Sai Wong, Ed Passyar, Claudia Arrieta and Aleksandra Panić

International Studies, Political Science, Students

Political Science and International Studies Students Represent SFU at Model Nato Youth Summit

February 26, 2015

Early in December, four SFU undergraduate students attended the Model NATO Youth Summit (MoNYS) in Podgorica, Montenegro. During a week-long conference simulating the diplomatic and decision-making processes of the NATO defense and security alliance, students Claudia Arrieta (International Studies), Aleksandra Panić (Political Science), Ed Passyar (Political Science), and Sai Wong (International Studies) were assigned to represent the United States and honed their skills at diplomacy, negotiation, leadership while broadening their understanding of the process of building international security. 

Wong, Arrieta and Panić with US Consul General Platt

The students performed well at the summit and even took home a few awards: Panić with the Best Delegate Award and Arrieta with Second Best Delegate and Second Best Position Paper. The path that prepared the students for MoNYS actually began over a year ago, in February 2014, with a directed studies course all four students were taking with Political Science professor Alexander Moens.  As the only delegation that prepared and attended as a group, they spent time readying themselves for the simulations, debates and diplomatic engagements required during activities at the summit. They studied the North Atlantic Treaty, its various articles, and both its historical and current applications; they researched and analyzed the fictional “Alkadas Crisis” in preparation for simulations, and they interviewed Vancouver’s US Consul General Lynne Platt, a diplomat who previously served as an Embassy Spokesperson at the US Mission to NATO.  In addition to writing position papers, participating in simulations at the summit, and drafting communiqués, the students also met with some high profile academics, diplomats, and security experts such as Romania’s Silviu Rogobete, former Belgian military personnel Serge Strobants and Kurt Engelen, and Ted Whiteside, the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy.

Sai Wong says it was “eye-opening” to see how an organization like NATO responds to a crisis by building consensus. “As the representative for the US in the scenario I had to work with other major nations like France and the United Kingdom to produce a skeletal plan of response. Because our countries are considered the ‘most capable countries’—or the ones who can respond to a crisis most quickly in terms of hardware available, people we can send—we also had to balance out and ensure that every member of NATO can contribute. We have to ensure everyone’s contributions are recorded and acknowledged.”  

The students report that the week’s activities were rigorous.  They began their days at 6am and some sessions lasted until midnight, while research and preparation was undertaken in between.  Panić says the energy of participants in the simulation negotiations was contagious, and sometimes “if you have to wake up at 3am to research the case and prove your point and get people to a common point of view, then you’ll do it. I woke up every day with a sense of purpose that I had never had before.” Arrieta says although the activities are simulated, the pressure of the fictional crisis situation is very real. As a member of the Political Partnerships Committee, her role was to facilitate and respond to information Wong needed as he was representing the team on the floor, helping him to make decisions in the moment. She says the “success of that kind of simulation is that even though we all know it’s not real, when you’re there in the moment it feels real.  Everyone is so concentrated and focused. If you’re interested in going into this kind of job in the future it prepares you for what you might be doing. It gives you a taste of high-pressure and high-cost situations.”

The simulations also required the students to practice their negotiation skills. Arrieta, Passyar and Panić report that they were surprised by what they learned both about themselves and the complexities of negotiation. Passyar says although he thought he was a good negotiator, he learned new strategies and broadened his understanding of successful negotiation. “I learned that having an optimal outcome is important because optimality doesn’t necessarily mean winning at all times; it can be about finding compromise, finding middle ground.”  Panić says although negotiation is not something she finds difficult, it was challenging representing the US in negotiating because “you had to make sure you weren’t perceived as a bully, but a collaborator, and at times people can have a natural sense of prejudice about that kind of thing.” Arrieta protests that although she was a “terrible negotiator” before attending the summit, she returned with a sense of success: “the summit gave me the opportunity to really polish those negotiation skills, and I came back not being scared of being assertive about what I want, but being able to ask for what I wanted—diplomatically, of course—knowing my limits beforehand.”

Aleksandra Panić, Claudia Arrieta, Alexander Moens, Sai Wong, Ed Passyar

The students also reported that their understanding of international diplomacy was broadened, both in theory and in practice. Wong recounts interviewing US Consul Lynne Platt in Vancouver while preparing for the summit and says that in recounting her experiences of diplomacy, “she reminded us that diplomats are not robots. They are regular people with lives.  Like colleagues from work, they are very down to earth.” He says Platt spoke directly about her experiences interacting with diplomats at NATO and “she reminded us that in certain settings, informal settings, always try to take the lead in trying to make a network of other diplomats so that later on in a formal setting you have some kind of connection or bridge to foster understanding.”  Panić adds that practicing diplomacy is often “about a mood between two people. You may know each other in a professional setting but creating that friendship where that person doesn’t mistake your words for something else. They know you and you are able to create more cooperation between the two of you.”  This nuance in diplomacy is something all four students said they felt they had really been able to put into practice at the summit and Arrieta points out that this ability to study and practice diplomatic decorum at the summit gave their team the ability to “deliver knowledge in an etiquette that is truly global.”

Alex Moens reports that he and the team built “very good relationships with the organizational staff of MoNYS” and he is currently negotiating with a diplomat in West Africa to hold the 2016 MoNYS summit here in Vancouver.  As all four students get closer to graduation, they are each moving in diverse but exceptional directions: Panić  is hoping to attain an internship or position in diplomatic relations with NATO or perhaps the US Consulate; Wong would like to work in the national security and information sector; Passyar is pursuing a career in client relations with TD Bank; and Arrietta plans to attend law school.


Learn more about out MoNYS from Alexander Moens: