20th May 2012 Washington DC, USA

A Chicago Welcome to NATO

The following is a guest post by Neil Holland, First Secretary, Foreign and Security Policy Group at the British Embassy in Washington.

Last time I visited Chicago I was struck by three things.

First how much fun it was. Blues, good food and drink, and history. That pretty much checks all the main boxes for me.

Second was how friendly everyone was. Chicago has all the facilities and excitement of a big city, but the hospitality of a village in the UK (minus the cricket pitch, but we can work on that).

Third was how stunning the city is. Admittedly, I hadn’t done my research, but for a city of skyscrapers, its beauty was surprising to me. I took a boat tour along the river to check out the architecture. The really remarkable thing is that so many very different buildings have sprung up and yet, unexpectedly, they seem to work well together.

So it seems particularly appropriate that NATO hold its Summit here this year. This is a Summit which brings together many different countries with different political cultures and traditions all working surprisingly well together to sustain and evolve the most successful alliance in the history of the world.

NATO is also an alliance which welcomes outsiders. Not just new members, though its door is open to those who want to join and can meet the criteria. But also partners, who do so much to contribute to NATO’s work, including its operations. These core partners have earned their place at the table in Chicago this weekend, and we in the UK hope that NATO can continue to work with them once the operation in Afghanistan transitions out of the combat phase.

That takes care of the architecture and hospitality. As for the fun, I can’t pretend that it will be particularly festive working in a windowless conference room on how to make every dollar of defence expenditure count in an age of austerity. But nonetheless, it is an incredibly important job. If NATO, this diverse, yet extraordinarily effective alliance wants to maintain it’s ability to project stability far beyond its borders, and to defend those borders at home, it must take action to protect capabilities in an era of declining budgets. Next to Afghanistan and partnerships this is the third important item on leaders’ ‘to do’ list.

So that’s the agenda. Afghanistan, partners and capabilities. It’s quite serious, but then international security is. But if leaders want more fun, just look to Chicago or I can recommend a blues bar just around the corner from the hotel.

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About Sophia Willitts-King

Sophia joined the British Embassy in Washington DC in January 2011 as First Secretary, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Foreign, Security and Policy Group. Her previous work in the Foreign…

Sophia joined the British Embassy in Washington DC in January 2011 as First Secretary, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Foreign, Security and Policy Group. Her previous work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office includes a year working on policy towards Greece and Cyprus and 10 months studying Urdu, including seven months living with families in small villages in Pakistan. Taking up a post in the British High Commission in Islamabad, Sophia covered internal politics and human rights during a turbulent period (nuclear testing, the Kargil conflict, the military coup and the 9/11 attacks). During her time in Pakistan, Sophia had the opportunity to travel widely across the country; including to fascinating places such as Waziristan, Quetta, Gwadar, Peshawar and Multan that are now difficult to visit. Sophia then returned to London where she worked in the Iraq Policy Unit, before taking up a job covering the foreign policy aspects of UK defence industrial issues and UK input into the defence aspects of the “European Constitution”. She also worked in the Cabinet Office in charge of the Ministerial committee’s and inter-ministry co-ordination on Iraq, the Middle East and North Africa. She has also served in Kathmandu as the Deputy Head of Mission where she managed the Embassy and led the political team, which was working to support Nepal to complete its peace process, tackle the challenges of the conflict period, and put itself on a path of sustainable development.