NATO’s Future Guardians: Unveiling the Strength of Young Professionals in the Western Balkans

20 February 2024

In December 2023, I had the privilege of attending The Annual Young Professionals Forum 2023: “Cooperation, Security Values; NATO, in a Changing World,” held in Tirana, Albania. Bringing together 25 young professionals dedicated to promoting peace, security, and NATO values in the Western Balkans, the forum shed light on the active role of youth in shaping the region’s future. The discussions delved into various aspects of transatlantic relations, emphasizing the increasingly challenging security landscape both in the region and beyond.

The event underscored the young professionals’ commitment to addressing current issues and anticipating the evolving nature of security in our technological age. While their concerns extended beyond their generation, a common thread was the recognition that stability in the region is intricately linked to how political information is portrayed and how governments and institutions respond to cyber-attacks.

My observations revealed a nuanced perspective on the role of young people in regional affairs. Despite being frequently invited to contribute their insights, there was a prevailing sentiment that their age was considered more suitable for providing input rather than actively participating in policymaking. The need for greater inclusiveness became evident, especially considering that these young individuals, though not having lived through war and intense political turmoil, have grown up in a world still grappling with the impact and repercussions. The participation of Young Professionals from the Western Balkans is vital as NATO’s Future Guardians due to several compelling reasons.

Firstly, their involvement brings a fresh perspective to the table, one that is not clouded by the memories of past conflicts but is deeply rooted in the desire for peace and stability. These young individuals understand the importance of cooperation and dialogue in preventing future conflicts, making them indispensable contributors to NATO’s efforts to foster peace and security.

Additionally, their inclusion fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to the alliance’s objectives among the younger generation in the Western Balkans, thereby strengthening NATO’s outreach and influence in the region. By actively engaging them, NATO not only ensures a more inclusive decision-making process but also cultivates a sense of shared responsibility in safeguarding peace and security, both within the region and beyond. Therefore, their participation is not only beneficial but essential for NATO’s continued relevance and effectiveness in the ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.

As the Western Balkans continue on their path of post-conflict recovery and integration into the Euro-Atlantic community, it is imperative that the youth’s role is not just acknowledged but actively fostered. Their commitment to peace, security, and NATO values is invaluable for the region’s stability and progress, underscoring the importance of inclusive policies that empower the next generation to actively contribute to shaping a better future. To effectively harness their potential, concrete steps must be taken to empower and engage them in meaningful ways.

Firstly, educational initiatives should be prioritized to equip young professionals with the necessary skills and knowledge to actively participate in shaping the region’s future. This could involve establishing mentorship and leadership programs with NATO members, exchange programs, scholarships, and vocational training opportunities within NATO member states, fostering cross-cultural understanding and expertise exchange.

Furthermore, efforts should be made to enhance access to information and communication channels for young people, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns addressed. This could involve establishing youth councils, forums, and online platforms where they can express their views, share experiences, and participate in dialogue with policymakers and stakeholders.

Lastly, fostering a culture of inclusivity and diversity within NATO and its partner countries is essential. This involves actively seeking out diverse backgrounds, including marginalized groups within the youth population. By embracing diversity, NATO can harness the full potential of its future guardians, ensuring a more robust and inclusive approach to security and stability in the Western Balkans and beyond.

Reflecting on my journey and the invaluable lessons instilled by my parents, who experienced the tumultuous peaks and downfall of a communist regime, I am reminded of the profound significance of freedom and the responsibility it entails. Their unwavering encouragement to never take our freedoms for granted resonates deeply as I reflect on the imperative role of young professionals in shaping the future of the Western Balkans within NATO’s framework.

Attending The Annual Young Professionals Forum 2023 in Tirana was not just an event, it was a testament to the collective determination of our generation to contribute meaningfully to peace and security. While engaging with fellow young professionals, I couldn’t help but recognize the weight of our shared history and the urgent need for our voices to be heard in shaping policies that affect our region’s future.

Our experiences, perspectives, and voices matter, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are heard and valued in the pursuit of peace and security. As I look ahead, I am filled with hope and optimism for the future of the Western Balkans within NATO. Together, as young professionals committed to upholding the values of peace, security, and cooperation, we have the power to shape a brighter tomorrow for our region and beyond

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Young Professionals Network (YPN) is a cooperative development platform composed of young professionals and different kinds of other entities, such as nonprofit organisations, youth organizations, business associations, freelancers, and businesses.

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