Black Sea Security Program Alumni Form Lasting Bonds as Ambassadors

December 6, 2011
by Doug Gavel

When a group of NATO and European Union (EU) Ambassadors met recently in Brussels, there were a lot of familiar faces in the room. At least a dozen of the diplomats at the meetings can trace their roots back to Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) where they spent time as participants in the Black Sea Security Program.

The program, under the direction of Sergei Konoplyov, launched in 1997 with the mission of encouraging regional security through cooperation and integration. Now in its 14th year, the program brings together senior military representatives and civilian security specialists from the U.S. and ten regional countries – from Armenia to Ukraine. The program falls under the umbrella of HKS Executive Education and is supported by a generous grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York together with US-Russia and US-South Asia Security programs.

“The free flow of ideas and direct interchange between participating officers results in greater understanding and cooperation on matters of mutual concern,” said Konoplyov. “The professional and personal bonds formed through this program last for a lifetime, and help build the bridges that bring people and nations together throughout Eastern Europe.”

The meeting in Brussels focused on a range of topics – both economic and security-related – with the diplomats intent on leveraging the institutional strengths of NATO and the EU to help build their visions of a secure and prosperous Europe in the years ahead.

“[The] European Union and NATO played a decisive role in strengthening emerging democracies after the end of the cold war. Enlargement of the EU and NATO extended stability and prosperity to the central and eastern European countries which had been under Soviet domination for more than 40 years. A prospect for membership has always been a crucial factor in pursuing radical reforms and has motivated the nations to transform their political systems,” said Grigol Mgaloblishvili HKSEE 2008, Georgia’s Ambassador to NATO.

“The recent events in Libya showed that NATO is capable not only of mobilizing quickly in case of an emergency, but also of bringing an operation to a successful conclusion,” said Andrej Benedejčič '93, Slovenia’s Ambassador to NATO. “NATO [also] remains indispensable for long-term stability of the Western Balkans. Only through the Alliance's continued engagement with and enlargement to the entire region will it be possible to extend the existing zone of security and stability to this part of Europe as well.”

Ovidiu Dranga HKSEE 2002, MC/MPA 2004, Romania’s Ambassador to Belgium, remarked that, “Being members of NATO and EU has not removed by its own virtue all structural problems of our society, our institutions, and our civic behavior, but provided a strong sense of strategic clarity, political righteousness and predictability to our development as a nation and state. We are now on the right side of history, but not fully aware of all incumbent responsibilities.”

Although not a member of NATO, Ukraine has inched toward membership in the past, and now considers itself a partner with the organization.

“[By] achieving NATO standards, Ukraine becomes closer to its final goal of its foreign policy priority – to become a full-fledged member of the European Union community,” says Ihor Dolhov HKSEE 1997, Ukrainian Ambassador to Belgium. “Naturally, the process of achieving norms, standards and criteria of both organization (NATO and EU), that share the same set of values, strengthens the democratic development of Ukraine, makes it irreversible, and, in the end, has a profound positive impact on the political, economical and social life of the Ukrainian people.”

More than two dozen Black Sea Security Program alumni have served as Ambassadors for various countries, demonstrating the breadth and value of the HKS alumni network.

“The network helps me build relationships with other former students which take now high level decision-making positions in the wider black sea region. It helps me to exchange views and see certain issues of regional and international development from different perspectives,” said Mgaloblishvili.

Dranga attests that, “the value of the HKS alumni networks resides with their members’ huge combined potential to create contexts, shape realities and bring projects to life. The power and influence they have together are immense. This helps me morally and intellectually whenever I have difficulties in promoting ideas I think are good for my country.”

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Photograph of Ihor Dolhov

Ihor Dolhov HKSEE 1997, Ukrainian Ambassador to Belgium
Photos provided

“Being members of NATO and EU has not removed by its own virtue all structural problems of our society, our institutions, and our civic behavior, but provided a strong sense of strategic clarity, political righteousness and predictability to our development as a nation and state. We are now on the right side of history, but not fully aware of all incumbent responsibilities.”
--Ovidiu Dranga HKSEE 2002, MC/MPA 2004, Romania’s Ambassador to Belgium

Photograph of ambassadors attending meeting

Ambassador Grigol Mgaloblishvili HKSEE 2008 attending a recent meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and others