Tag Archives: pedagogy

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.

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.

Turn 1 Tips

The fun begins!  Statecraft Turn One began online on Saturday, and I told the students in my international relations class to read the news messages before Monday’s class but otherwise to do nothing else.  Then I reserved the entire class period yesterday (Monday) for the Statecraft Turn One session.  As with every simulation session, students were free to meet with members of their own  country and foreign countries in order to make trades, form alliances, and discuss plans for achieving country-level and global goals.  I reminded everyone that Turn One doesn’t actually end online until noon on Saturday, so students should feel free to keep meeting, emailing, texting, etc., outside of class until the turn ends and the decisions they have entered online become final.

Almost the entire class stayed late (they were still scurrying about and talking in alternatively animated and secretive tones when I left).  So we’re off to a great start.  Right now they shouldn’t be thinking of learning IR concepts–only how much fun Statecraft is.  Once they are “hooked” and thoroughly immersed in their world, the learning will happen in a series of waves (some initiated by me, some by them).

Based on yesterday’s session (and prior experience), here are some important tips for making Turn One run successfully:

1) Remind students that there are many points available for achieving key global and country-specific goals.  Encourage them to decide what goals their country will pursue and focus on moving toward these; this will help focus their attention during a Turn One that is often chaotic.

2) Tell students to sit with their country groups and remain there for the rest of the semester (even on non-simulation days).  This fosters in-group bonding.  If you ever see simulation-related activity going on during non-simulation sessions (i.e., while you are lecturing), threaten to hit the offending country with a natural disaster using God Controls.  Usually the threat alone is enough, although occasionally I will unleash an earthquake or asteroid strike (with resulting resource losses) just to show I mean business.  If you want to get really creative, reward countries that do particularly well on quizzes or other activities with “the discovery of a new vein of gold” (e.g., +100 gold, again using God Controls) and discourage slackers by hitting particularly low-scoring countries with any kind of negative event (costing resources) that you can imagine.

3) Mandate a UN meeting during the Turn One class session.  I announced a time (half an hour into the class session) for all UN reps to meet up front for this initial meeting.  I sat in on part of the meeeting and heard them discussing a nonaggression treaty and several other global issues.  I told them that it is up to them whether they want to hold UN meetings during future sim sessions, but I mentioned that worlds that keep the UN vibrant and active are usually more successful in maximizing everyone’s Statecraft scores.

4) Announce that presidents need to set their “decision keys.”  The decision key is a code that presidents (or other officials they trust enough to give the code to) use to make decisions such as purchases, trades, and movement of troops.  Presidents should go to the “President” tab and click “set decision key,” then enter a code of their choice.  I realized yesterday that the decision key is not discussed in the manual so we are revising the manual accordingly; this should reduce confusion in the future.

5) Walk around and listen in on groups’ discussions.  It is important to make clear that anything you hear will remain confidential, so groups will speak freely.  As usual, I heard some very interesting things from a number of countries.

6) Remember that students will have questions on Turn One and refer them to Joe Jaeger (joe.jaeger@gmail.com) if you don’t have the answer.  The more familiar you are with the simulation manual the easier it will be to answer these questions, but there’s a learning curve for professors as well, so if this is your first time using Statecraft don’t feel at all hesitant to send students to Joe or contact him yourself with questions.  By the second or third time you use Statecraft you will be able to answer students’ basic questions and even give some strategy tips (I do this whenever students ask).  You will also find yourself with a growing repertoire of Statecraft stories to illustrate key concepts to future classes as the drama of your unique world unfolds.

I also had the opportunity to introduce the concept of comparative advantage to a country that was trying to decide whether to build farms (their country produces little food) or oil drilling sites (they are rich in oil).  These resource-enhancement structures cost all countries the same but provide percentage bonuses, so a country that produces 1,000 food per turn will gain much more from one farm than a country that produces only 200 food per turn.  I will discuss links between IPE and Statecraft later in the semester in lecture and discussion, but it is always useful to “plant the seed” of a concept with individual country groups when the opportunity arises naturally within the simulation (as it very frequently does).

