Professor Advises NATO for the Summer

For the second consecutive year, Associate Professor Eric Merriam (joint appointment to the Political Science and Legal Studies departments) served as a legal advisor this summer to the International Military Committee at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Serving as an active duty judge advocate for the Air Force for 14 years, Lt. Col. Merriam’s (now a reservist) assignment to NATO is unique, as the Air Force has not traditionally assigned Reservists to NATO Headquarters.

Merriam usually teaches courses on national security and constitutional law. However, his time out of the classroom complements his instruction with real-world opportunities to engage with the international military political community. Merriam’s work allows his courses to involve real and current legal problems and solutions, rather than hypothetical or stale issues.

“I can provide some reality, whether in a discussion in class or a graded assessment on a test or a paper that actually comes from a real event,” he said. “It keeps me grounded in reality and it helps me prepare students for what real legal practice is like based on what is happening now, and not 25 years ago.”

NATO is composed of 29 member nations and the work is divided between political and military responsibilities. The political side, which includes ambassadors and embassy staff from each member nation, makes decisions regarding what NATO will or won’t do. The military side, where Merriam worked, is comprised of high ranking military representatives and an international military staff. It directs and oversees the military operational implementation of those decisions. The group of military representatives is known as the International Military Committee. Merriam advised the Committee and the International Military Staff.

As a legal advisor to the Committee, Merriam answered legal questions and reviewed operations to make sure plans were implemented within the law. Any military action by NATO is evaluated by other nations and non-governmental organizations in regards to the legality of the act. During Merriam’s session, he provided legal advice on classified operational plans and ongoing military activities, several of which made international headlines.

While the specifics of his legal advising can’t be shared with the public, he did get to experience a variety of cultures and people by simply walking down the hallway.

“It was very exciting to be there,” Merriam said. “Going to lunch I’d see people from 40 different countries in the cafeteria. I love to interact with people of other cultures and ask them how they view law and international politics. It’s so different and truly rewarding professionally and personally.”

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