Middlebury professor and visiting scholar Stanley Sloan should have been in Copenhagen, Denmark today, speaking at the NATO 70th Anniversary Seminar about the subject he has studied for 50 years: European security issues and the NATO alliance. Instead, he is at home in Vermont, watching as the world reacts to the cancellation of that conference.
The cancellation followed Sloan’s disinvitation to the event, which came at the request of the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands. Until its cancellation, the seminar was to be hosted jointly by the Danish Atlantic Council (DAC) and the U.S. Embassy in Denmark, and was set to include 12 keynote speakers. Sloan was asked to fill in for one after a last-minute withdrawal on Dec. 1. He immediately accepted and booked flights to Copenhagen.
“On behalf of the Embassy of the United States of America and the Danish Atlantic Council, we take great pleasure in requesting your company as Keynote Speaker at the Conference,” read a letter sent to Sloan on Dec. 1, signed by Ambassador Sands and the Secretary-General of the DAC, Lars Bangert Struwe.
However, on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 7, a follow-up letter from the DAC struck a different tone.
“The Danish Atlantic Council via the official channels became instructed that Ambassador Carla Sands does not want [your] presence at the Conference,” Struwe wrote in the letter, followed by an affirmation that the council still supported Sloan’s attendance.
“It must be made perfectly clear that this is in total disharmony with the way the Danish Atlantic Council want to act,” Struwe wrote. “Thus, knowing that you do criticise the President of the United States, we believe that Freedom of Speech is paramount in every democracy, and we do not see a conflict between the Freedom of Speech and participating as a Speaker at an international conference.”
However, Struwe wrote, the embassy is a “major financial founder” of the conference, and the Council did not have the power to disagree with the embassy’s decision to disinvite Sloan.
On Twitter, the U.S. Embassy in Denmark has written that the choice to disinvite Sloan was related to his last-minute appointment to the speaking roster, and the lack of collaborative decision making in the invitation process. Sloan has not had any direct communication with the embassy or the state department.
Despite the embassy’s claims that Sloan was disinvited over procedural concerns, Sloan is confident that it is related to his recent critiques of President Donald Trump over Twitter, especially ones related to the NATO Leaders Meeting in London two weekends ago. The DAC’s comments seem to echo a similar sentiment.
“I was just continuing my critique of his approach to NATO, which has been disastrous,” Sloan said. Sloan has been publicly critical of Trump through social media, public appearances and his books for years.
On Dec. 8, the DAC decided to cancel the entire NATO 70th Anniversary Seminar because the planning of the conference had become “too problematic” and it would be unfair to ask the invited speakers to involve themselves, which Struwe said in a letter published by the DAC.
The U.S. Embassy critiqued the DAC’s decision to cancel the Seminar in a series of Dec. 8 tweets.
Sloan thought that the order to cancel his lecture could have been enacted by either Ambassador Sands or by a direction from Washington, according to personal sources in Denmark.
“This is a consequence of Trumpism,” Sloan said. “Whether the order came from Washington or the ambassador, if it was her and she canceled it because she knew the president would not want someone critical of him on the program … they’re all the same thing to me.”
If his public criticism is in fact the reason for the cancellation, Sloan said, then he is fearful for American democracy. He has been giving lectures through the State Department Public Diplomacy program since 1983, and says that he has always had the ability to critique policy of any administration, Republican or Democrat.
When his appearance was canceled, Sloan took to social media and posted a written copy of the speech he had planned to give, which received support from Danes and Americans on Twitter and Facebook, as well as from the DAC.
In his speech, Sloan intended to talk about the external threats to NATO — Russia, terrorism and China — as well as internal threats, which he said include Trump. He also concluded the speech by imagining the “negative” future of the alliance, one in which Trump is re-elected.
Sloan noted the irony of the embassy’s decision: “Frankly, if I had given that talk at the conference, it would have produced some debate at the meeting, might have gotten a little bit of press in Denmark,” he said. “Now, I’m sure that the embassy and state department aren’t happy because they created a whole new reality, and they’ve gotten slammed by Danish press, and this continues to be a topic of discussion in Denmark and the U.S.”
Travis Sanderson ’19 is one of several Middlebury students who worked as a research assistant under Sloan at the college. Sanderson helped Sloan conduct research into advocating for strengthening of the political center.
Sanderson expressed worry about the administration’s reaction to a speaker as centrist as Sloan.
“He is a mainline voice in defense of Western institutions,” Sanderson wrote in an email to The Campus. “If the Trump administration is now pressuring think tanks to not welcome the voice of someone who advocates for ‘radical centrist populism,’ a middle-of-the-road viewpoint, then we have already moved beyond partisan attacks and into the realm of silencing any voices that do not belong to the far right politics of the administration.”
“[The Trump administration] won’t allow all variety of perspectives. It is a weakness of democracy under this president, and something that everyone should be concerned about,” he said.
Sloan is teaching “American Power: Soft, Hard, or Smart” this January. He has been teaching courses during Middlebury’s Winter Term since 2005.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sloan is a fellow at the Danish Atlantic Council. He is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council of the United States.