from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

CFR Model Diplomacy: Students as Policymakers

August 30, 2016 3:21 pm (EST)

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

When asked to recommend readings for international relations and foreign policy syllabi, I regularly send people to my summaries of important policy-relevant findings from academic journals. But for this fall, I wanted to recommend an immersive teaching tool that goes beyond reading lists and puts students in the policymaker hot seat, where they work in teams to make judgments and decisions based upon limited information and timelines.

Our new Model Diplomacy initiative features case-based simulations that offer free course guides, multimedia content, research materials, and exercises for high school teachers and undergraduate professors to use in the classroom. It includes thirteen timely and relevant cases, from a humanitarian intervention in South Sudan to an escalating cyber clash with China. As of this summer, 547 institutions are participating in Model Diplomacy, representing some 68 countries.

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One case that I have developed and updated is a National Security Council (NSC) meeting simulation that debates the merits of authorizing a drone strike in Pakistan against Ayman al-Zawahiri. Students are told:

Last week, the CIA suddenly came upon highly credible evidence of Zawahiri’s location—inside a large compound in a densely populated city in the Federally Adminstrated Tribal Areas. The compound also houses an estimated three dozen women and children. A trusted source from within Pakistan, who has provided credible information in the past, told his CIA liaison that Zawahiri will be meeting several high-level al-Qaeda operatives at his compound at 2:00 a.m. tomorrow. Among those believed to be attending is an American who is also a senior al-Qaeda operative. The president must decide quickly whether to authorize action to kill or capture Zawahiri.

For a fairly dramatic video of some remarkable teenagers debating a drone strike or capture operation against Zawahiri, see the Model Diplomacy homepage. To learn more, and to see what other tools CFR offers for teachers, professors, and students, visit CFR Campus. Welcome back to school.

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