The Cable

The Definitive European Security Conference Drinking Game

Take a shot every time you hear “Europe needs a new strategy.”


The European security conference circuit is a peculiar beast indeed. Each year, countless think tanks, political parties, and businesses in Washington and across the pond organize conferences to ruminate on the state of trans-Atlantic relations while frantically networking and noshing on stale pastries.

For those unfamiliar with the world, here’s how they work:

Conference organizers cram the stage with a hodgepodge of government ministers, business execs, and other leading thought leaders who lead thoughts on panels in 90-minute intervals. They pontificate on things like “shifting security environments that test the existing world order” or “threats from Europe’s politically turbulent flanks” or “the political landscape of a post-Cold War/post-Brexit/post-Trump Europe.” It’s usually a ratio of 90 percent older white men, 10 percent “other.”

Sprinkled between this rhetorical oatmeal are keynote addresses by the big leaguers, introduced by important introducers, who are sometimes introduced by introducers themselves. Sometimes the keynoters use the conference platform for important, meaningful, and impactful policy speeches. Oftentimes, they do not.

(Disclosure: As a former think tanker himself, this author organized countless conferences, including some of the exact type he now lampoons. Which may be why this drinking game is such an important mission for him.)

There’s genuinely valuable aspects sandwiched between the panels: networking, private bilateral meetings, or off-the-record side events where the real work gets done. But 10 hours of back-to-back panels, followed by so-called “night owl sessions” can be a mental marathon.

Foreign Policy, in its infinite wisdom and generosity, now humbly offers a helping hand. Without further ado, here is the definitive drinking game guide for European security conferences.

Drink every time you hear:

“A wake-up call for Europe” Ukraine was a wake-up call for Europe. Brexit was a wake-up call for Europe. The refugee crisis was a wake-up call for Europe. Oh, and also, Trump’s election was a wake-up call for Europe. Hopefully Europe can now stay woke.

“The United States and Europe need to create a ______ strategy.” Strategy is important. So important, in fact, that diplomats, think tankers, and experts call for a new strategy for NATO, the EU, the Middle East, Asia, the Middle East and Asia, Russia, etc. weekly. (Finish your drink if everyone agrees there needs to be a new strategy, but no one discusses what that strategy should actually be.)

“NATO is in crisis.” With Donald Trump in the Oval Office, this cliche has a lot more teeth now. But nevertheless, take your sip.

“Europe must face challenges together.” “Because no big security challenges can be faced alone.” Drink.

“Trans-Atlantic Values” Take two sips if they say trans-Atlantic values are “under threat.” Take three if it’s Vladimir Putin’s fault.

“______ is challenging the international order.” It’s usually Russia or China doing this. But sometimes it’s Trump. Or populism. Or cyber things.

“Europe is indispensable.” Typically uttered in Brussels by a Eurocrat among other Eurocrats who already think Europe is indispensable.

“Europe needs new tools/new ambition/new vision.” Europe’s really struggling right now. What it needs is vision. Vision is good. But new vision? New vision is better.

“Protecting an interconnected world” The world is more interconnected today than it ever was before. You should take a drink.

“The end of the U.S. global leadership?” It’s the cool thing to ask at conferences these days, what with Donald Trump in office. Take two drinks if that’s the actual title of the panel.

“Stand united in the face of Russian aggression.” Finish your drink if it’s John McCain saying this.

Take a shot every time:

An audience member’s “question” turns into a meandering 10 minute-long soliloquy on the state of the world.

Someone says NATO and the EU need to cooperate more. No, really they do. Because it’s more important now than ever before. (Take two shots if they don’t elaborate on specifics.)

A European minister avoids answering a question about Donald Trump from an audience member or moderator.

You overhear: “We tried to get more women on stage but none of the ones we know could make it.”

Take seven shots if:

Bono speaks at your conference and says the bulwark against extremism is hope and opportunity. Oh wait that already happened.

Photo credit: Juozas Kaziukenas/Flickr CreativeCommons

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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