. Professor Archana Upadhyay of Jawaharlal Nehru University (India), drawing upon work done in India, stressed the need for strengthening gender equality within the family unit itself, as she argued that this was the basis for incorporating this perspective into the policy-making level. On the whole, viewpoints converged, agreeing that the gendered perspective is too often overlooked and must be rectified.

Saturday focused on hands-on activities as we were split into two groups for policy workshop sessions. Group A tackled the quintessential EU issues of cooperation with Eastern Partnerships and re-establishing EU global positions. The NATO-focused Group B examined the shifts in global power distribution, and how the transatlantic community should cope accordingly. We identified key emerging powers with which NATO must engage. Unsurprisingly, these turned out to be the usual suspects – China, India, and Brazil. The group then turned to Afghanistan post-2014, and determined which regional stakeholders will be essential in maintaining the country’s brittle stability.

YDPF participants also watched livestreams from the Riga Conference. At the conference’s final panel discussion, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski traded barbs over the EU’s future strategic outlook, and the potential for European military involvement in Syria.

YDPF participants with Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks.

On Saturday night, at the Sun Stone building overlooking the Daugava River, participants from both the YDPF and Riga Conference mingled at a gala hosted by the Latvian Ministry of Defence. We were fortunate enough to meet with Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks, Batu Kutelia, Hans Kundnani, and many others. I was able to engage with not only the higher echelons of the transatlantic security community, but also with dozens of other young, aspiring professionals. The tremendous experiences and connections I forged in Riga were only possible due to the generosity of the Latvian Transatlantic Association, and the NATO Council of Canada.

Daniel Bodirsky

About Daniel Bodirsky

Daniel is an Asia-Pacific Research Analyst with the NATO Association of Canada. He is currently an MSc candidate in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. Daniel was previously based in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he wrote freelance for a number of online publications and tutors English. Daniel’s research interests concern security in the Asia-Pacific, specifically the rise of China-balancing coalitions in Southeast Asia and Canadian interests in the region. He is a former Program Editor at the NAOC. Daniel received his BAH from Queen’s University, where he majored in Political Studies with a Minor in World Languages (German, French, Japanese). Contact: danielbodirsky@gmail.com Twitter: @danbodirsky