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Commentary | 18 September 2023

Annual Gathering of the Younger Generation Leaders Network in Vienna

The Younger Generation Leaders Network (YGLN) held its annual gathering in Vienna from 26 to 29 June 2023, with a diverse group of 44 YGLN members coming from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Europe, and North America. This event proved to be a remarkable success, fostering insightful discussions, networking opportunities, and collaborations among emerging leaders in the field of international affairs.

The event kicked off with an informal dinner, moderated by Dr. Oliver Meier, Research Director at the European Leadership Network (ELN). The gathering had the privilege of hosting Dell Higgie, Ambassador and Chargée d’Affaires at the New Zealand Embassy and Permanent Mission to the UN in Vienna, as a guest speaker. Her insights on global non-proliferation and disarmament trends set the stage for what turned out to be four intense days of stimulating discussions.

The second day began with a briefing at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), providing participants with valuable insights into their work on the international stage. Later, attendees had the opportunity to visit the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), where they had the chance to get a first-hand experience of how data on nuclear radiation is shared between countries.

In the afternoon, YGLNers had a meeting with the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by Ambassador Ulrike Butschek, Head of the Department for Human Rights. This session provided a platform for discussing critical human rights issues and the policy of the Austrian MFA in that regard.

The day concluded with a reception at the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Under the theme of “Cooperative Security in Uncooperative Times,” participants engaged in thought-provoking conversations. The speakers, Raphael Nägeli, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the OSCE, and Christophe Kamp, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the OSCE, added interesting perspectives on the OSCE operations since the annexation of Crimea and the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014.

Wednesday, 28 June, was dedicated to YGLN-led discussions, showcasing the network’s capacity to engage with challenging topics. The day began with a session focusing on the network’s role in the time of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Participants agreed that as the network consists of experts from Ukraine, Russia, and the West, YGLN is perfectly capable of providing a deep understanding of the situation in Ukraine, as well as a platform for dialogue now and in the future.

In the next session, a group of YGLN members comprising the ELN’s NPT Next Generation Group  presented on possible wildcards in the lead-up to the 2025 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Prominent guest speaker Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, Director of the International Organisations and Non-Proliferation Program (IONP), contributed valuable insights.

Another YGLN session explored the concept of safe spaces for academic and other forms of collaboration between the Ukrainian and Russian diaspora, facilitated by Andreas Persbo, Director of Open Nuclear Network (ONN). The day also featured a session with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Office Vienna, in which participants discussed mutual experiences working with next-generation participants from across the Euro-Atlantic region in a tense political climate.

The evening saw the presentation of the recently published YGLN book “The Implications of Emerging Technologies in the Euro-Atlantic Space”, presented by Max Hoell and Julia Berghofer, showcasing the network’s intellectual contributions. The day concluded with a reception at the Open Nuclear Network (ONN), providing an opportunity for participants to meet the ONN staff.

The final part of the gathering commenced with a session with OSCE representatives at the historic Hofburg, providing an exclusive opportunity for participants to engage with representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The gathering concluded with a meeting at the Finnish Mission to the United Nations, where Hanne Ristevirta, First Secretary, and Dr. Kim Fyhr, Nuclear Counsellor, briefed attendees on the Finnish chairmanship in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors.

Overall, the YGLN Annual Gathering in Vienna served as a testament to the network’s commitment to fostering collaboration, dialogue, and knowledge-sharing among emerging leaders in international affairs. With an agenda packed with informative sessions, engaging discussions, and networking opportunities, this event undoubtedly contributed to the continued growth and impact of YGLN in the field of international affairs.

The YGLN’s primary mission is to bring together members from across the Euro-Atlantic space, even in these difficult times, to have open and frank discussions. The network is set to meet twice a year in person and fortnightly online to cover the most pressing issues in the Euro-Atlantic region. It is composed of 146 members in their early careers who are rising stars and specialists in security policy, economics, journalism, law and civil society. Formed in 2014, the YGLN was created to bridge the divide between Russia and the West and establish a much-needed platform for understanding and dialogue.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image credits: YGLN members