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The National Churchill Leadership Center (NCLC) frequently collaborates with internal and external partners to pursue its mission. Below, you'll find an article in which the NCLC is featured and highlights the work of our institutional partners. 

Trans-Atlantic Educational Exchanges for Better Knowledge and Leadership

Natalia Dinello, Director of the Global Residencies Program, The Graduate School of Political Management, The George Washington University
Alastair Stewart, Account Manager, Orbit Communications

Surveys suggest that given the US's exceptional economic, political, and military power, most Americans are hardly knowledgeable in and are rather indifferent to international affairs.[1] The opposite is, however, true for American scholars and students of politics. The US counts more than two thousand think tanks, and all of the top ones—mostly Washington-based—research and give recommendations to policymakers on global issues.[2] As for the US universities, almost 350 of them offer an international relations major.[3]

The George Washington University (GW), located just steps away from the White House and celebrating this year its 200th anniversary, surely boasts a global orientation. Although primarily focused on US politics, GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) offers a Global Politics concentration and several related certificates. As the preeminent graduate school for applied politics, advocacy, and communications, GSPM recognizes that the knowledge of and interest in international affairs are imperative for forging successful careers. An unparalleled GSPM alumni network—spanning from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill to the world’s capitals—testifies to the value of a global outlook for skills and influence in public relations, legislative affairs, and political management for the benefit of all.

The recent online event on Post-Brexit Europe-US Relations, held by GSPM in partnership with the National Churchill Leadership Center, illustrates the above point. Connecting on July 14th the panelists across the Atlantic, it revealed concern of the GW community about post-Brexit dynamics in the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK), and Scotland as well as curiosity about possible changes in the Europe-US relations. As emphasized by one of the panelists, Professor Ronald Linden, the significance of the relationship between the United States (US) and Europe is huge. The US and Europe together account for roughly 42% of the world’s gross domestic product, one-third of world trade in goods, and 40% of world trade in services. In addition to forming the world’s largest, richest, and most interconnected market, the US and Europe enjoy fundamental security ties, including via NATO, and are “values allies,” – united in championing democratic governance, respect of human rights, peaceful resolution of inter-country conflicts, and tackling of the major global challenges of our time, such as climate change. In their policies and practices, the partners also offer an alternative to the authoritarian, nationalist, racist, and colonialist rule.

From the US perspective articulated by Professor Linden, the political and symbolic impact of Brexit ranges from the uneasiness about the potential weakening of the US’s influence within the EU—because the UK no longer represents this influence—to the concern about the weakening of the EU itself—resulting from the withdrawal of the UK as a major economic, political, and military power. Brexit also complicates US-European ties because of the need for separate treaties with the EU and the UK. Furthermore, there is an apprehension of the first departure of a major European power from the EU, which can trigger a domino effect.

GSPM’s uniquely immersive, experiential education entails learning from experienced practitioners and industry leaders, engaging with top figures in politics, communications, and public affairs around the world. Consistent with the GSPM’s agenda, the July 14th panel provided an extraordinary opportunity for the GW community to interact with the UK strategic public affairs specialists—Mr. Graeme Downie,  Director of Edinburgh-based communications company, Orbit Communications, and the co-author of this article. The American students thus learned first-hand from those most familiar with the origins of Brexit and its domestic and global implications, including political divisions and economic and security consequences.

While such exchanges are enlightening for the US side, they are also informative for the UK participants as the questions from the conversation partners can reveal their worries as well as delights.

It is probably no surprise that the issue of Northern Ireland was highlighted as a priority by the US audience. Considering the difficulties of understanding the ongoing debacle about the border in the Irish Sea, it was very helpful to hear from the UK panelists about the agreements and disagreements regarding Northern Ireland’s status as part of the EU Customs Union and the linkage of this status with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement guaranteed by the EU but now endangered by Brexit-enforced tensions.

The status of Scotland represents another concern. The panel clarified the matters of British and Scottish nationalism and the linkage between Brexit and pro-independence sentiment of Scotland’s leadership and part of the Scottish society. It also indicated possible repercussions of the ongoing struggles vis-à-vis the expectations. Importantly, the panelists did not try to conceal a sense of confusion, messiness, and intransigence as well as the gap between wishful thinking and realities that permeate the current fights both around Northern Ireland and Scotland. The candor in their insider outlook is most instructive for the US students.

The discussion of the ideological landscape in the US and Europe reflected the common US-European themes of populism, frustrated nationalism, and a battle between liberal and far-right visions of the world. To the discussants’ credit, they abstained from simplifying the complicated picture. As noted by Graeme Downie, “It would be a caricature to claim that only the nationalists and the far-right groups pushed for Brexit.” In his view, it was a coalition of different forces—ranging from those aspiring for Great Britain to “level up” or become a “Singapore of Europe” to those interested in “taking back control,” representing “left behind,” or “Atlanticists”—that supported Brexit and built on the perception of the EU as “the other.”

Finally, US students were much interested in comparing the recent past— US-Europe relations under Donald Trump’s presidency—with the prospects of such relations under the administration of Joe Biden. According to Professor Linden, the right wing of the US Republican Party was for a long time critical of Europe as too weak and irrelevant, and in Donald Trump, it found a spokesperson in the White House. As a result, the US-European alliances were damaged. The actions of Biden’s administration—rejoining the treaties, restating shared values, calling for coordination in China-related policies—supplemented by the mutual eagerness to work together, are promising. These actions are not exclusive to the EU, they can and should include the UK.

The UK panelists, however, cast doubts on such promises referring to the unclarity of the UK leadership’s “asks” to the US, the lack of realism about the time needed to conclude free-trade agreements, and the US’s expected strategic focus on the EU “big shots” (Germany and France) rather than the UK. It was also mentioned that high expectations for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) upcoming in Glasgow may not materialize if the environmental issues are not tied together with those related to the global economy and the COVID-19 crisis.

The GSPM event on Post-Brexit Europe-US Relations underscored the importance of informal, frank exchanges among scholars, experts, and students on the critical issues of our time. Under the continuing health emergency, the online bridge between the US and Europe does provide an outlet for dialogue and learning. But following the virtual visits to the Republic of Georgia, the European Union, and the United Kingdom in the 2021-2022 academic year, GSPM students are eager to resume travel to Europe starting, hopefully, in the fall semester.

Contribution of the European leaders in politics, government relations, and communications to GSPM’s immersion programs is much appreciated. It is indeed crucial for strengthening the Atlanticist mindset of the US future decision-makers and for the flourishing of Europe-US relations.

[1] “Americans Lack Knowledge of International Issues Yet Consider Them Important, Finds New Survey.” Council on Foreign Relations, 5 December 2019; Friedman, George. “The American Public's Indifference to Foreign Affairs.” Forbes, 19 February 2014.

[2] Luxner, Larry. “DC-Based Organizations Dominate 2020 List of World’s Top Think Tanks.” The Washington Diplomat, 5 February 2021.

[3] “Colleges Offering an International Relations Major.” US News & World Report, retrieved 22 July 2021.