by James Stout, San Diego

by James Stout, San Diego

A big step forward for the NATO spouses

26 May, 2017

by James Stout, San Diego

The NATO conference held in Brussels this month has not been without its firsts. It was the first conference attended by Donald Trump, The first unveiling of NATO’s two new monuments and the first such conference at which Luxembourg’s first gentleman attended with his husband.

Gauthier Destenay married Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel in 2015 just a few months after their nation legalised same sex unions. When the couple were married two years ago they became the first example of such a union. The Belgian born architect seemed perfectly comfortable in his home country despite being surrounded by first ladies whose husbands have a questionable stance on the legitimacy of his relationship.

The collection of first spouses posed for photographs in the Royal Castle of Laeken before they sent to a special dinner which wa sonly for first spouses. In the photographs, Destiny can be seen directly behind Melania trump and Emine Erdogan, the latter did not seem to be enjoying the occasion as much as Mr Destenay who struck a rather different chord with his chic black suit and grey tie amongst the collected colourful dresses of the women he shared the stage with. Unlike many of his counterparts, Destenay opted not to change his outfit for the evening, perhaps the only part of his job which is easier than that of the first ladies.

Aside from providing a welcome respite from photos of Donald Trump pushing other world leaders aside so that he can be more prominent in photos, this is an important occurrence. When young people have LGBTQ role models to look up to and when LGBTQ relationships are normalised, it makes it that much easier to come out.

Joseph Nye, a US international relations theorist, coined the term “soft power” to describe the power a nation has to persuade and to lead through its cultural rather than physical resources. Soft power, and the ability to define the global cultural mood, was been the most powerful weapon in the US arsenal for decades. It costs nothing, is infinitely reusable and has far more ability to change behaviour than bombs and bullets. Given the recent change in tone of the White House’s messaging and the open disavowal of the USA’s responsibilities abroad, the USA seems to be losing soft power at a remarkable rate.

As international relations become more tense, a space opens up for less violent international interactions and new cultural leaders. With Trump, Putin and others busy posturing there is a space for leaders like those of the smaller European nations to set the cultural tone. We can but hope that young people the world over look up to the leadership we are seeing from NATO in normalising same sex unions, whatever mrs Erdogan might think.