The Slovak Atlantic Commission is a unique phenomenon within the Slovak scope, says Ambassador Martin Bútora on the occasion of the Commission’s 20th anniversary. It proves that with a focused effort, hard work and ability to connect key figures of international and security politics, economics and academia, even a small country can make its mark in the world.

Today, the Slovak Atlantic Commission is a team of more than 30 professionals running 60 projects in 18 countries. Yet, twenty years ago, when a group of diplomats of the newly formed country founded the organisation, its agenda was focused on one particular goal – to advocate Slovakia’s integration ambitions.

“The SAC went through a similarly dramatic development as the Slovak republic,” reminisces Ambassador Martin Bútora. “At the beginning, we had to determine where exactly we wanted to belong, as well as what were our national, civic, security and foreign policy interests.”

The breakthrough came in 2005, when the Slovak Atlantic Commission, under the energetic leadership of young foreign policy apprentice Róbert Vass, made a lasting dent in the global foreign policy and security community by establishing the GLOBSEC Bratislava Global Security Forum. “In its first year GLOBSEC was organised by only four or five students for approximately 150 guests,” recalls Róbert Vass who founded GLBOSEC and is now the Commission’s Secretary General.

Since then, GLOBSEC has grown into what US veteran analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski called a “global operation”, annually attracting over 800 participants from more than 60 countries. “GLOBSEC sets the gold standard,” says Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council of the United States, “the Slovak Atlantic Commission has built it into a major platform to generate ideas and shape policy not only in Slovakia but also in Central Europe and increasingly in the transatlantic community.”

“The Slovak Atlantic Commission played a very important role in getting Slovakia into the geostrategic and geopolitical position it has today,” says EU Commission Vice-president Maroš Šefčovič.

The Commission’s leadership has always been particular about the Central European dimension of their activities as the SAC worked to move the region from the periphery to the core of European decision-making, an effort that has not gone unnoticed in Brussels. “The Atlantic bond is very much a part of the Commission´s DNA and we strongly believe in a joint Visegrad approach on defence, economy, and issues of security,“ says Tomáš Valášek, Slovak Ambassador to NATO and CEPI President.

The ever-widening scope of activities has led the Commission to establish its own think-tank, the Central European Policy Institute (CEPI), whose security cooperation studies and recommendations have been adopted by Central European governments. It has also founded a spin-off organisation the Center for European Affairs (CEA) to cover European and economic agendas.

Given the busy schedule and a vast array of projects that range from Brussels, through Vilnius and Tbilisi, to Tunis, it might come as a surprise that the average age in the Slovak Atlantic Commission is less than 30. “I think the secret to their success lies in the way they managed to utilise their energy as well as in their work with young people, whose talent they have helped to discover,” said Pavol Demeš, member of the Board of Governors of the European Endowment for Democracy, commenting on the SAC’s penchant for putting enthusiastic young people to work alongside experienced foreign policy and security professionals such as Ambassador Rastislav Káčer, the SAC’s honorary president and its founder.

This sets the SAC on a good path, says Ambassador Martin Bútora: “This generation radiates a spirit similar to the one shared 20 years ago by an informal community of politicians, diplomats and activists who were keen on setting Slovakia on a pro-Western path. This generation believes they can change the world, they have both the drive and energy to make our voice heard in the EU and to help our neighbours in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.”