Simulations help U-M’s Ford school build bench of foreign affairs experts, especially versed in hot spots

December 17, 2020
Contact: umichnews@umich.edu

Flag of NATO. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons The globe has no shortage of crises and hot spots. And the need for diverse, disciplined diplomats and other foreign affairs professionals has never been greater.

That’s the perspective of experts at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy—and what’s prompting an immersion and expansion into international policy simulations involving students, faculty and guest experts.

John Ciorciari

John Ciorciari

Ford School students recently participated in the Schuman Challenge, organized by the European Union’s delegation to the United States, and the U.S. Army War College’s International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise. Both explored the changing nature of China’s global influence.

In February, students will represent Croatia at the International Model NATO, which links 29 university delegations from the U.S., Canada and Europe. Participating in that will be a first for the school, as was the War College exercise.

John Ciorciari, associate professor of public policy and director of the Ford School’s Weiser Diplomacy Center and International Policy Center, discusses the broader value of such exercises and how they play out in the real world, such as through policy recommendations.

Can you share more about the value such exercises have—not just to the students but to the school—and how they play out in the real world? Could some simulated foreign policy success or breakthrough that could be practically applied to the real-world equivalents?

Simulations help clarify key concepts such as the importance of institutional rules, of effective stakeholder analysis and of negotiating strategies and tactics. They are also a fun, energizing way to learn and help us build community at the Ford School. Intensive teamwork and spirited debates make for memorable experiences.

We hope and expect that students will apply what they learn in simulations when they return to the workplace. Policy practitioners certainly think that simulations can yield insights on how to tackle real-world problems. That’s one reason why governments and international organizations regularly host simulations of their own.

Is there any example of Ford experts being able to put a bug in the ear of U.S. policymakers based on simulations?

The guest experts who lead many of our simulations include current and former policy professionals. Many participate in real-life policy conversations related to the simulations they lead. They often find that our students share new and interesting ideas and approaches to complex problems. We hope in that way to contribute to the conversation.

Do these exercises provide you or your colleagues some insights as it relates to recommendations you’d make to the incoming Biden administration?

Simulations show consistently that sound policy requires sound process. Getting sensible and well-informed people in the room is not enough. They have to be part of an organized, disciplined process that strikes the right balance between inclusion and efficiency.

Finally, a couple of these simulations are firsts for Ford and the Weiser Center. What was the impetus for getting involved in them now? Did current world events or affairs play into the decision?

The U.S. Army War College simulation last month dealt with a particularly crucial set of current issues. Students represented the United States, China, Russia, Japan and other key Indo-Pacific countries to tackle a pair of the most difficult and contentious issues in the region: the COVID-19 response and the South China Sea dispute. The exercise captured the different dynamics that exist in each of the two cases but also illustrated well how connected these issues can become when addressed as part of a complex process of overlapping diplomatic negotiations.

Our choice of specific simulations—such as crises in North Korea, Belarus, Venezuela or the South China Sea—reflect current developments in world affairs. However, our general interest in expanding the menu of options reflects a longer-term conviction that the need to train skilled foreign affairs professionals has never been greater.