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2023 International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise

May 19, 2023

Held in partnership with the U.S. Army War College, the ISCNE 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 in partnership with the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL) held its 5th annual International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE).

In 2019, Penn Carey Law was the first law school to host an ISCNE, and in 2020, it became the first group to conduct an ISCNE remotely in light of COVID-19 restrictions; in 2021, the event was held as a hybrid event, and last year and this year, the event was once again fully in-person.

The unique experiential learning opportunity is designed to engage and educate law students in the process of crisis negotiation at the strategic level–and one of its most unique aspects is that it isn’t designed solely for students interested in careers in national security or the government.

This year’s exercise was led by Colonel Mike Stinchfield, Exercise Director; Ed “Cliffy” Zukowski, Senior Controller; 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 Colonel (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 74 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 21 volunteer participants, comprised of 12 mentors, 3 faculty members, 3 teaching assistants, and 3 U.S. Army War College staff members.

“The exercise was a valuable opportunity for positive interaction between military professionals and these future civilian leaders,” said Stitchfield. “As an experiential negotiation exercise focused on the various national interests at play in the South China Sea, the students were able to bring informative perspectives to this area of increasing world attention. I was impressed with the unique approaches the Penn Carey Law student teams developed throughout the exercise to reach agreement on difficult issues.”

Contextual readings and preparation material for the exercise was made available for use 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.

“The students displayed an intensity and focus in their work to try to achieve breakthroughs in this situation,” said Zukowski. “Through their discussions they came up with very creative ways to try and solve the issues presented. It was fantastic to watch them debate and re-evaluate their strategy in order to come to a solution.”

Aaron McKenney added, “This was yet another great exercise bringing law students out of their comfort zones to approach a real-world topic. For the students, they have learned valuable lessons about negotiations, and even particulars about diplomacy and the military. However, the lessons they may very well remember the most will be about leadership, teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills and ingenuity required to tackle tough problems as they will undoubtedly face them in their legal careers.”

Learn more about the rigorous, cross-disciplinary education Penn Carey Law offers.