Not Your Parents/Grandparents NATO

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By Roberta Jackson

The final destination…

Our study tour concluded with a trip to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters. The visit was extremely organized with every minute planned out, including the coffee and bathroom breaks. After the shakedown from security, we were given specific instructions to walk 400 feet down the sidewalk, make a right at the end of the fence, through the second door, where were met by a representative, who ushered us directly to the Martino conference room. We met with three different NATO personnel over the course of 2 ½ hours that presented very well rehearsed canned responses, at least until the question and answer portion of the program.

The breakdown…

Our first speaker, Allison Hart’s official title, is the Information Officer for the U. S. and Canada, Engagements Section of the Public Diplomacy Division. She was responsible for everything linked to public diplomacy. In layman’s terms, she did everything a press officer does except she only talks to groups, for groups and never the press. Ms. Hart gave us the history of NATO, which I was already aware; however my take-away from her part of the presentation was that NATO consider themselves a political military organization. People usually consider the military side but not the political, when everything starts with politics. I was also unaware that NATO was a consensus-based organization, every decision made is due to consensus, meaning everyone has to agree even if the agreement is to disagree. I related our visit to NATO to our Communication for Multinational Corporation (MNC) class (COM 7500), last semester. NATO is a MNC of 28 sovereign nations who are all housed in Brussels. All are expatriates of their respective countries.

Tony White, Press Officer, Press and Media Section – Public Diplomacy Division, was next. While Allison provided the bird’s eye view of NATO as a multinational corporation, Tony provided information of the communication-specific job of a NATO press officer. He said the number objective of their department was to protect the alliance. The second and third objectives include building the capabilities (army, navy, air force) and alliance, and building partnerships with other nations (forming new alliances). The office of public diplomacy is the biggest department responsible for speeches, press notes, preparing the secretary general for press conferences, which includes but is not limited to, building the political and media environment, what does the country he/she is visiting provide for NATO, the top three issues facing that visiting country, and how the secretary general can proactively push NATO.

Oana Lungescu, NATO spokesperson, was the highlight of the visit. She arrived late to our meeting because her meeting with the secretary general and ambassador of Japan ran over. This meant, no coffee or bathroom break, but it was well worth it. Oana is basically the right-hand of the secretary general. She is the first woman and former journalist to hold this position. Being a former journalist and BBC-Brussels correspondent, servers her well. She was a very down to earth, straight shooter, who knows how to talk to the press in their language. Ms. Lungescu is very active in social media. She gets the information from the source and is then responsible for debriefing the press offices of each of the 28 nations. The challenge is to get the public and press the right information, to be the first out with the truth, so the information she provides needs to b clear and represent the views of NATO as an organization.

Au revoir Brussels…

I was extremely pleased with the study tour. I believe the trip to Brussels tied everything we learned in class over the course of the last year. We learned about cultural sensitivity, multinational corporations, international public relations, and overall global communication, which is what the program is all about. I will be returning to Brussels is the near future; I may even call it home one day.

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