Turn Zero Lessons

Last week was Turn Zero of Statecraft in my class, and I learned a few things. (Yes, I’ve been using Statecraft for 11 years, but this is only my second time using the fully automated online version–which continues to be updated with new features–and I’m still learning how best to make use of this powerful new version).

Keep in mind that Turn Zero is the setup turn in Statecraft–students can’t start interacting with other countries yet but they meet their fellow country members and they must set up their countries (choosing country names, government types, attributes, and positions for each student). Last Wednesday I gave students the full class period for Statecraft orientation. They took their simulation manual quiz (a necessary incentive for students to read the manual!) and then got in their country groups to set up their countries. Here’s what I learned from Turn Zero:

1) Reassigning students to countries is very easy once they have taken the foreign policy attitudes survey.  If you select “attitude survey” as the grouping method when creating your Statecraft world, students will be given a short survey and automatically assigned to countries based on their scores (this will normally create several hardline countries, several pacifist ones, and a few more moderate countries).   But the instructor can see students’ scores and, if they don’t like the automatic groupings, can move students from one country to another at will.  I wanted more extreme countries, with students scoring “off the charts” on military assertiveness grouped into two countries, and those scoring extremely high on cooperativeness/pacifism grouped together, with a range of “leaning hardline,” “moderate,” and “leaning pacifist” countries in between.  So I copied and pasted students’ names and scores from the Statecraft table into a spreadsheet and sorted from highest (most militarily assertive) to lowest (most accommodative).  I then took the top ten highest scorers and made two five-student countries (“seeding” each country with one of the top two highest scorers).  I did the same with the lowest scoring students, then created a range of moderate countries, most of which “leaned” hardline or accommodative.  It’s always interesting at the end of the semester to see how closely students’ simulation behavior approximated their initial foreign policy attitudes, in areas like international cooperation and conflict, military spending, and quality of life spending.  NOTE: I reassigned students before last Wednesday’s class session when they met their fellow country members, so they never knew they were moved around.

2) Students need to be reminded to enter their choices (country names, government types, etc.) online once they have made these decisions on Turn Zero.  During last Wednesday’s orientation session, I made each country fill out a page that included country name, city names, government type, attributes, and positions for each student.  They had to turn in that sheet before class ended.  However, when I checked Statecraft online two days later, five (out of 12) countries had not entered this information online.  All of this info must be entered before Turn Zero ends, or countries will be assigned a default government type and attributes which they may not want.  I sent a reminder email and everyone entered their information before Turn Zero ended, but it would be best if students were told to enter all of their info online immediately after making their choices (ideally on their laptops during the setup session).  Bottom line: (1) make sure to schedule your setup session long enough before Turn Zero ends that all students have time to enter their country information, and (2) remind them to do so as soon as they have made their choices.

The orientation/setup session is a great opportunity to get students excited about the simulation and remind them that there is actual class credit at stake in Statecraft.  I noticed quite a bit of in-group bonding as country members met, discussed their countries’ goals, and began to strategize.

Welcome to the Statecraft Blog

This blog is designed for instructors who are currently using, or considering adopting, the Statecraft simulation for their courses. I’ve been running Statecraft in my classes each year since I created the simulation 11 years ago, so I believe I’ve learned–through trial and error–how to maximize its power as a teaching tool, and I wanted to share that experience with you.

With the help of Digital World Construction, Statecraft has been transformed from a “paper and pencil” simulation that required an enormous time investment by instructors to a fully automated online program that is extremely user friendly. While the technology has changed, the core of Statecraft has not–I find that students are as captivated as ever by this virtual world that allows them to experience the responsibilities of power as they pursue an array of enticing but elusive goals.

I plan to make brief posts once or twice a week this semester describing how I’m using Statecraft that week to engage students’ interest and illuminate class material. I will also report on any problems I run into and the solutions I implement.

I look forward to a fun and productive semester using Statecraft and I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Jonathan Keller

James Madison University