Joshua W. Walker
International relations are determined by nation-states and the global system, but they are ultimately shaped by individuals. This human element is reinforced every year at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) which has been ongoing for over a half a century. A little less than a decade ago the idea of diversifying this elite gathering to include the next generation of international leaders was born through the Munich Young Leaders (MYL) program, a joint initiative by the Munich Security Conference and Körber Foundation.
Munich Young Leaders have in turn come of age to represent influential leaders across the world in academia, business, diplomacy, and politics to name a few. This network of citizen diplomacy at its best has up until now convened five times at Alumni Reunions that have been driven by the Munich Young Leaders themselves with the full support of the Munich Security Conference and Körber Foundation. Recently, the Munich Young Leaders met in Washington DC for the largest gathering of MYL alumni yet.
What had initially been planned to host 20 or maybe ambitiously 30 alumni, turned into a representative sample of over 70 Young Leaders representing a third of the total number of alumni. The outpouring of support and personal initiative taken by the MYLs was rewarded by an incredible few days of discussions, networking, and visits in Washington DC. Kicking the reunion off, German Ambassador to the United States Dr. Peter Wittig hosted all of us at his residence with a very frank and lively discussion on the state of transatlantic relations and Germany’s evolving global role. In 2015, which marks the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, as well as 70 years since the end of World War Two, the past was alive and well. However, for the next generation leaders we were much more interested in what the future held for us all.
We were not disappointed with stimulating discussions with “beltway insiders” talking about America’s upcoming 2016 presidential election that is already underway along with visits to the State Department to discuss America’s foreign policy with top officials and the German Marshall Fund to discuss the evolution of hybrid warfare. These were followed by a visit to the U.S. Capitol to discuss foreign policy priorities on the Hill including the Iran deal that was being debated along with important trade agreements such as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A particular highlight, even for those of us living DC, was a behind the scenes visit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Room and the Senate Floor where MYLs working here explained the insider expertise and traditions of America’s most storied institutions. We concluded our first full day with a visit to the Google DC office and an evening reception that brought together a who-is-who of “players” in DC.
Our final day together involved a visit to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home right along the Potomac where we were briefed on the geopolitics of America’s founding father’s leadership and toured the spacious grounds. Even to MYLs who visit Washington often this was of particular note given both the beauty and history of the estate.
Ultimately as exceptional as the briefings and various events were, the highlight for every MYL seemed to be reconnecting with old friends and meeting new friends from within the MYL network. Even as official American-Russian relations remain frosty, being able to talk with Munich Young Leaders from Russia over the course of the weekend reinforced the value of these human networks. And even with close allies from Germany that came in force from Berlin, the chance to exchange individual and personal views in a more informal setting further strengthens this important institution. As we each continue along our individual journeys, the collective experience offered by being part of the MYL network as MYL alumni is something that we each cherish and hope to build on.
From Washington to Munich or anywhere else in the world for our next reunion I share my fellow MYLs optimism about the possibilities for the future. As long as we stay connected, building on our past shared experience at the Munich Security Conference, we will remain greater than the sum total of our parts.