KOKOMO, Ind. – How do the United States’s leaders make foreign policy decisions? What factors do they consider when determining if diplomacy is the correct course of action, or if sanctions or military action should be implemented?
Students in an Indiana University Kokomo class in U.S. foreign policy take on the roles of the president, vice-president, and advisors in National Security Council briefings, immersing themselves in the decision-making process, with real-life situations.
“It’s the difference between reading a novel, or being inserted in it,” said Andy Tuholski, visiting lecturer in political science. “They are active characters with agency. They are touching on a lot of issues we’re learning about in our reading, lectures, and written assignments. This is their opportunity to apply it.”
Through the semester, students simulate security council meetings on a variety of topics, including asylum seekers at the southern border, and Israeli and Palestinian conflict. In today’s simulation, they are debating how to deal with a possible violation of nuclear nonproliferation agreements by Iran. All the scenarios are drawn from real life, and students come in with a position paper based on his or her assigned role.
Senior Madi Guffey, Carmel, is the president, with Andrea Saylor, a junior from Terre Haute, as vice-president.
Guffey begins by asking each person on the council to state his or her opening position, and then setting up group discussions — one for those leaning more towards diplomacy, and one for those who favor military action of some kind.
“It opens our eyes to how difficult making these decisions really is,” Guffey said. “It takes a lot of people skills to work with others, even if you don’t agree with them. We have to come up with a good compromise.”
Saylor noted that the simulations feel very real and can be stressful.
“This puts us in a position to consider a lot of outside factors you normally don’t think about, even from reading in the news about foreign policy,” she said. “It’s really immersive, and it feels like we really have to figure this policy out. It’s scary to think we’re considering policies that could cause mass loss of lives, and that real politicians have to make these kinds of judgments in a short period of time, maybe with not a lot of information.”
Saylor said they’re also learning that as part of a team, everyone has to show up prepared, and also be ready to consider viewpoints other than their own.
“It teaches you respect for your teammates, and to be ready to know what you are talking about,” she said. “It helps you figure out what you can do to convince people to agree with you. You’re learning to work with people and try to rally toward a goal.”
Senior Aaron Stanley, Kokomo, serving as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in his role he had to argue for military action, which would not have been his personal position.
“It gives us a more nuanced understanding of world events, and makes us occupy a certain viewpoint,” he said. “It’s good for your critical thinking skills.”
“They come up with some creative, out-of-the box ideas,” Tuholski said. “It’s a pretty empowering exercise. It’s better than listening to a lecture for 75 minutes. “