GCSP ITC-LISC Alumni: Where are they now? No. 2: Major Generals Mats Engman and Urs Gerber
GCSP ITC-LISC Alumni: Where are they now? No. 2: Major Generals Mats Engman and Urs Gerber
International Training Course (ITC) – A Lifelong Network: Personal Relations Making a Professional Difference
Major General Mats Engman (ret.) of the Swedish Armed Forces and Major General Urs Gerber (ret.) of the Swiss Armed Forces, both alumni of the 1993-1994 edition of the ITC, co-headed the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) on the Korean Peninsula from 2015 to 2017 as the heads of the Swedish and Swiss delegations, respectively. Both recently returned to the GCSP to share their expertise on “The Art of Leadership at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC)”. We took this opportunity to catch up with them on their post-GCSP lives.
Isabelle Gillet of GCSP Community Engagement: On 26 January you stepped back into the GCSP classroom and shared your expertise with our course participants and the wider GCSP alumni community during our first “Alumni Insight” event. How did it feel to be back in the GCSP environment?
Maj. Gen. Gerber: I have the pleasure and honour to be in Geneva quite often. The buildings have changed. It’s much more luxurious than we were accustomed to. It feels very nice and I really appreciate being back. If the GCSP had not been created in 1995, we would have had to found it immediately!
Maj. Gen. Engman: I have very fond memories of my time in Geneva and I really appreciated this opportunity to interact once again with GCSP course participants and alumni. Sadly enough, it was not in a physical format, but over the “new normal” of virtual communication which we have to use in today’s circumstances. Hopefully, once this is over, we will be able to see each other in Geneva and have a stroll along Lac Léman once more.
Isabelle Gillet: Who would have thought that when you left the GCSP classroom your career paths would cross again on different occasions. How did you feel standing opposite your former classmate again and how did the time at the ITC help you to collaborate during your engagements abroad?
Maj. Gen. Gerber: During my time in the intelligence environment, I was sent on a business trip to Stockholm. In this particularly sensitive environment, names are not exchanged much in advance. Shortly before the start of the meeting, I recognised a very familiar name on the participant list – my course colleague Mats Engman figured on the list. I can tell you, this was sort of a major relief for me. We had spent nine months together at the GCSP, we learned together, we skied together, we discussed together. This Geneva background of ours helped us to interact again. We met again in London and during other professional activities. When Mats’ predecessor at the NNSC in South Korea told me that his successor would be Mats Engman, I simply had to sit down. My decision to extend my tenure in Korea had been taken for me!
“Collaborating alongside my former ITC classmate,
friend and colleague was a very nice way to end
my professional career. It was a sort of ‘cherry on the cake’.”
Isabelle Gillet: What lessons on leadership did you gain in Panmunjeom?
Maj. Gen. Engman: One of the best lessons I learned is the value of personal relationships. In international politics we often speak about nations, national interests, etc., but at the end of the day the people who pursue those national interests are individuals, and personal relations matter. We can think it’s not fair that relations between two nations are at halt because two Presidents or the two Prime Minsters do not get along. It’s a fact of life. Having a colleague to work with that you have known from many years and that you know has a similar understanding and sense of what is important and what is not important – that should not be underestimated. The value of a good personal relationship in international affairs can make a difference, and it can also be a tremendous obstacle when that feature is not there.
Isabelle Gillet: The international security environment is marked by rapid changes. Is there anything you learned during your time at the GCSP that has proven relevant no matter how international security has evolved?
Maj. Gen. Engman: I have one thing that I remember very clearly: we had a professor who talked about security issues related to the Middle East. He came to one lesson during our course and said “I am now going to explain to you why it makes perfect sense for Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait”; and he did. And we all were listening and taking notes, as good students. The next week he came to us and said, “I’m now going to explain to you why it doesn’t make sense for Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait”; and he did. I was sitting there, and at the time I couldn’t really hit the logical part of his reasoning. I’ve been reflecting on that quite a lot since those two lessons. Depending on your perspective and your argument you can easily persuade someone that you are correct. It taught me a lesson to always be a bit cautious when someone expresses a strong opinion about international affairs. There are always other perspectives which need to be calculated and balanced to form your own opinion.
Maj. Gen. Gerber: If I am not mistaken, we were the first ITC course with classmates from the former Soviet Union. I very well recall the national presentations giving their countries’ most challenging topics. Three friends from further East were speaking on minority rights and the evolution of their countries’ language laws in relation to the Russian language. For them the curve of educating and of awareness raising was tremendous – but not only for them; for us from the Western countries as well. I was, for example, for the first time confronted with people from that area who were representing their country. That was when I thought there is much to do and that we should unite these and other countries within the “European House”. The second point which I noted was the comprehensive approach in the classroom. We did not only talk on military issues – we talked on science, politics, and other issues related to international security. I learned in that course that if you have to approach a leadership challenge, you have to take all relevant aspects into account. This helped me a lot in the future. Last but not least, the Geneva spirit is unbeatable. You have all relevant organisations – international entities, NGOs, foundations – at the doorstep of the Centre, which broadened our understanding and relations.
Major General Mats Engman received his basic training in the Swedish Air Force in 1973 and fairly quickly entered an unusual path for a typical air force officer during the Cold War, which was in the international domain. He undertook his first UN assignment as a military observer in the Middle East in 1983 and subsequently continued along that route. He led numerous assignments where the common factors were international relations, intelligence and international operations. His last assignment before retiring was at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in the Korean Peninsula, where he led the Swedish delegation. Today he has replaced his full-time active service duties with three jobs. He continues to serve as a reserve officer in the Swedish Air Force, undertaking part-time roles for the Chief of Defence. He also has his own business, called Independent Views, and in that capacity he runs training and security awareness activities. He is also a distinguished military fellow at a think tank in Stockholm dealing with Asian developments. He has been invited several times to comment on developments in East Asia and in particular on Korea-related events for both the Swedish and international media, and has been invited to give lectures and attend seminars as both an expert and moderator.
Major General Urs Gerber has followed a double-hatted career – as is typical for many Swiss people. After graduating with a degree in history from the University of Bern, he joined the Swiss General Staff as a civil servant and then worked for an extended period in strategic intelligence, which included heading the Warsaw Pact Office during the Cold War. He moved into the area of military strategy when the new Swiss Armed Forces were designed, and was nominated to be head of the Swiss Verification Unit. This in turn led him into the field of international relations, where he was in charge of security cooperation with Euro-Atlantic states as head of the Swiss Armed Forces’ Euro-Atlantic Security Cooperation Division. Towards the end of his career he spent five-and-a-half years as head of the Swiss delegation to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in the Korean Peninsula, from where he retired in 2017. Today he is the President of the Foundation Council of the Swiss Armed Forces’ Historic Material Foundation, an institution responsible for collecting, maintaining and developing the “hardware legacy” of the Swiss Armed Forces. He is also co-chair of the Annual Senior Officers Seminar on leadership and crisis management at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and continues to give talks and lectures on the situation in and around the Korean Peninsula.