By Johnell Woody
NATO headquarters is a little foreboding. Between the fences, razor wire, armored vehicles, and locked doors, it is pretty clear not just everyone gains entrance. Add strict instructions to go only where told to go, and stay where put add to the aura. Security is tight, the bus is not too close to entry and getting a good picture of the sculpture is all but impossible.
After checking in through security, we were greeted at the building entry and escorted to a conference room that seemed to have stood still in time. Shortly after settling in our seats we found an official looking agenda greeting students from the M.A. in Integrated Global Communication at Kennesaw State University. Soon Ms. Allison Hart, an attractive young, blond woman, entered and began with an overview of the function, history, and objectives of NATO.
Having a bit of an edge in age over the rest of the Cohort, I do vaguely remember the early growing pains of NATO, although I was not yet overly interested in politics at such a tender age. Now a twenty-eight nation organization, NATO has been and is charged with the mutual defense of its member nations. There are eighteen EU members, together with seven other European nations, the UK, Iceland, and the USA as current members. There is a process for nations to request consideration for membership. There are two branches of NATO, the diplomatic, where we were visiting, and the military which is headquartered in Mons, Belgium.
Amending the agenda, Mr. Tony White, Press Officer, Press and Media Section, Public Diplomacy Division spoke of the proactive approach to media, and the challenges of accurately expressing the views of a twenty-eight member body. With a press team of six officers, media is monitored and analyzed, press events are arranged, and summits covered. Again the importance of each and every word being completely accurate across languages was emphasized.
The highlight of the NATO visit was having the Secretary General’s spokesperson take a few minutes between high level meetings to speak with us. Ms. Oana Lungescu was – is and impressive woman. A charming smile and matter of fact attitude were a glimpse of the diplomat, and the lady, who could just as easily dismember a fool as not. As the first journalist to hold this position, she has the respect of her colleagues. When asked if her gender had been an obstacle or a benefit, she simply stated that gender and background did not matter, it is professionalism that does.
NATO, the EU, public relations, diplomacy, advertising, and media hubs in Europe have in common language and cultural challenges each and every day. Being a player on the international stages requires more than English. It is not gender or culture that matter, it is the ability to engage in dialogue in another player’s language that does.