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Spartan Echo, PRSSA participate in NATO ACT conference

Military leaders with NATO's Allied Command Transformation listen attentively to a conference panel on technology at NATO ACT's annual conference in Norfolk, Virginia on Dec. 14, 2016 in the Norfolk Marriott hotel in downtown Norfolk.

Military leaders from NATO’s Allied Command Transformation listen attentively to a conference panel on technology at NATO ACT’s annual conference in Norfolk, Virginia on Dec. 14, 2016 in the Norfolk Marriott hotel in downtown Norfolk. The Spartan Echo student newspaper of Norfolk State University covered this panel live on Twitter using the #COTC16 conference hashtag. Photo by Malina Scacchi, Spartan Echo multimedia editor.

Norfolk, Virginia – Norfolk State University students from the Spartan Echo student newspaper and the Norfolk State University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America were invited to participate in NATO’s annual Allied Command Transformation conference in Norfolk, Virginia for the second time in two years. Out of four universities invited to participate, four students submitted material to NATO ACT for publication. Three of those students were undergraduate majors in journalism and fine arts at Norfolk State University and the other student was a Ph.D. candidate at Regent University. Student material was published on the NATO ACT website.

In addition, Tiana Allen and Richelle Hammiel’s articles, both students from NSU, were featured in the conference’s mobile app and received kudos from NATO ACT public affairs professionals. Those articles also constituted initial Spartan Echo coverage from the conference and were available at on the second day of the conference. The Spartan Echo also presented live coverage of the conference’s opening and first panel on Twitter using the #COTC16 conference hashtag.

NATO ACT is one of two headquarters for NATO and serves as the specific headquarters for all of NATO’s strategy and planning; the other headquarters are in Belgium and service the operational aspects of NATO.

In the spirit of NATO’s avowed philosophy to partner with nations, organizations and institutions in order to fulfill their mission, local universities from the South Hampton Roads area were invited to participate in NATO ACT’s annual conference in Norfolk, where leaders from member and partner nations gather to plan NATO’s strategy for the next few decades. Those universities were Norfolk State University, Virginia Wesleyan University, Regent University, and Old Dominion University. Three students from Norfolk State University and one student from Regent University submitted material to NATO for publication and were accepted. At the end of the conference, participating students had a private press conference with Supreme Allied Commander General Denis Mercier.

Students asked poignant questions which the general characterized as “the best questions I’ve been asked during the entire conference.” He even extended his allotted time with the students since they were so engaging and challenging with him. They discussed “lawfare” as a strategic battle strategy of NATO, where lawyers consult with NATO regarding new technologies and the legal parameters of hacking, cyber warfare, etc. and how NATO addresses all of the legal ramifications of the policies they are adopting, or considering, at this conference. Gen. Mercier basically said it’s a work in progress, but that NATO takes these concerns very seriously and is looking at ways to adapt, innovate, and address these concerns more effectively by leveraging their legal resources.

Gen. Mericier and the students also discussed social media as the new “battlefield” of messaging and propaganda. Gen. Mericier said that NATO should be a peacekeeper in that realm and should defend its territory and reputation and ensure the delivery of the NATO message. He also implied that NATO should be more proactive in these areas to address public relations concerns and to use effective messaging as a counter-terrorism tactic.

The primary topics of focus during the conference were cloud computing, logistics, big data, advanced analytics, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence. In essence, NATO is looking toward catching up with the tech industries and their latest trends. They brought in many tech leaders to address them on this subject through breakout sessions, many of which were classified and unavailable to invited journalists. However, even the most uninformed could conclude that NATO is seriously examining their position in robotics, autonomous systems, integration of those systems with big data analytics and imagining a future where they can deploy resources more quickly and efficiently through all member and partner nations in an equitable and fluid manner.

This is the future of digital warfare and that’s what these people gathered to discuss in detail as they planned for NATO’s future toward 2030. Many private sector industry representatives with expertise in technological systems and applications were also conference participants.

In every sense of the word, from involving university students in communicating their message to partnering with high tech industries to forge the future, NATO is trying its best to adapt and innovate to address the challenges of the future through strategic partnership.

Norfolk State University’s Spartan Echo and the NSU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America were proud to be participants and contributors to the NATO ACT annual conference and they thank NATO for including them.