YGLN: A New Generation Prepares to Tackle Today's Threats

The Younger Generation Leaders Network on Euro-Atlantic Security (YGLN) is a capacity-building initiative that is designed to foster dialogue among emerging leaders from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Europe on contemporary challenges facing the Euro-Atlantic region.

The YGLN will hold its sixth meeting in Warsaw, Poland from April 2-6.

As in the past, the network’s four working groups – civil society, rule of law, security and economics – have prepared a robust agenda. Among the topics the YGLN will discuss are the rise of populism, challenges to the rule of law and independent judiciaries under populist regimes, generational differences in global values, policies that may damage the current economic system, reforming the international economic system, enhancing strategic stability and security in Europe, and regional security challenges.

These and other issues will be viewed and debated from the diverse viewpoints of the YGLN participants and from the local perspective in Warsaw where significant changes are taking place as a result of policies introduced by the new government. In fact, the meeting has been extended by a day to allow members to spend more time with our Polish colleagues and outside experts discussing the challenges facing Poland’s domestic and foreign policies and learning more about the rich culture and history of this critically important country in the heart of Europe.

To better understand the YGLN, we recently surveyed a subset of members. In our last Atomic Pulse post, they discussed why they joined the YGLN. Here, they address what they view as the most pressing security challenges facing the region and how they believe the YGLN can help address these challenges.

Pavel Kanevskiy, associate professor of political science and vice dean at the Lomonosov Moscow State University and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council:

Our generation’s biggest challenge is to reinvent a common vision and global values, based on the ideas of progress and enlightenment that would lead the world away from new conflicts, isolationism, nationalism, mistrust. Many historical lessons remain unlearnt today, that’s why our generation needs a lot of knowledge to avoid systemic traps. There is no simple recipe for doing that, hence the challenge must be taken seriously and realistically. 

The YGLN’s greatest advantage is that the network is built on trust and unites people who believe that a common vision can exist in a broader global context.

It is up to the YGLN members to decide how they want to address these challenges. … This network’s experience can be as an example of confidence-building for many groups in the world that seek ways for more peaceful cooperation, measures to reduce risks and manage conflicts.

Rachel Salzman, postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:

The greatest security challenge our generation faces is the unwillingness of current leaders to adapt to a shifting global environment with forward-looking policies and programs. 

These are issues that underlie the foci of all of our working groups. In that spirit, therefore, there are several core questions that should undergird our discussions. 

Each working group – Economics, Security, Civil Society, and Rule of Law – should think about how these questions can be answered in relation to their specific focus area. 

  • How does our generation conceive of the balance between sovereignty and integration?
  • What does “openness” mean for us?
  • What are the necessary conditions for security, in the fullest sense of the word?
  • How can we lessen the urban-rural divide driving polarization both nationally and regionally?
  • What are our priorities vis-à-vis various transnational and crosscutting threats (e.g. climate change, terrorism, cyber)?
  • What is the role of the Euro-Atlantic region in a world of diffusing economic and political power?

These questions will have different connotations for different issue areas and will likely mean different things for different countries. The goal is not to reach consensus, but to have a holistic discussion about Euro-Atlantic security that considers all the relevant angles and nuances. If we can find a common language for the various threats we face and challenges to overcome, however, we will be one step closer to finding the regional and global modus vivendi that has eluded our predecessors.

Joseph Dobbs, research fellow at the European Leadership Network:

Our generation faces some enormous challenges, too many to single out one as the greatest. From climate change to nuclear security, from hybrid warfare to terrorism and from economic disintegration to dangerous levels of inequality, there is a great deal of work to be done.

What binds these issues however is a lack of mutual understanding and seemingly decreasing commitment to international cooperation. Security challenges that can be solved unilaterally are fewer and further between, yet a belief that some countries can go it alone has only become stronger. 

In this respect the greatest security challenge our generation will face will be to reinvigorate internationalism in a way that will be sustainable in the 21st century. 

