Photo caption (l-r): Andrew Breest, Ann Marie Hauser, Gen. Tod Wolters, Matthew Szuster, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jay Silveria, Yuval Weber.
By Alexis Hixson
At the height of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in May of 2022, four Bush School DC students seized the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, four-star Air Force General Tod D. Wolters. For a group of students with military and security backgrounds, the opportunity to chat with NATO‘s Allied Commander at the height of one of the greatest transatlantic security crises of the decade was invaluable. The opportunity presented itself thanks to a summer trip to Belgium for Bush School DC students.
The meeting with General Wolters was the highlight of the trip for Bush School Student and Air Force Officer, Matthew Szuster.
“Being an Air Force officer, meeting someone who’s at the top of their career… just talking to him generally for about a half hour or so about what he thinks about the security situation in Europe was pretty cool,” Szuster stated.
Dr. Yuval Weber, Research Assistant Professor at the Bush School DC, and Executive Director of the Bush School DC, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Jay B. Silveria, were the masterminds of the summer trip to Belgium, which Dr. Weber dubbed the “Transatlantic Security Program.”
The duo was a perfect pair to lead the Bush School DC contingent. Lt. General Silveria, a retired three-star Air Force Lt. General, is a practical expert in transatlantic security, while Dr. Weber has studied and lectured on Russian and Eurasian security for years.
Dr. Weber brokered a partnership between the Bush School DC and Ghent University’s International Studies School in Belgium. His vision for the program was to hold a non-credit, fully extracurricular programdevoted to the idea of transatlantic security.
Dr. Weber’s goals included providing educational opportunities for the Bush School DC students, bringing together two institutions representing different sides of the transatlantic partnership, and creating a “knowledge community” of people with a shared interest in security affairs.
The goal was to create long-lasting relationships to benefit students from both sides of the program in their careers.
“If we can create this transatlantic network, we can create a lot of people who know each other so that, as they meet each other later in their career, they have some sort of common language and common experiences between them,” Dr. Weber said.
Before the trip, the Bush School DC students conducted virtual meetings with European experts in the field to foster thought about transatlantic security before engaging with institutions of transatlantic security in person and attending classes at Ghent University with Belgian students.
Dr. Weber stressed the importance of the Belgian perspective on the trip.
“The key question was, what’s going on in the world, and how do the Belgians and the Europeans understand the things that we’re very familiar with from our perspective,” Dr. Weber stated.
Meeting the Supreme Allied Commander was just one of many rare opportunities the students had to engage with important figures and institutions in transatlantic security. The trip included a visit to the NATO Military Headquarters, where Lt. General Silveria was stationed twice during his Air Force career. The group also visited the Political Headquarters of NATO, the European External Action Service, the Flemish Parliament, and the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union before continuing the trip to Berlin. In the German capital, the group visited the German Parliament and several think tanks.
As part of the trans-national exchange, similar visits were reciprocated for the students from Ghent University a couple of weeks later when they came to visit Washington, D.C. Dr. Weber provided personal tours for the group to the Pentagon, Congress, and DC-based think tanks.
Throughout the trip, the Bush School group honored the legacy of the school’s namesake, President George H.W. Bush, one of the architects of post-Cold War security. The president cared deeply about the transatlantic community. Dr. Weber wanted to ensure that the students were leveraging his legacy as an individual by preparing students for a life of public service in a transatlantic world.
For future Bush School-Ghent University opportunities, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.