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NATO Ambassador visits with Madison students

April 4, 2023 - Claire Smith, SRP '25

On March 27, James Madison College hosted Ambassador Julianne Smith for a discussion about foreign policy and politics.

The hour-long event for JMC students titled “Foreign Policy and Politics,” featured Ambassador Smith, an American foreign policy adviser and diplomat who serves as the United States permanent representative for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the Biden administration. Faculty and students gathered in Case Hall’s Club Spartan where Associate Dean and Professor of International Relations Robert Brathwaite provided opening remarks.

The event also drew the attention of local news station WLNS- TV 6.

Club Spartan, students seated in rows looking toward front of the room with woman speaking near podium
Ambassador Julianne Smith visited James Madison College to discuss foreign policy and politics.

Ambassador Smith discussed NATO’s involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, declaring the events that transpired in 2022-23 as “one of the most pivotal moments in the alliance.” Smith explained the tragedy in Ukraine has prompted the alliance to come together and return to its original mission of collective defense, taking the place of its recent focus on expeditionary operations, which the alliance had been concentrating on since 9/11. 

Describing the impact of the invasion, Smith discussed how during the end of 2021, leading into 2022, members of NATO addressed Putin publicly and met with Russian representatives in an attempt to prevent the war, while preparing to respond to the possible invasion of Ukraine, the largest non-NATO contributor to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

Smith explained NATO's priorities — immediately following the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine — were to send thousands of troops into Eastern Europe to prevent Russia from touching NATO territory, to avoid becoming directly involved with the conflict in Ukraine (but allow individual members to demonstrate support for Ukraine), to put pressure on Moscow and share intelligence with NATO allies.

“That was our approach on February 24, and that very much remains our approach today,” Smith said. We continue to pursue those three lines of effort and in the meantime, in the wake of this great tragedy, we have also seen some incredible things happen.”

Ambassador Smith shakes a student's hand after her speaking engagement
Ambassador Smith greets an audience member following the event "Foreign Policy and Politics."

Smith also discussed Sweden and Finland’s relinquishing their status as neutral countries by joining NATO. The European Union, which had never provided legal assistance to any country previously, sent 3 billion euros in legal support to Ukraine. Last, Smith noted that neutral countries like Switzerland have demonstrated their support for Ukraine by freezing Russian assets.

“We can maintain this unity: It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy, and we will have some bumps in the road —we already have along the way — but I’m confident that NATO’s unity and sense of purpose will ultimately hold,” Smith said.

JMC writer Claire Smith is of no relation to Ambassador Julianne Smith.