Turn 4 Developments

This past week (Statecraft Turn 4 in my class) provided some great opportunities to illuminate key IR concepts with Statecraft.  To provide some context, we have finished our survey of foreign policy and are beginning to delve into international security in this introductory IR course.  On Monday we had a student-led debate on whether the U.S. was justified in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan (followed by a 45-minute Turn 4 simulation session), and on Wednesday I lectured about Just War Theory and some core security concepts such as the security dilemma, deterrence, and compellence.  (This class meets Mondays and Wednesdays for 75 minutes).

After laying out the basic principles of Just War Theory (just cause, right intention, proportionality, etc.) I asked students to reflect on whether the same principles apply to war in Statecraft.  This question has yielded some remarkably interesting and heated conversations over the years.  It is a sneaky way to get students to apply the principles they just learned and to think about differences between the real world and a fictional world in which the stakes are not nearly as high and yet the players have the ability to harm or help each other, with real points in the balance.  Many students argued that despite the lack of actual death and destruction, students still had an obligation to not harm each other (and potentially each other’s grades) without just cause, such as self-defense, and should not engage in disproportionate retaliation.  In a paradoxical way, using Statecraft makes questions of ethics and war more real to many students because they are personally affected by the aggressive actions of others and feel righteous indignation when they believe basic principles of just cause and proportionality have been violated.  Introducing the principles of Jus ad bellum and Jus in bello gives students a framework and vocabulary to critique the actions of others, and this vocabulary frequently surfaces later in the simulation as conflict arises or is contemplated.

When introducing the concepts of the security dilemma, deterrence, and compellence, I used both real-world cases and Statecraft examples.  Frequently the Statecraft examples “hit home” more directly with students–since they are personally experiencing these challenges–and make both the abstract concepts and the real-world cases more clear.  For example, students knew exactly how they would respond if a neighboring country in Statecraft undertook a significant arms buildup while claiming entirely defensive motives.  Some of them are currently dealing with such a neighbor.  They said they would be forced either to build up their own armed forces or to seek alliances with powerful countries to safeguard their security.  When I asked how these moves would appear to their neighbor, they again intuitively grasped the fear their actions would likely engender, and the ease with which what began as a defensive effort to achieve security could escalate into an arms spiral, increased tensions, and perhaps even armed conflict.  Some students will challenge the notion that such a spiral is inevitable and point to the fact that the identity of the country initiating the buildup is crucial in determining the response.  This is a great opening to discuss “balance of threat” theory, constructivist notions that anarchy and security competition can be ameliorated, and psychological research on perception and misperception.

Unlike the security dilemma, which frequently just “happens to students” in Statecraft, deterrence and compellence are tools that students can consciously try out as they explore their toolbox of diplomatic, economic, and military instruments.  Lecturing about the “nuts and bolts” of these strategies sensitizes students to the availability and proper use of these techniques and I frequently notice them employing deterrence and compellence more intentionally after I have explained the concepts.  Of course, frequently these efforts fail or are clumsily implemented, which provides great opportunities to discuss what went wrong and what the risks and limitations of these strategies are.

Turn 5 began at 3 pm yesterday and the news indicates it will be the most intense turn yet (which is great for learning, because everyone’s emotions and intellect are now deeply engaged, although it isn’t so great for students’ nerves).  Armed conflict has broken out and (as usual) it didn’t go entirely according to plan.  World peace (5 points) has been lost, due to the actions of the innocuously named but universally distrusted Candy Land.   Monday’s simulation session will be very interesting to watch.  I can’t wait to see how the world responds.

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