SIA students solve global crisis at Army War College simulation

Former U.S. Ambassador Robin Raphel leads SIA students through the final session of the U.S. Army War College International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise.

A global crisis broke out at the Penn State School of International Affairs over the weekend, and SIA students were the only ones who could solve it.

Tensions were rising dramatically between India and Pakistan due to nuclear weapons both countries had placed near the border, fueling unrest and terrorism in the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir and reigniting the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party’s call for independence and autonomy. Soon, the international community was pulled into the fray as countries across the world sought to deescalate and bring stability to the volatile situation—but, as was soon discovered, not everyone gets what they want in global diplomacy.

This scenario formed the basis of the U.S. Army War College International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise held at the School of International Affairs on Nov. 11 and 12, which was hosted and led by former U.S. Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel.

“These kinds of exercises are very useful, as they force the students to take on the persona of another culture and government when approaching these complex issues,” Raphel said. “There was a lot of material to absorb, but the students did a wonderful job.”


About 50 SIA students participated, representing parties including India, Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP), each with their own goals to accomplish and deal breakers they would refuse to accept.

Negotiations started amicably, with each country announcing their willingness to negotiate and their hope for a peaceful resolution, but the hard realities of diplomacy soon set in. Who would distribute aid to the people of Jammu and Kashmir? How could the international community ensure an unbiased investigation into reports of human rights violations in the region without impinging on Indian sovereignty? And how could the PDP hope to attain independence from India with so little diplomatic influence?

“You are not going to be able to solve Jammu and Kashmir, but you will begin to understand the scope and complexity of these problems,” said Col. William Jones, of the U.S. Army War College, as the exercise got underway. “If you get through a few baby steps over the next 36 hours, you will be happy with your results.”

Shawn McFarland, who helped represent the PDP, advocated for distribution of aid by the U.N., an independent human rights investigation also conducted by the U.N., and Jammu and Kashmir independence, but found that very few in the international community were willing to consider their proposals.

“It’s been very difficult for us to negotiate with no leverage as a non-state actor,” McFarland said. “Our negotiations with India and Pakistan have mostly been them telling us how it is, with no reason to listen to us.”

Although the teams representing India and Pakistan, with influence from the other nations participating, did ultimately agree to move their nuclear weapons away from the border and work to reduce terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, their other agreements left some in the international community disappointed. They declined to allow the U.N. to distribute humanitarian aid or to conduct a human rights investigation, instead opting to undertake both themselves, and refused to consider expanding the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir.

“There’s certainly a lot of tension, but the Indian government sticks to the fact they can’t be their own government; Jammu and Kashmir are part of the nation of India,” said Indian representative Aaron Humiston. “These negotiations have given me a better understanding of this issue, the positions of the nations involved, and the challenges of diplomacy. After all, this is a territorial dispute, but the only issues we’ve been able to resolve are non-territorial.”

By the final meeting of the nations at the end of the exercise, despite all the progress that had been made, these unresolved issues continued to be a source of subtle (and, at times, not-so-subtle) tension and conflict.

The PDP angrily quoted a Kashmiri protest artist and expressed disappointment in their perceived marginalization by the international community. The United Kingdom took the unexpected position of supporting full independence for the PDP and denounced some in the international community, especially the United States, for refusing to support democracy and self-governance. India accused the United Kingdom of attempting to blatantly influence Indian affairs and violate their sovereignty, going so far as to even resentfully hint at India’s long period of British rule.

But when all was said and done, the students walked away with a valuable experience and new insight into the inner workings of international negotiations.

“Issues like these are difficult. It’s all about making steps in the right direction,” said Andrew Rechenberg, who played an outspoken representative for the U.K. “I learned a lot about negotiation from this exercise, and how you can use consistent strategy and assertiveness in these kinds of situations.”