As a country in southeastern Europe devolved into simulated political crisis and chaos, more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and law school students from six universities scrambled to analyze information, engage in diplomacy with other teams and strategize to resolve the crisis.
Students from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University joined those from Binghamton University, Dartmouth College, SUNY Brockport, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Yale University in the full-day virtual international crisis response simulation. The event was organized this spring by the International Rule of Law and Security program at ASU Law and the Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention at Binghamton University.
The simulation, similar to those undertaken by U.S. government officials to train them in decision-making, conflict analysis, and international cooperation and crisis resolution, gave students an insider look into how government officials would respond to an evolving crisis somewhere in the world with limited information and time.
There is a crucial need for individuals driven to resolve crises diplomatically amid countless global challenges and problems, said ASU Law Professor of Practice Julia Fromholz, director of the International Rule of Law and Security program and convener of the simulation.
“Because we’re dealing with such difficult problems at home, complex crises in foreign countries might seem particularly abstract,” Fromholz said. “This exercise examined some of those complexities and demonstrated to students why diplomacy and the rule of law are critical now, more than ever, when nationalism, xenophobia, authoritarianism and a lack of faith in democracy are rising significantly around the globe.”
Students were divided into teams according to five countries and organizations, including the United Nations and nongovernmental groups, with each led by a former U.S. ambassador. Simulation play took place over four rounds.
At the start of each round, teams received an assortment of new information related to the simulated crisis and had to work in their teams to analyze the information, determine what they would like to share with other groups and resolve the crisis.
The International Rule of Law and Security program and Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention hope that the simulation gave students an insight into how they could use their degrees and academic pursuits to work in fields such as foreign policy, international development, international law and human rights.
ASU Law student Emilio Giuliani, class of 2023, said he found the simulation engaging and exciting for several reasons.
“I enjoyed the chance to discuss strategic approaches to problem-solving with former ambassadors and other knowledgeable professionals in the area of international law,” Giuliani said. “In addition, connecting with other like-minded students over a unique and time-sensitive scenario was a great learning experience and provided insight into how such challenges are tackled in the real world.”
The former ambassadors served as team leaders and guided the students in developing their strategies, understanding the complex nature of evolving crises, and advising them on how negotiators representing countries and organizations would respond to limited information available in the midst of a constantly evolving situation.
Robert Bradtke, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and former ASU Law adjunct professor who served as a team leader, said the simulation “was an opportunity to share some of what we have learned over long careers in government and to benefit from the fresh perspective of the students.”
Added Kathleen Fitzpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to Timor-Leste: “The simulation was an excellent real-world learning experience for the students, and as a team leader, I was impressed with the participants and learned a lot from them.”
Students analyzed new information they received at the start of each round on the developing crisis, which came in the form of news articles, tweets, official government statements and intelligence reports, among others. They then had to quickly determine how the information changed the dynamic of the conflict and the situation on the ground, and how their country or organization should best respond.
Mimicking a real-life crisis in which different actors have differing knowledge and awareness of aspects of an ongoing crisis, not all teams received all of the same information, so students had to engage in diplomacy with other teams to understand the full scope of the crisis and fill in any missing pieces.
“We were able to take from what we knew of previous policy and what we knew from our various educational and experiential backgrounds and combine it to come up with amazingly creative and inspiring ideas,” said Yale student Raisha Waller, a simulation participant.
Jim Finkel, a former member of the senior civil service, served as the simulation’s creator and game master.
“For me, the biggest highlight as I traveled through the breakout rooms was the sophistication and seriousness of the discussions I was hearing,” said Finkel, who also was part of the simulation held in October 2019 at ASU Law’s campus in downtown Phoenix. “I came away with the sense that the students were trying very hard to take the various theories they had been studying in the classroom and apply them to this rapidly unfolding, complex scenario.”
Jennifer Kearse, a senior at SUNY Brockport and simulation participant, said the exercise helped her apply her learnings from Brockport's political science program to real-life situational use – not just in a test or grade format.
“It gives a real, tangible perspective as to what our diplomats and ambassadors must overcome and grapple with when making policy decisions involving international interests,” Kearse said. “The complex interconnections between governments and ethical and moral dilemmas, are not something showcased on the front-page news, the simulation showed me just how difficult those things are to intertwine.”
Finkel said that it is “such a pleasure to be able to work with ASU and its smart, engaging students. I hope that through these simulation exercises we will stimulate some of the students to pursue the various career options available to them in diplomatic, humanitarian and international legal affairs. America and our struggling world need their enthusiasm, strong values and good ideas.”
Hear more from the simulation participants in the International Rule of Law and Security blog.
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