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Simulated International Crisis Negotiation

June 02, 2022

The International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise is designed to engage and educate law students in the process of crisis negotiation at the highest strategic level.

This spring, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School once again hosted an International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE) in partnership with the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL).

This exercise marked the fourth time the Law School has hosted an ISCNE. In 2019, Penn Carey Law was the first law school to host an ISCNE. In 2020, it became the first group to conduct an ISCNE remotely, while last year, the event was held as a hybrid event. This year’s ISCNE was the first in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unique experiential learning opportunity, designed to engage and educate law students in the process of crisis negotiation at the strategic level, was led by the Law School’s Theodore K. Warner Professor of Law and Professor of Real Estate Michael Knoll; former U.S. Army War College faculty member and Senior Lecturer in Law COL (Ret.) Paul McKenney; Ambassador (Ret.) and Senior Lecturer in Law Daniel Shields; and Lecturer in Law Aaron McKenney L’19, WG’19.

The exercise required the course’s 73 students, organized into nine teams, each representing a different nation, to resolve a challenging international dispute in the South China Sea with diplomatic, informational, military, legal, and economic factors at play. Throughout the exercise students were supported by nine volunteer mentors and three teaching assistants, among them were current and former foreign service officers, current and former military officers, and law firm partners and associates.

Aaron McKenney noted that there was a “concerted effort to recruit a greater diversity of experience and background” among those serving as mentors in this year’s exercise.

“We were thankful to have a strong cohort of mentors that included those with military experience as we have in prior years, and we were particularly grateful to have a group of diplomats with experience representing the United States government abroad,” he said. “This ensured that the mentors were able to provide insight to students in a different way and students really responded well to having this broadened experience of mentors.”

Contextual courses for the exercise were held throughout the spring semester with background lectures in South China Sea diplomacy and related topics. As part of the course, students were required to write a 500-word preparation memo to their country’s Foreign Minister or Secretary of State. After the exercise, students were tasked with writing a 2,000-word essay reflecting on what they learned from the exercise and the applicability of these lessons for their future.

“It is always fascinating to read these responses and see how students have greatly expanded their understanding of not only the aspects of foreign policy, the elements of national power, and the difficult challenges regarding control of the South China Sea,” said Aaron McKenney, “but also how they can leverage an increased understanding of negotiations and communications to achieve success in their professional lives.”

Course leaders were especially appreciative of the Law School staff and faculty who helped manage the logistics of the exercise, and Aaron McKenney noted that the return to an in-person event was especially rewarding.

“It created the conditions needed to get students out of their comfort zones and into small-group, face-to-face negotiations around the Law School campus,” he said. “Although many team members had just met at the start of the course, many teams were functioning with a fairly high-level of integration and division of labor by the end of the exercise.”

One of the unique aspects of the ISCNE is that it isn’t designed solely for students interested in careers in national security or the government. Penn Philosophy PhD student and Army combat veteran Jesse Hamilton, who served as a mentor, recommends the course for all law students “looking for an intense learning experience.”

With another great event on the books, everyone involved is looking forward to another informative and beneficial iteration of the ISCNE next spring.

Paul McKenney (Ret. Colonel), Becky Struwe (Fmr. Foreign Service Officer), Aqueelah Johnson (Fore... Paul McKenney (Ret. Colonel), Becky Struwe (Fmr. Foreign Service Officer), Aqueelah Johnson (Foreign Service Officer), Casey Jones (Foreign Service Officer), Daniel Shields (Ret. Ambassador), Aaron McKenney L’19, WG’19

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