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Active Learning and Research
GOVT299: Directed Study on National Security Crisis Simulation
In this course, Political Science faculty Brian Cook and Kristen Williams provide students with a hands-on way to understand the process of national security decision making.

Additonal Student Comments

Jon Bowles represented the U.K.’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

When put in a situation like we were, you begin to focus not on your cultural differences, but shared values. I feel that by participating in a simulation like this you gain insight into each other's cultures and develop ideas of how you might better work together to achieve common goals.

The role played by Eva Brandon '09 role was that of the President’s Chief of Staff.

I think it really helped that this was a group of people who really, really took this seriously, and really wanted to take foreign policy. This is what I want to do. I think that a lot of the people in the class felt that way. I think it became very personal. It was really very serious to everyone. Not just in an academic sense, but in the sense of kind of trying it on. I’ve since decided that it would be okay if I was chief of staff.

Something pretty spectacular happened at one point in the middle of the simulation: we saw a country acting similarly in the real world. During the crisis we had received intelligence from the professors saying that Russia proposed to facilitate negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue. The next day, I picked up a REAL newspaper and read something to the effect that Russia had just told Iran to stop dealing with uranium. It had really happened in real life and that was just terrific.

Chloe Civil played the role of the British Foreign Secretary.

Experiencing the type of situation that government bodies are put under when dealing with a national security crisis has given more than a good insight into, not only the fundamentals of national security, but also the way in which different departments react to crises. Although books provide a good outline of the basic elements to be aware of where national security is concerned, none of these really became clear until we were actually taking part in the simulation.

I feel both teams were able to learn a lot from one another. Having two teams of different 'origin' working in the same crisis and in the same situation allowed a wider basis of knowledge and expertise and also made the simulation more exciting!

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Ben Smith '07 played the role of President of the United States.

The simulation definitely gave you a different perspective than any lecture could give you. I had spent so much time studying the decision making process and different conflicts throughout U.S. history, but I never looked at it from inside a situation room, making a decision myself. So the combination really acted as a synthesis of a learning experience.

I think it was really important that we all took it seriously in the months preceding the simulation, because when the crisis actually went down, we were so involved in it that we wanted to make the right decisions.

Shayna Woodard '08 played the Director of the CIA.

I don't think there was a decision that we ever made that was like, 'oh well, it doesn't really matter, it's only a class.' It was really what we wanted to do. What are the long-term effects of our decision?

I had my staff researching any sort of scenario that I could think of. Whenever we would get intelligence about a country, I'd have them get background info on the country, so if the conflict happened to be North Korea, we would be prepared for whatever would come our way.

Sometimes the intelligence the professors gave us turned out to be a red herring-it didn't really apply to anything. But at the same time we were thinking 'how could this possibly tie in?' It was interesting to see how our minds were working around different bits of intelligence. And the professors didn't necessarily have a set structure of where they were going. They ended up moving with us.

Sometimes there was misinformation inadvertently passed through the agencies. That happens in real life, like the game of telephone. So we had to deal, not only with information that the professors gave us, but with stuff inter-agency wise. Groups telling groups things that were not necessarily true and having to clean up the mess.

The professors wanted us to act autonomously. At first it was sort of difficult to flesh out what our actual roles were supposed to be and what we were supposed to do. But by the time the crisis portion of the simulation happened, the principals were pretty set in their roles, because we had done a good deal of work before then. I think the professors' philosophy of letting us do our own thing, while frustrating at first, actually ended up helping us really develop our own roles.

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