For senior Katie Miller, there are too many actors on the international stage to only examine world affairs through an American lens. Through firsthand research in Brussels and case studies of NATO operations, her Honors project examines NATO’s changing role in international security.
The Knox Student: Tell me more about your Honors project.
Katie Miller: I am looking at the role that NATO’s partner countries play: countries that cooperate with NATO on a sort of regular basis or have an official framework for cooperation but aren’t members of the alliance. … What I’m trying to do is look at if it’s going to be worth it to pursue these relationships … because NATO is so much more militarily advanced, more technologically advanced, than anyone it’s going to partner with. Is it really that important for NATO, then, to actually invest as much time and money as they do into partnerships?
TKS: Methodologically, how are you trying to answer that question?
KM: I’m going to look at this through three case studies: Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011, the International Assistance Security Force in Afghanistan, and then kind of simultaneously do Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, and then look within that framework with each operation: here is what partners contributed vs. what allies contributed and then say, here is what a specific partner country contributed … [and] what the consequences both positive and negative of that involvement are.
TKS: What got you interested in researching NATO?
KM: I love international relations, but I like looking at it from a perspective that’s not solely American. Granted, the United States is the predominant force in NATO, but other countries play a role. And in the course of my background building up to what I was going to talk about, trying to find that narrowing of the topic, I realized that … partnerships are what saved NATO from irrelevancy back in 1991 … so this idea that a), those states are going to be necessary if NATO’s going to continue to be able to act when their own states are not agreeing to, and b), those states are going to be vital to procuring the political legitimacy that NATO needs within its own institution in order to build that consensus in order to decide to act.
TKS: You spent part of your winter break in Brussels. What were you doing there?
KM: I was attending a conference co-hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Emerging Security Challenges division of NATO. The title of the conference was “The World in 2020: Can NATO Protect Us?” And they were talking about what are going to be the most important security issues in 2020, and they identified critical infrastructure and cyber-defense as sort of the two key areas in which NATO’s going to have to develop some capacity to protect us, which was helpful to me because when I know what NATO is seeing itself as doing, it allows me to say that perhaps this partnership is more beneficial than that partnership.
TKS: What have been the most difficult and rewarding aspects of your project?
KM: The most difficult part has been just narrowing it down. … There’s just so many countries you could talk about and so many operations they’ve been involved in, so just trying to pick what’s going to offer me the best insight.
The most rewarding has been the research. I knew going in … what NATO is. I had this vague concept of what the partnership piece is and what the partner countries are, but I’ve really begun to appreciate the nuances behind these relationships and how the alliance itself, within its 28 member states, makes decisions and what’s needed from the outside and trying to decide whether or not those outside states really are relevant.
TKS: Do you think NATO will still be relevant in 10 years?
KM: Yes … because it’s been quite adept at reshaping itself, and I think it will continue in that direction. And it is determined to survive, which is the most important part. It is the largest, most powerful alliance in the world, so … as long as U.S. doesn’t totally give up on Europe, it’s going to be relevant.
TKS: Pretend you’re talking to a junior student who’s considering doing Honors. What advice would you give that person?
KM: It’s totally worth it, but be prepared to sign your life away. You have to love what you’re talking about, otherwise you’re not going to be able to do it.