Over Winterim 2022, 11 students in the War & Peace Fellows Program traveled to Brussels and the Hague for an immersive experience in international security. Accompanying the students were Professor Benjamin Valentino, Chair of the Department of Government and War & Peace Fellows Faculty Coordinator and Thomas Candon, Senior Associate Director of the Initiative for Global Security and War & Peace Fellows Staff Coordinator.
This was the first international trip for the War & Peace Fellows - a program run through the Dickey Center for International Understanding - since 2019, revitalizing a key offering of the program and following previous trips to Qatar, Israel & Palestine, and Special Operations and Southern Command in Tampa, Florida. On the decision to travel to Brussels and the Hague, Valentino explained that "Europeans and Americans are trying to understand what [the war in Ukraine] means for the NATO alliance. We thought it would be a good idea for students to be a part of this and see how these conversations are evolving."
On the trip, the Fellows had the opportunity to visit NATO headquarters, watch a trial at the International Criminal Court (which recently made headlines after calling for the arrest of President Vladimir Putin), speak to recent law graduates at the International Court of Justice, and converse with a series of Americans at two U.S. Embassies.
Each meeting, whether with the head of NATO's Nuclear Policy Directorate or an FBI Legal Attache in the U.S. Embassy to the Netherlands, followed a question-and-answer format, enabling students to learn the speakers' career paths, views on hot-button issues, and approach to their daily work. Valentino describes the offering as a representation of "the best of Dartmouth," an undergraduate-focused, transformative experience that may open students' eyes to uncommon careers and life experiences. Jennifer Lee '22 was especially impressed by the variety of speakers in terms of subject-level focus and experience, which enabled the Fellows to learn from both senior policy decision-makers and young legal fellows.
Applying Classroom Concepts to a Real-World Global Context
All students on the trip emphasized the importance of travel and the opportunity to apply concepts that are learned in the classroom to a global context. As Leland Hemgren '25 pointed out, "We may read Mearsheimer and say 'offensive realism is an interesting concept' but then go to NATO and … see how this applies to the international context when nukes are in question. It forces people to question the academic concepts and engage more critically with what you've learned." As a sophomore, Hemgren was one of the students earliest on in his Dartmouth career to attend the trip, and highlighted that engaging in travel earlier on will allow him to put future classes into context.
Valentino, whose primary research is in mass atrocities, labeled the ICC trial of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona as particularly memorable. During the trial, students had the opportunity to watch the perpetrators and victims in the same room, a chilling reminder that travel is vital not only for the information that you learn but for the first-hand experience that comes from seeing international organizations operate and questioning the forms of justice that are appropriate by them.
All of the trip participants agreed that we learned as much from their peers and advisors on the trip as the talented practitioners who we spoke with. Our diverse perspectives on the issues at hand shaped how we engaged with the speakers and shifted based on our experience as Americans or International students, veterans or civilians, and more. Conversations on the topics would extend to heated debates over dinner or in the car between meetings, a testament to the passion invoked by the concepts at hand.
Many Dartmouth students, fortunately, will never have any direct contact with war. But Dartmouth students will continue to be contributors to democracy and if we are to become thoughtful, educated decision-makers in security spaces, we must critically engage with the people and institutions that are affecting and affected by conflict. Lee summarized that when traveling, "you start to really see how the world is bigger than Hanover. If Dartmouth is indeed educating global citizens … then traveling internationally is one way to better prepare them."