Anders G. Haugseth was elected President of YATA Norway September 24th 2017. He is 27 years old, has a master’s degree in International Security from the University of Bath and is a civil servant in the law enforcement sector. To welcome our new President, here’s a an interview about him and his ideas for YATA.
Before being elected President, you were already a part of YATA Norway’s board. How has the last year been, and what will it be like to lead the organisation?
This past year I was really proud of the overall job that YATA did to educate and bring different insights on policy to young people. Not only are the local chapters very self-sufficient and talented at hosting events, but YATA’s executive board also greatly contributed to fact based and holistic debate on foreign, defence and security policy. NorSec 2017 was an inspiring conference on NATO and Russia, and there has been a great series of monthly YATA articles published online throughout the year. I’m proud to be in a youth organisation that ensures an intelligent and tolerant focus when dealing with sometimes controversial policy issues. My job as Vice President last year was that of an all-rounder, helping out with and observing all the activities in YATA. I’m thrilled to now have excited new board members join and get those same experiences.
What are your ambitions for YATA?
I’ve always placed emphasis on YATA being a network for ambitious, security-minded young people, and that this network should prove itself useful to its members. I hope that we can keep up and expand the usefulness of YATA for each member, especially those members who really invest their own time. It is my goal that YATA will serve its members relevant knowledge, an arena for constructive debate, and real opportunities for them to enter and advance in their academic fields and careers. I see and meet many YATA alumni in interesting places, and I would like for them to feel that being a part of our organisation helped them get there. As President I’m all about giving talented people a platform and a spotlight. To achieve this, I hope that the coming year will see many excellent YATA events where young people can meet decision makers, employers and influencers. I will push for our members to write and participate in meetings where they can showcase their knowledge of foreign, defence and security policy. NorSec 2018 will be a space for education and for making good connections. And of course, I hope that YATA will continue to increase its position in Norway as a relevant, professional and well known actor within the field of policy debate.
Why is an organisation like YATA important for young adults today?
First of all, I think now more than ever we need fact based, inclusive and timely discussions on matters of policy. Misinformation, online echo chambers, as well as pure information overload, and the political disillusion of many people (especially the young), all make it critically necessary to have actors and spaces that enable us to educate ourselves and learn tolerance. Secondly, YATA is not a political organisation, nor is it a particular interest group. I think that’s an advantage. We have no stakes to protect, no official stances on policy that we require our members and audience to represent. We are openly and unashamedly passionate about knowledge and discussion. YATA tries its very best to always put facts and a wide spectrum of opinions at the centre of what we do. If you see us posting an article on Facebook about a specific topic, then that’s because we think it’s an interesting piece, not because it’s a particular political opinion that we feel strongly about or want you to agree with. I think that young people should be more willing to engage with a large variety of different knowledge and opinions, not just the ones we already agree with. When you follow YATA online and in events, that’s what you get from us.
In what ways would you like to see YATA’s activities expanded?
Like every President before me I would love for our organisation to keep reaching more and more members and audiences, and to have an even larger and more professionally organised Nordic Security Conference next spring. I honestly feel that YATA is already good at what it does, so my hope is to just do everything even better. Our organisation’s mandate is to be a politically neutral network for young people who are interested in foreign, defence and security policy. There are many ways to do that. I’d like in particular to increase YATA’s media presence as a credible source of well-reasoned information and discussion on security. I think YATA could be seen, published and shared in even more places than we already are. We are all volunteers and it’s amazing what determination alone can accomplish. I’m stubborn, and I believe we have a great product to push, so I’m sure we’ll succeed in growing our organisation further.
Which topics on foreign, defence and security policy do you think will be the most important this coming year?
While I think that few of yesterday and today’s security issues will diminish any time soon, such as violent extremism and regional destabilisation, I think that the coming year will see an increased focus on cyber security and the re-emergence of actual nuclear threat. Both of these issues have been gestating for a long time already, without getting the attention they deserve – at least in the general public. It’s now obvious for anyone following the daily news that we cannot be only theoretically interested in the issues of foreign states’ digital interference with democracy, or the now palpable threat of nuclear conflict, advanced lately by developments in North Korea and the US’ response. Not that nuclear threat was ever really over, but the scenario again feels more realistic. My hope is that cyber security especially receives more public debate and knowledge. This is a topic where so many lack fundamental knowledge and are easily put off by the technological nature of the issue. Everyone understands what bombs and guns mean, but cyber security is more abstract, complex and rapidly evolving. It is a difficult security issue to follow, but all the more important because of that. Another topic I think will be important especially for Norway is the debate on national defence funding and priorities. NATO has almost universal support in the Norwegian population, but we still have room for important discussions on NATO’s activities and mandate.
Who would you be most excited to hear at a security conference?
As it happens, YATA Norway is hosting NorSec 2018 this spring. The overall theme of that conference (yet to be determined) will greatly influence which speakers are most relevant. But since you asked, and since I can dream and freely choose for the purpose of this interview, I’ll go ahead and say: Firstly, Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s very own current Secretary General of NATO. Secondly, the Swedish former Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and international mediator Carl Bildt. Finally, one of my favourite US Secretaries of State ever, Madeline Albright. More generally speaking, I’m a big academic nerd, and you’re likely to find talented policy experts and researchers on the speaker list of NorSec 2018.