We asked Zachary Smith ’15 to tell us about his experience at the 55th Annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference (NAFAC).
I recently had the pleasure of attending the 55th annual Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference in Annapolis, Maryland. The theme for this year’s conference was “Sustainability and Sovereignty: Global Security in a Resource-Strained World.” At the conference we were tasked with analyzing and learning about the relationship between sovereignty and sustainability—from the survival and development of states (with involvement by non-state actors), to the sanctity of borders, and the effective management of our global commons. Delegates representing over 50 countries and 100 colleges and universities were divided into 15 roundtables to dissect specific topics. Most roundtable discussions included ten university delegates, two or three foreign delegates, two midshipmen delegates, a midshipman moderator and two senior advisors. I was proud to be a part of the roundtable entitled: “The Bottom Line vs. Human Rights: Multinational Corporations, Sovereignty, and the Developing World.” (pictured below)
The roundtable sessions were often so fast-paced and lively that it was difficult to get a word in. Delegates were passionate about their topics, had a background in the subject matter, and were required to write a substantial policy paper for their roundtable. My paper was on foreign corporate engagement (or lack thereof) with human rights protection and promotion in the Republic of Myanmar. I argued that the local Buddhist culture can and should play a role in business activities and corporate social responsibility efforts in the country. Along with this great group of delegates, my roundtable also had excellent senior advisors, one coming from a prominent Human Rights NGO and the other from a legal background. Besides these meetings, each day also included a panel, a lecture, and various activities on the yard. I heard from some really distinguished speakers ranging from Naval admirals and Marine Corps generals, to former and current U.S. Ambassadors and Assistant Secretaries of State, to the CEOs of a nuclear energy corporation and the world’s largest vertical agricultural farm.
The setting of the conference truly made it an experience worth remembering—the U.S. Naval Academy is unlike any other college/university I have ever been to. An almost overwhelming spirit of camaraderie, pride, and friendliness is woven throughout a strict and conservative hierarchical campus culture. I was grateful to be so warmly welcomed by every midshipman I met. I was able to eat lunch with a company (as all 4,500 midshipman eat together simultaneously in about 5 minutes), take a tour of the yard, and go out on a Yard Patrol craft on the Severn River. Overall, NAFAC has left me with fond memories, new friends from all over the world, and a fresh perspective on some of the most pressing international issues our generation will face.