Tag Archives: international security

War and Peace in Statecraft

Under the current simulation rules–which have largely been in place for the past few years–about 30% of my “worlds” (classes) have avoided war altogether.  Of the 70% that have experienced armed conflict, about half of these worlds have had localized, regional conflicts, and about half have experienced general war involving (at least peripherally) most of the great powers in the international system.  While students can learn a lot from an entirely peaceful simulation experience, I have found that the most intense student involvement and the deepest learning about world politics occurs when students are grappling with the presence or the looming threat of armed conflict.

War broke out in my Statecraft world this week, as the countries of Candy Land and Dynamistan launched a joint invasion of the Constitutional Union of Patagonia (C.U.P.).  This attack cost all students the 5-point Global Peace Award.  The perceived injustice of this action, along with the threat that the two aggressors could become powerful enough to threaten the rest of the world’s chances of achieving their goals (and associated extra credit), has focused students’ minds and dramatically ratcheted up the intensity of the simulation.  In a tense but remarkably professional UN meeting, Candy Land’s Secretary of State tried to justify the invasion as a preventive war since C.U.P. had reportedly discussed the prospect of developing nuclear weapons–in a secret conversation that was leaked to Candy Land–and had completed research on atomic theory (information Candy Land had gleaned through its embassy in C.U.P.).  Candy Land claimed that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it was a signatory, gave it the right to take this action.  C.U.P.’s leader disputed this in a message sent out to the world on the day of the invasion.  I quote:

“Thirdly, the document that UN Representative Bess cites giving his nation the authority to unilaterally invade another nation does, in fact, do quite the opposite. The NNPT states, “Any Nation found to be in violation of these stipulations will be be subject to any of, but not limited to, the following consequences AS DETERMINED BY THE UNITED NATIONS” The phrase to be noted is that consequences to any offense must be determined by the United Nations. Even if these claims of a treaty violation were legitimate, at no point was the United Nations notified and given the chance to deliberate a proper course of action. Because there is no recognized reason for invasion, both Dynamistan and Candy-Land should be found in violation of SIGNAT and labelled as aggressors and rogue states.”

An articulate UN ambassador from another country also accused the aggressors of violating international norms.  C.U.P. appeared to have won the argument in the UN and when I left at 3:45 (the end of class) about 20 students were huddled in a back hallway deciding how to deal with Candy Land and Dynamistan.  If past semesters are any indication, these conversations will continue all week (Turn 5 ends at noon on Saturday) in dorm rooms, the library, the dining hall, and coffee houses across campus.  Students will be weighing their options and their tools–diplomatic, economic, military, and political–for ending this crisis in a satisfactory way and maximizing their extra credit points (I make all of the simulation awards extra credit; alternative grading options are available).  Individual countries will have to decide how committed they are to defending C.U.P., how serious a threat the aggressors pose to other countries, and whether balancing or bandwagoning is a better approach.  Already some students (particularly domestic affairs advisers, whose job it is to focus on building their domestic quality of life ratings) are grappling with the “guns vs. butter” tradeoff: the diversion of scarce resources to build armies at this juncture will certainly detract from countries’ ability to improve their health, welfare, environmental, and other domestic conditions and achieve Quality of Life (QOL) extra credit.  So there are some powerful economic pressures to reach a quick settlement to this conflict.

Students seem to have overlooked the news message released on Saturday warning that scientists now believe global flooding is imminent, as the Ice Mountain has begun shedding ice at an alarming rate.   Their priorities lie elsewhere, but this will soon change and they will recognize that all countries have some interests (like survival) in common.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the course of events in my Statecraft world this semester.  Students are becoming increasingly “addicted” to the simulation and are grappling in a very raw, emotional way with how to use the tools at their disposal to make peace or manage a war in a way that doesn’t undermine their other goals.  Students will have a great foundation of vivid personal experiences that I’ll use as examples throughout the rest of the course as we discuss security, IPE, IO, human rights, and environmental issues.  (See the lecture outlines–available on the professor’s “dashboard”–for lots of ideas on how to link students’ Statecraft experiences with specific IR concepts).

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.