NORFOLK, VA. – On March 15th 2023, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation kicked off the Model NATO Challenge, bringing together students, military officials, and diplomats to participate in a strategic problem-solving challenge. Student Diplomats received mentorship from NATO officials, gaining experience on political relations while practicing diplomacy in real-time, with the highest performing participants earning scholarships.
Virginia Wesleyan University hosted the Model NATO Challenge, a collaborative public education event that started in 2007, with 30 high-school students from around the Hampton Roads communities participating in the annual challenge. The Model NATO Challenge is a decision-making simulation of a North Atlantic Council session, with Student Ambassadors assigned to NATO member states – officials from NATO member nations mentored participants, providing the students with political, military, and diplomatic guidance. General Badia, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, shared his opening remarks: “You will face the difficult task of bringing many different national perspectives under one umbrella, to reach consensus for a decision… You may be future businesspersons, academics, diplomats, or political leaders shaping foreign policy. No matter what, I hope that this experience will also enrich your everyday life.”
Every year, the Student Ambassadors solve a new challenge, each representing real-world scenarios; last year’s was a crisis response simulation, which reflected geopolitics amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the reality of emerging threats. This year, the problem focused on challenges in the High North, involving a myriad of realistic political and military risks. NATO Allied Command Transformation officials chaired the North Atlantic Council session by acting as the Secretary General, the Chair of the Military Committee, and the Assistant Secretary General of Political Affairs.
Students shared their experiences: “It was really cool to experience such diversity in the Model NATO Challenge, with nuances in each nation’s positions and the balancing of political and military aspects of the Alliance. These two factors made me really appreciate how difficult it is to reach and maintain consensus,” said Harrison B., representing Slovenia. Wyatt K., Student Ambassador for the United Kingdom, shared his thoughts: “I really liked the interactions with my military representative. He was an invaluable resource throughout the Model NATO Challenge process, and I learned a lot about the United Kingdom’s history and culture.”
NATO Allied Command Transformation leads the transformation efforts of military structures, forces, capabilities, and doctrines, ensuring NATO is prepared to fight today and tomorrow. These Student Ambassadors had the unique opportunity to learn from officials about NATO, on topics such as strategic foresight analysis, multi-domain operations, and warfare development approaches. Student Ambassadors took turns sharing their insights, balancing collective deterrence strategies and national interests. At the end of the challenge, Student Ambassadors were able to reach consensus on military and political courses of action for NATO in the High North. The best performing Student Ambassadors will receive scholarships – results are still pending and will be announced after the judges have tallied their scores.
“We are so happy for the awesome opportunity that NATO provides our students,” expressed William Paxton, a language and global studies teacher from Tallwood High School – parents, teachers, and NATO staff attended the event in support of these outstanding high school Student Diplomats.
Allied Command Transformation has been NATO’s home in the United States since 2003, with this year marking its 20th anniversary. This Model NATO Challenge begins the countdown to the 70th Norfolk NATO Festival, which was first held in 1953.