The YGLN is incredibly well placed to help our generation deal with this challenge. At every meeting we sit across from colleagues from countries we do not yet understand with perspectives we have not yet considered. We are able to look beyond our elders’ diplomatic conflicts to appreciate a common desire to achieve a secure and prosperous Euro-Atlantic region. This will stand those of us who continue our careers into roles in which we can bring about real and lasting change.

If just one of my YGLN colleagues finds themselves in a position of power, and given the quality of the group I would be surprised if it was only one, then the work of the YGLN will hopefully have left them with a better understanding of their world and leave them less likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.    

Bartosz Rydlinski, assistant professor at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw; expert with the “Amicus Europae” Foundation of former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski:

My generation faces various threats. Since 9/11, international terrorism has been an everyday danger for all people living across the globe. Since the war in Ukraine, we have been witnessing the new Cold War reality where the West and Russia can bring all the tragic 20th century risks back.

Avoiding future clashes between the West and Russia is strongly connected with people-to-people contact.

For that reason, YGLN plays a crucial role for bringing the next generation of professionals from Euro-Atlantic zone to create new way of community at these extremely difficult and unpredictable times.

Diāna Potjomkina, research fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs; lecturer at Riga Stradins University:

Our generation is facing increasing volatility and nihilism in public opinion in our own countries and internationally, which leads to all kinds of negative consequences: radicalism, discrimination, rejection of traditional forms of authority without suggesting any viable alternatives. We also face grave lack of trust internationally. … Unfortunately, we do not yet have ready-made answers and political consensus on how to deal with these challenges. The YGLN unites representatives of a very broad spectrum of nations who would not be meeting otherwise and helps to avoid alienation.

While our governments, and ourselves, frequently have different views on issues, we are committed to exchanging our views in a spirit of respect and to working together in a spirit of equality.

While our governments, and ourselves, frequently have different views on issues, we are committed to exchanging our views in a spirit of respect and to working together in a spirit of equality. Moreover, we can often agree on specific measures to be taken for solving specific international problems. Discussions at the YGLN have significantly contributed to what I do professionally.

Igor Istomin, senior lecturer at the Department of Applied International Political Analysis, MGIMO University, Moscow.

The two major interconnected challenges we are about to face are the return of great power politics, with its intensive security competition, as well as (desire) for power and prestige, and the rise of social inequality.

One of the principal sources of conflict on international arena is not genuine clash of interests, but information asymmetry. It is related to the fact that political actors are aware of their own preferences but not the preferences of their counterparts. This fuels, quite often, mutual suspicion and hostility. 

The kind of dialogue that YGLN provides is helpful at least on the expert level to get much better sense about perspectives of the other sides. Not just to read it in a form of report or a briefing, but to get a feeling of their concerns and reservations from personal dialogue.

Not just to read it in a form of report or a briefing, but to get a feeling of their concerns and reservations from personal dialogue. The breadth of participation in YGLN in terms of countries represented enables to achieve a more encompassing picture of European security than in many other formats, which are usually either bilateral or trilateral.

Mattison Brady, program associate for the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC:

The greatest security challenges of our generation are indistinguishable from the challenges our societies face on the whole. Climate change, and the migration and resource challenges it poses, is easily the biggest challenge of human history. Its effects, causes, and solutions, all transcend national and organizational boundaries and will require a similarly transcendental effort to come to terms with. 

YGLN provides a format that allows a wide spectrum of specialists from public and private sectors to compare notes, feelings, and ideas on how to tackle some of the complex issues that are facing Russia, Europe, and the U.S. 

This group alone will not solve any of the great challenges that face its collective membership, however, it is exactly these types of citizen-to-citizen contacts that facilitate collaborative problem-solving between nations when their individual interests might otherwise win out. 

March 30, 2017
Robert E. Berls, Jr., PhD
Robert E. Berls, Jr., PhD

Senior Advisor for Russia and Eurasia

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