Our final case study of the summer is a blockbuster that allowed our students to showcase much of the knowledge and many of the skills they have gained this summer. Everything in the week pushed the students toward an intense cumulative SEGL tradition: a four-hour crisis simulation in which each student played a role in the Executive Branch.
To begin the students heard a basic introduction to international relations: first, an overview of social contract theory (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau), and second, an overview of realism, liberalism, and other key IR theories. The students asked themselves questions like “why do governments form in the first place, and what does that have to do with how governments ought to interact together?” “what is the proper role (if any) of the United Nations?” and “is it right for a country to risk its own citizens’ lives in order to promote human rights?” Several case studies from earlier this summer (perhaps most notably our Rwanda case study) echoed through the conversation.
In the days that followed, we met with two leaders confronting real-life ethical decisions in their work.
State Department Attorney Gabriel Swiney advised the State Department on legal options for intervention during the 2011 civil war in Libya. Swiney led students on a step-by-step “Choose Your Own Adventure” full of intense and collaborative student engagement. He also helped students see the limits and opportunities the law affords decision makers in times of crisis.
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson served as Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff during Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State. He was responsible for the team that crafted Powell’s famous (and now widely discredited) speech to the UN Security Council advocating for war in Iraq. Now a noted critic of U.S. foreign policy, he started by addressing controversy surrounding recent remarks that the U.S. CIA had a hand in the recent Turkish coup attempt.
The conversations that followed these guests experts were compelling and raised complicated questions for the students. Is it OK, for example, to ignore your personal ethical concerns in service to a bigger cause you believe is just? Is it more valuable to work to prevent crises or to solve them when they inevitably arise?
On Tuesday, the students put their crisis management knowledge to work in the crisis simulation. Over the course of the simulation, the President and her (yes, her!) team learned important information about a series of international and domestic issues that required tough decision making under time pressure and also public relations skills.
Our faculty played members of the domestic and international community in videoconferences, videos, leaked “intelligence,” and in person (at the height of the action, the President was required to spend ten minutes reading a bedtime story to her child…). We won’t spoil the details for future terms; suffice to say, lives were lost, lives were saved, ethical decisions were bandied about, and the President’s final press conference was suitably controversial. The conversation that followed was unexpectedly intense, as the students discussed both the simulation and what it brought out in their cohort’s dynamic. For many reasons, it was a fitting final Ethics and Leadership exercise for a terrific group of students.