By Ellen Tsaprailis

Internships can have a significant impact on a graduate student’s experience and Daniel Nikoula is getting quite the introduction to international security at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Operational Headquarters in Brunssum, The Netherlands.

The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) master’s student is currently an intern for the Office of the Political Advisor, Allied Joint Force Command at Headquarters Brunssum—the NATO command responsible for the security of the eastern part of the Alliance, a key part of NATO’s overall deterrence and defence posture.

As the first Canadian to be working for the Political Advisor at NATO’s military headquarters, Nikoula is part of a team who advises the operational-level commander General Guglielmo Luigi Miglietta, an Italian general who reports directly to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

“In my team, our primary focus is connecting the military-focused work of the HQ to the wider political context in which NATO works” says Nikoula. “We provide regular political updates to the commander and his staff explaining the relevant political drivers and motivators which shape the decision-making of the 30 alliance members.”

NPSIA graduate student Daniel Nikoula is currently at Brunssum, The Netherlands for an internship at NATO military headquarters.

A recent example of his work as an intern, Nikoula explains he was tasked with delivering a briefing of the political situation in Kyrgyzstan to a NATO delegation visiting that country, as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace initiative, that described the economic and political situation in Kyrgyzstan as well as the country’s foreign relations.

Of Ukrainian descent, Nikoula has an undergraduate degree in Political Science with a minor in Russian culture and language from the University of Ottawa. He notes that his language skills are very useful and in high demand for an internship placement at NATO.

“A lot of my work entails going through open source material in Russian or Ukrainian and extracting useful information to be added into our products or briefings,” says Nikoula.

As soon as he arrived in late August, Nikoula got straight to work and has been intrigued by the environment where people from 30 different countries are working in one place.

“It’s interesting to navigate this kind of work environment,” says Nikoula. “While it took some time before I was comfortable with all the idiosyncrasies that come along with working in the setting of a large multi-national alliance, it’s a unique opportunity to learn about the culture, traditions and history of other nations.”

Nikoula is in his second year working toward a Master of Arts in the security and defence policy stream, and is taking a directed reading course on NATO and Arctic security and policy under the supervision of Professor Stephen Saideman. Saideman is the Paterson Chair in International Affairs and Director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

Saideman hopes there will be more internships granted to Carleton students.

“The NATO Internship gives a chance for a student to not only get some practical experience, but to do it in a mysterious organization that is not well understood and in a cool place,” says Saideman. “Daniel was in two of my classes—United States Foreign Policy and Civil-Military Relations—and demonstrated a keen curiosity into international security issues.”

Patience for Security Clearance
NATO security clearance can take up to six months but could be faster if a student already has Canadian government security clearance says Nikoula. Students should be aware to approach their graduate supervisor early on in their program if this type of internship is of interest.

The competitive process requires ample documentation such as proof of studies, resume and motivation letter. In 2021, only 62 interns were selected out of more than 4,000 applications. NATO internships also require an internship agreement with the university that is a legal document signed by the head of Carleton International.

It took Nikoula one year to complete the process to be awarded the paid internship that will last for six months.

“Students apply because it sounds like an interesting opportunity and will not really think about this complexity regarding security clearances until after the possibility becomes real,” says Saideman.

Daniel Nikoula

Opportunity Knocks
“I wish I had this opportunity when I was a student,” says Saideman. “It combines an amazing inside perspective on a critical international organization at a moment of crisis with a great location and fascinating people.”

Nikoula is grateful to have this experience.

“It’s a very challenging but rewarding experience so far. It’s a fast-paced environment and there is a lot of work to be done, but it is a phenomenal opportunity to learn a lot and I feel quite privileged to be here.”

Monday, November 7, 2022 in , ,
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