Security Dilemmas in a Changing Europe: Students Reflect on their Semester

 “My professor always says that previous iterations of this class were focused on theories and hypothetical situations; that is, of course, no longer the case. Russian aggression in Europe is a reality. Out-of-control inflation is a reality. Sweden joining NATO (trying to join NATO) is a reality. As fascinating as it is to watch theories come to life and observe how countries deal with real dilemmas, it is also rather unsettling to recognize just how far-reaching the consequences of a reaction to any of these current dilemmas could potentially be. Will European countries, in the throes of the gas crisis, inflation, and poorly-devised immigration policies, turn towards realism and its zero-sum mindset, or will they stay the course of liberalism, even if it means risking domestic stability? Not only have we ourselves explored these possibilities, but have been given front-row seats to the decisions (and ramifications of said decisions) made by European states in response to these crises.”  

Julia (she/her), Bryn Mawr College, European Security Dilemmas, Fall 2022

Faculty Steve Turner leads discussion

At first glance, Sweden might not be the most obvious host for a course on European security — as a nation that has historically stuck to pacifism and neutrality, what insight can it offer? In fact, at this point in time, Sweden is uniquely poised to interrogate some of the most pressing questions in European and global politics today. Through a combination of theory and experiential learning that goes beyond the classroom, the European Security Dilemmas Core Course at DIS Stockholm showcases the value of studying where lessons can be found not only in readings, but on every street corner of the city as well.

What constitutes such a dilemma is an ever-changing definition. It might be obvious — Russian forces in Ukraine or active cyber warfare, but it also might look like a rise in fundamentalist and right-wing tendencies, the risk of pandemics, or European governments struggling to respond in unison to increasing numbers of refugees. As the news cycle changes, so do the possibility for course topics.

DIS sat down with a couple of students from the European Security Dilemmas Core Course to learn about how this course has informed their understanding as well as what made their DIS experience a valuable one.

Looking to the Future: Zak’s Perspective

Zak (he/him), Boston University, is finishing his undergraduate career at DIS Stockholm, spending the second semester of his senior year taking European Security Dilemmas. At his home institution, his senior thesis used Sweden as a case study to look at European politics. It’s only fitting he then came to live his day-to-day in that very place — at times, in the most important rooms in the Swedish political landscape; visiting parliament and Saab, a weapons manufacturer.

“Studying European politics from a Swedish perspective is a very interesting thing to do right now. These are all hot, hot issues that are not theory or things in textbooks,” Zak says. “They’re actually happening, we can take stuff out of the local news and global news.”

The European Security Dilemmas course doesn’t just stick to Sweden – the group embarked on a mid-semester week-long Study Tour to Riga and Vilnius, the Latvian and Lithuanian capital cities. There, the group visited the parliaments and met with diplomats, politicians, and other experts in the field. Learning about European security in these post-Soviet Baltic nations offers unique insight at any time, perhaps now especially.

For Zak, that insight didn’t end when the week did — after leaving DIS and graduating from his home institution, he’ll be spending the next semester interning for the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Lithuania. This opportunity was built from a connection he initially forged on his Study Tour, and one that will be informed by his time at DIS and in Stockholm.

The fall 2022 cohort taking a walking tour of Vilnius during Long Study Tour.

“I think the things we’ve been talking about in Steve’s class are obviously directly applicable to the role,” Zak said. “The Field Studies, the Study Tours, all directly applicable. Being in Europe and surrounding myself with the pressing issues of European politics and security has kind of given me perspective to carry into that internship. I already will have the contextual background, the framing.”

While Zak’s situation is as unique one, his reflections on the course are echoed by classmates.

Learning Beyond the Classroom: Julia’s Perspective

Julia (she/her), Bryn Mawr College, came to DIS Stockholm explicitly for the European Security Dilemmas course – to her, the city of Stockholm was a happy afterthought.

“I wanted to go somewhere specifically to focus on something I wanted to study, that being international relations, and I thought the Core Course was really interesting,” Julia says. “I really liked how the program was set up, where we’d be going on trips to Latvia and Lithuania, that was also a big sell for me. It just seemed like such an incredible opportunity to be able to go to all these places. As for Stockholm, specifically, I’ve really loved it here. And it’s really conducive to what we’re learning about, specifically in this program, Sweden is a very interesting case study.”

In addition to their visits outside of the country, the course explores beyond the classroom – connecting academic backgrounds to tangible examples. This type of learning is, naturally, supported by readings and discussion, but it’s engrained by the tactical experiences.

“I can read something and come away with the main idea — but it’s a lot easier for me to absorb something when I can connect it with something material,” Julia says “And so, going to the Riksdag and seeing the way the parliament is set up, or going to Saab and seeing how they manufacture weapons, that has really anchored my learning.”

The fall 2022 cohort outside of the Naval Museum on Stumholmen during Coure Course week in Karlskrona.

Those conversations don’t end when a Study Tour, Field Study, or class session does. For Julia, much of her learning and furthering of ideas happened in largely unstructured ways and by choice. When classes ended, she often found herself continuing discussions over fika with peers or a passing conversation with a professor.

The classes here have been so engaging that I want to engage with it afterwards, and other people want to engage with it afterwards too.

“What’s been great here is that it seems like a lot of my learning doesn’t just come from a textbook or from a reading, but from conversations outside of class,” Julia says. “That is something that’s a lot rarer, I think, in most university settings. But the classes here have been so engaging that I want to engage with it afterwards, and other people want to engage with it afterwards too.”

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