With the goal of helping young people better understand the challenges of shaping American foreign policy, the Council on Foreign Relations has begun a new program, called Model Diplomacy, geared to high school and college students who are interested in international relations and public policy.
Through a series of case studies, including on climate change, unrest in Bahrain, use of drones in Pakistan and humanitarian intervention in South Sudan, students learn presentation techniques and research skills in simulations as they look at the complexities of foreign policy challenges and how decision-makers and institutions of the United States government analyze and act on intelligence gathering.
Model Diplomacy, part of the newly formed CFR Campus offering resources to students and educators to build “global literacy,” is financed by individuals and foundations and is free to participants. The program focuses on the National Security Council in its simulation model, since it is described as having the most collaborative interagency approach to foreign policy in the US government.
The Council on Foreign Relations, an independent membership-based organization based in New York, would not say how much the program cost the Council to create and to maintain. Model Diplomacy differs from Model UN programs as it is an instructor-based classroom simulation rather than an extracurricular activity focused on the United Nations.
Myka Carroll, deputy director for education strategy and marketing at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the structure of the National Security Council “provides a useful point of entry to understand the institutions, processes, and complex issues that are involved in US foreign policy.”
Model Diplomacy blends interaction in mock National Security Council meetings with classroom discussion, using online resources from experts in foreign policy; assessments track student progress. The simulations are developed by Council on Foreign Relation experts and can be customized, depending on the subject, covering from one class period to nine weeks.
The program is planning to develop tools for instructors and students at different locations to network and to share their experiences. It is also adaptable, enabling instructors to focus courses on other organizations, such as the UN, if that interests the students more than the National Security Council.
Interest in Model Diplomacy has been drawn from students of political science and international relations and instructors teaching communications, sociology, psychology and nursing. Since the program began in January, teachers at approximately 450 universities, colleges, schools and nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations across dozens of countries have registered to use it in their classrooms, Carroll said.
Alistair Edgar, the executive director of ACUNS, or the Academic Council on the United Nations System, said that an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the UN and similar intergovernmental organizations is crucial, combining such disciplines as political science, history, communications, economics and urban planning. Edgar noted that undergraduate students often prefer a hands-on approach when learning about the UN and global governance, using such models as the Arctic Council or the Group of 20.
Model Diplomacy does not focus on international perspectives to global challenges but instead concentrates on US foreign policymaking and security, the main role of the National Security Council. Yet the Council is linked to the UN in many respects, Edgar said, as the world body can take action on new security threats only if member states, like the US, are willing to support the key principles of the UN and use it as a chief tool in foreign policy decisions.
Model Diplomacy can be viewed as another way to gauge the level of US interest and involvement in the UN, while providing a platform for young practitioners to test the UN’s abilities alongside those of the National Security Council to contend with global conflicts.
“States have to make compromises between themselves for good governance,” Edgar said. “Global governance does not happen and cannot succeed in a vacuum.”
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Alexander Brotman is the Joseph S. Nye Jr. External Relations Intern with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. He has a B.A. in film studies and media and communications from Muhlenberg College. He has worked for State Representative Alice Peisch of Massachusetts, Africa Center in Dublin, Harvard School of Public Health and Amnesty International.