Disinformation’s impact on the future of democracy, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and artificial intelligence were recurring themes at Monday’s 2023 NATO Youth Summit, co-hosted by William & Mary and NATO in Brussels and Washington, D.C.
Titled “NextGen Freedom & Security,” the event began in NATO’s headquarters city of Brussels with a full agenda before switching to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. portion at the National Press Club, hosted by William & Mary. Young people from Europe, North America and around the world participated in the free, transatlantic conversation both in-person and remotely.
“We have a longstanding commitment to global leadership,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe as she opened the D.C. session. “We were founded internationally. And I want to acknowledge, as well, that we have a deep commitment to questions of peace and security.”
Democracy is one of the pillars of W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan, and its future was at the forefront of the dialogue. Speakers and panelists took questions from attendees and shared insights offering their varied expertise on topics such as climate change, national defense and impacts of the latest technologies.
“Facts, true things, verifiable data are public goods that we need in an age of disinformation and manipulation of information to be completely committed to,” Rowe said. “That’s what great universities do.”
“Facts, true things, verifiable data are public goods that we need in an age of disinformation and manipulation of information to be completely committed to. That’s what great universities do.”
Citing former Supreme Court of Virginia Justice John Charles Thomas HON ’18, Rowe referenced the Latin phrase “artes liberales,” from which the expression “liberal arts and sciences” derives. “Artes liberales” translates to “the skills of freedom.”
“The generous, expansive, inclusive skills of freedom — in that spirit we pursue research, teach and learn at William & Mary and expand partnerships by which we do that,” Rowe said.
W&M leads the way
The participants in the summit included a number of W&M alumni who are leaders in the areas discussed throughout the day, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Kira Allmann ’10, incoming director of partnerships & communications at W&M’s Global Research Institute, served as master of ceremonies in Brussels. Her conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg closed out the Brussels portion of the summit and opened the Washington session.
Colleen Grace ’23, president of the Ivy League Veterans Council, emceed the Washington segment.
Doug Bunch ’02, J.D. ’06, U.S. public delegate to the United Nations and W&M Board of Visitors member, spoke on the U.S. mission to the U.N., particularly at this time of seeking peace in Europe.
“I’d like to make a quick plug for young professionals and internationalists to consider what you can do to support your country’s security through NATO,” Bunch said. “We need bright young professionals who aspire to make a difference in the world to consider careers at the U.N.”
Jill Ellis ’88, L.H.D. ’16, president of the National Women’s Soccer League’s San Diego Wave and former coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, moderated a discussion on supporting democracy using sports as a platform. Panelists were William Smith ’14, founder and executive director of LEAD Edu, and Nadia Nadim, a physician and soccer player for the NWSL’s Racing Louisville Football Club who is a native of Afghanistan.
“Be a voice, be visible and build a community,” Ellis said.
Ellis received the first NATO Women, Peace and Security Award. Irene Fellin, NATO special representative for women, peace and security, made presenting remarks via video, and Kathleen Jabs, retired Navy captain and special assistant to the president for military & veteran affairs at W&M, presented Ellis with the award.
George Barros ’19, geospatial intelligence team lead and Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, was part of a panel discussing countering and deterring adversarial threats such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine that included Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova.
Digital literacy and citizens’ ability to ferret out misinformation is a huge issue as governments seek new ways to protect people from misleading communications in the interest of democracy, according to Russell Travers ‘78, a senior advisor in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security who is former acting and deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center and former deputy director of Homeland Security. Travers was part of an intergenerational panel on the everyday practice of diplomacy, led by W&M Senior International Officer Teresa Longo, who also serves as executive director of the Reves Center.
Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy at the U.S. Department of Defense and Victoria Nuland, under secretary for political affairs at the U.S. Department of State, made remarks and answered questions moderated by Kay Floyd ’05, director of W&M’s Whole of Government Center of Excellence, and Erin Battle ’13, M.Ed. ’15, associate director of W&M’s Washington Center, respectively.
“I’d like to make a quick plug for young professionals and internationalists to consider what you can do to support your country’s security through NATO. We need bright young professionals who aspire to make a difference in the world to consider careers at the U.N.”
“Information integrity is probably the defining issue of our society today,” said David Leichtman ’00, director of corporate civic responsibility at Microsoft, as part of a discussion on leveraging data to strengthen democracy and security. Timothy Carroll ’87, weather and climate lead at Microsoft, was a panelist and Divya Mathew M.P.P. ’19, senior policy specialist at AidData, served as moderator.
The disinformation theme continued as a headliner in two places on the agenda. Megan Hogan ’21, founder of W&M’s DisinfoLab, led a panel that also featured Hayden Bassett M.A. ’13, Ph.D. ’17, director of the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab,research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, and adjunct lecturer at W&M.
Terra Stearns ’23 announced the return of the now annual WMGIC x NATO Countering Disinformation challenge, to be held in fall 2023. The highly-competitive undergraduate case competition will bring together hundreds of undergraduate students across the alliance.
A global sense of belonging
W&M Provost Peggy Agouris’ closing remarks in Washington. D.C., explored how young people could take their enthusiasm and messages from the day’s event forward toward improving the future for the broader global community.
She said that NATO was always a presence in the lives of citizens in her native country of Greece and that NATO and universities both generate a feeling of belonging to something bigger than one’s own national boundaries.
“Belonging is one of the seven explicitly-mentioned, published and practiced values at William & Mary, a belonging that encourages us to think bigger about shared challenges that affect us today and will define our world for generations to come,” Agouris said.
Those challenges include climate change, poverty, artificial intelligence, migration and disinformation, she said.
“In other words, the challenges you have considered today in this room and will consider in your work, your scholarship and your daily lives,” Agouris said. “This feeling of belonging to something bigger stimulates us as compassionate partners within a group of diverse needs, resources and peoples — thinking not only of our own interests but considering the very personal interests of our broader global community. …”
“Ask impossible questions, stretch beyond what you believe you are capable and remember we are not alone.”
This story originally appeared on W&M News.