The Clingendael Institute has a piece on European Union student simulations, carried out last month by the Masters International Public Management and Policy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. It highlighted the multicultural nature of the group, a crucial component of successful foreign affairs initiatives in our world. Unfortunately, the post was mediocre in that it offered no depth of analysis of the impact of such programs in today´s youth and tomorrow´s potential foreign policymakers. That task, then, must fall upon us.
This event reminded me of the yearly UN simulations held in New York, where students from over 400 universities worldwide pretend to represent other nations over the course of a week. When I participated in the program two years ago, I noticed that, more than representing the countries we had been assigned, we were all there to represent our actual nationalities. As such, the UN had, perhaps inadvertently, fostered an environment for global public diplomacy to flourish in its most subtle way. Young students eager to connect with their equivalents in other parts of the world became ambassadors of their own idiosyncrasies, world views, and cultures. They did so not as inaccessible brokers of agreements our politicians are, but as every–day citizens of the world, those that are actually in close contact with the concerns and yearnings of the peoples. While it was an opportunity to gain insight and perspective into the workings of foreign affairs and the field of diplomacy, it was more about global citizens exercising “daily diplomacy” in an equal field rid of power dynamics.
Precisely, these kinds of simulations employ soft power and cultural diplomacy to unconsciously permeate participant´s minds with the notion that institutions such as the UN and the EU are effective brokers of peace by bridging barriers amongst peoples. In reality, though, it is the young students who effect diplomacy in their own ways. In the process, three kinds of forces acting upon public diplomacy result: that of the institutions at the heart of the initiative (in this case, the EU or UN), that of the governments represented by each participant in the simulation, and that of the youth. The latter represent the potential of the new actors in public diplomacy to reshape the ground on which foreign affairs act out, and their intentions. Because they all share the will to transcend national boundaries in the name of global fraternity, they go back home as new conductors of soft diplomacy, challenging their leaders to seek constructive dialogue that will benefit the countries where newly found friends– a global family, really– live.