From 30th June - 3rd July I attended an online Model NATO summit hosted by the Luiss University of Rome, in partnership with the NATO Defence College. I was one of around two hundred participants - mostly under and postgrads - of 120 different nationalities, giving the event a really interesting international dimension. 

The first three days consisted of lectures by senior NATO advisors and academics, initially explaining the evolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation from its formation in 1949 to the present day, the NATO-EU relationship, and the complex organisational hierarchy and decision-making process.

As the event progressed, the lectures branched into the emergence of new threats to the collective security of the alliance. Of particular interest was a lecture on NATO’s policies in prevention of nuclear proliferation by William Alberque, the director of non-proliferation and nuclear policy at the IISS. Interesting also were cyber attacks, such as the 2007 STUXNET malware attack on an uranium centrifuge in Iran, which served to stall the Iranian nuclear programme for several years and was allegedly the work of a US-Israeli coalition. 

Cyber attacks, however, pose other significant challenges to the alliance. When the North Atlantic Treaty was written, cyber attacks were decades from fruition, therefore they expose a fascinating grey area in international law, in that it is unclear whether they constitute legitimate grounds for international retaliation. Matters are further confused as cyber attacks are often launched neither in times of peace nor war, but rather in another grey area between the two. This question becomes most pressing when applied to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: effectively if one member is attacked, all others must come to their aid. This Article is seen as the last resort and has been invoked only once in its history - after 9/11.

Article 5 became a central issue on the fourth and final day of the event - the simulation. The scenario was a classic: a cyber attack on the JISR (NATO’s central intelligence system) from the territory of a fictional state - Atlantis - though it was initially unclear whether the perpetrators were state sponsored. We were assigned a team of six and a member state to represent - in my case Canada. At irregular intervals new information would emerge, including that the attack was by the state of Atlantis, which had mobilised troops, presumably for imminent attack. Throughout the day we debated the best response to the scenario and its legal, practical and ethical implications in small groups and as a whole, attempting to reach consensus through negotiation and compromise.

Overall I found the event thoroughly interesting and informative, not only due to the content, but also the markedly different attitudes to certain aspects of discussion displayed by participants of a variety of cultures. It has also given me lots to think about in terms of degree options!