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Strategic crisis negotiation exercise offered by Penn Law and U.S. Army War College offered unique experiential learning opportunity

March 25, 2019

On March 15 and 16, Penn Law, in partnership with the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, hosted a two-day international strategic crisis and negotiation exercise. The event marked the first time the Army War College has partnered with a law school to run a strategic crisis exercise. Michael Knoll, Penn Law’s Theodore K. Warner Professor of Law and Professor of Real Estate, Co-Director of the Center for Tax Law and Policy, and Deputy Dean, and former U.S. Army War College faculty member Col. (Ret.) Paul McKenney, currently a Law School lecturer, conceived of and led the program.

Focused on a complex and broad geopolitical crisis centered around the South China Sea, the exercise organized 75 Penn Law students into eight teams, with each representing a different nation: Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, the United States, and Vietnam. The exercise began on Friday morning with an introduction from Dean of Penn Law and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger, followed by a presentation from Col. Kenneth Mintz, Director of the Center for Strategic Leadership, explaining how the simulation would work.

Student representatives from each country’s team made opening statements, and the students then broke out into team meetings and negotiation sessions that continued through the weekend. The exercise concluded with a plenary session and an after action review.

Watch the video below to find out more about what students took away from this unique experiential learning opportunity.


Aaron M. McKenney L’19, WG19: The army war college team came in and ran an international strategic crisis negotiation exercise, and that afforded eight groups of Penn Law students to come together as teams representing different countries in the Asian region to try to solve this regional strategic problem.

Paul McKenney: I’m very pleased to see how the students are engaging with the exercise. Their negotiation skills, their understanding their ability to communicate clearly and concisely, has impressed me very much.

Christina Cheung L’19, WG’19: I was the head of delegation for Vietnam. We were able to act as this broker or middle person and leadership for the entirety of the simulation, and we really used that ability to gather information and to gather support and unity to really advance our goals.

Daniel Shields: Maybe five trillion dollars in trade goes to the South China Sea, so I think it’s an interesting issue to stop and think about how this might be addressed and to find a way to use diplomacy to resolve these differences.

Michael Knoll: Government employees, international negotiators, high-ranking civil servants — even if the work doesn’t require one to be a lawyer, so many lawyers go into that work and are well suited for it. It’s wonderful to give these students that experience.

Kathryn Gardner L’20, WG’20: It’s a nice reminder that even though we as law students like to solve all problems and we are very problem/solution oriented, sometimes problems can’t be solved, and sometimes it’s the process that actually matters.