Tag Archives: bureaucratic politics

Teachable Moments

One exciting feature of Statecraft is the innumerable “teachable moments” it generates as students simply go about their business trying to figure out how to maximize their point totals (extra credit in my class) given the constraints of the Statecraft universe.  Yesterday two such moments arose:

1) A student stopped by my office to discuss a non-Statecraft matter and I casually asked him how things were going in Statecraft.  He said his country, which had chosen the attributes pacifist and green and was not interested in any sort of conflict or arms race, was concerned about a saber-rattling country nearby.  His cabinet was weighing the costs and benefits of trying to counter this potential threat through alliances or arms buildups versus making some attractive trade concessions with the potential aggressor, thereby ingratiating themselves and making their country a valuable junior partner of a rising power.  He didn’t know the terms, but he was struggling with the age-old dilemma of balancing versus bandwagoning.  I introduced these terms and we discussed these strategies’ relative merits for several minutes.

2) After class a student asked me what his defense budget should look like in his weekly simulation memo (he’s Secretary of Defense).  I told him he just needed to propose spending on new units for the upcoming turn and list their resource costs (in gold, food, steel, etc.).  He then told me that he’s the only male in his country, that Secretary of Defense fell to him by default, and that he’s probably the most strategically or militarily minded of his cabinet members.  He appeared concerned that his president might not take his concerns seriously and purchase the military units he wants.   I mentioned that he is beginning to experience bureaucratic politics and this intra-governmental struggle will grow more intense as the simulation moves forward–it is common that those students with interests in the military, intelligence, diplomacy, etc., choose the relevant cabinet positions, and (even if they don’t start out with such interests) naturally begin to advocate for their organizational interests as they grow into their respective roles.  Clashes between Defense and State are as common in Statecraft as they are in the real world.

These spontaneous teachable moments occur frequently and are a great supplement to what I do in the classroom in a more planned form: using students’ Statecraft experiences to illuminate IR concepts through lecture, discussion, and papers.  Sometimes the “audience” is a single student, but often it is an entire country group or set of country groups that come to my office for advice or whose deliberations I sit in on during in-class simulation sessions on Mondays.

I expect many more such moments in the coming weeks.  Normally the intensity of the simulation skyrockets around Turn 3 or 4, and with it students’ tendency to let Statecraft consume all waking hours.  I do feel somewhat bad about this potentially impacting their attention to other courses, but not bad enough to stop doing what I’m doing.