We spoke with Eugenia Logie ’13 who was one of two UConn students who attended the Student Conference on US Affairs in early November. (We’ll hear from Megan Fleck ’13 on Monday). The conference is held at West Point, NY.
1. What was the format of the SCUSA Conference?
SCUSA (Student Conference on US Affairs) brings students from all over the country and world to discuss foreign policy and current challenges in US affairs. This year’s theme was “Leading in Lean Times: Assuring Accountability and Assessing American Priorities in an Age of Austerity,” and each delegate was assigned to one of seventeen different roundtables, each with its own theme. I sat on the ‘Costless Wars? Drones, the All-Volunteer Force, and Challenges to Political Accountability’ table, led by West Point cadets and specialists in the civil-military field. While roundtable discussions dominated our itinerary, we also listened to a panel of military leaders/experts, heard from keynote speaker Susan Eisenhower (grand-daughter of President Eisenhower), toured the West Point campus, slept in the barracks with cadet hosts, ate in the mess hall, and discussed issues with delegates from other roundtables. Because SCUSA is designed to be a ‘mini think tank,’ each roundtable had to finish the intensive 4-day conference with a policy paper, which will be published, and 4-minute skit (summarizing discussion and policy recommendations, performed on the last day – all were incredibly creative and funny). The West Point cadets and administration did an exceptional job organizing the conference, and everyone left on Saturday with new friends, great memories, and a much deeper understanding of key problems (and potential solutions) facing our nation in 2012 and beyond.
2. What did you learn?
During registration for the conference, I selected the ‘Costless Wars?’ table as my first choice because I find the issue of drones and covert warfare especially fascinating (and curiously absent from the media, despite the escalation of drone warfare under the Obama administration). I arrived at West Point hoping that the roundtable discussions would deepen my understanding of the tactic and its short- and long-term pros/cons — the roundtable discussions completely exceeded those expectations. Because we did not address drones until the second day, we were able to dive into the problems associated with the widening civilian-military gap and governmental accountability in the ‘War on Terror’ – issues that I had not read extensively about prior to the conference, but found extraordinarily interesting. At the end of our 4 days, we had identified several major policy recommendations: one, increase governmental transparency by shortening the declassification timeline (with case-by-case exceptions), being more open about the use of military contractors, and requiring Congressional approval (via closed hearings in an existing or new Congressional committee) to add people to ‘target’ or ‘kill lists.’ The idea for the Congressional committee stems from the concern that decisions about targeted killing are being made only by (mostly non-elected) officials in JSOC/CIA/State Department/White House, with very little oversight. Two, to help close the ‘civ-mil gap,’ we recommended that the military fellowship program be expanded and focused on getting veterans to enroll in universities rather than take online classes (bringing a military perspective into the classroom), that a ‘Soldier Student Day’ be established to teach students in secondary education about ‘real people’ in the military, and that employers in areas with very small (or non-existent) military populations be given incentives to hire veterans. A lot of our discussion centered on visibility, and the consequences of having a public with few or no links to war – which is what happens with regional recruitment and base locations (military becomes much less visible in areas like the Northeast), an All-Volunteer Force (fewer people are, or know people who are, serving and risking their lives), and heavier use of technology (drones, which eliminate the human costs and can be used very discreetly by those in power). One of the interesting distinctions we made was the one between resource/tool and strategy, and what happens when your tools start defining your strategy.
3. What was unique about the SCUSA Conference?
SCUSA is a unique experience because it brings future civilian and military leaders together to formulate policy. Not only was the glimpse into cadet life eye-opening, but being at West Point, hearing a different perspective from the cadets, and listening to advice from military/policy leaders encouraged a lot of us, including myself, to change our mind-sets. It is not enough to identify problems, and to criticize current policymakers, and to bemoan America’s flaws – it is up to us, as we, passionate college students, are literally the ‘leaders of tomorrow.’ Optimism, hard work, passion, and determination to make a difference CAN make a difference. Additionally, the speakers reminded us that individualism is an excellent thing, but too much individualism can destroy governments – and there is something great about serving something higher than oneself – family, community, country. Sometimes these ideas get lost in the classroom, and hearing that real world ‘do something’ advice was refreshing.