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National Security Council: Simulating Decision-making Dilemmas in Real Time


  • [Corrections added November 14, 2014 after original online publication. Grammatical changes have been made to this article to improve clarity.]


National Security Council is a real-time, semester-long simulation of the senior advisory group to the US President on national security and foreign policy. The simulation requires undergraduate students to role-play policymakers charged with long-range security planning and responding to actual events and crises as they happen. Students are encouraged to exercise their own judgment, but must operate within the political, bureaucratic, and organizational confines of the office (for example, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, etc.). Students conduct briefings, develop initiatives, and debate policy positions and proposals. Weekly meetings are supplemented with occasional special sessions to deal with real-world developments (for example, Arab Spring protests, military crisis with North Korea, major humanitarian emergency). The simulation course promotes accountability, independent and team learning, and oral communications skills, and forces students to grapple with bureaucratic turf battles, time pressure, and rapidly changing real-world situations. Several iterations between 2007 and 2012 yield insights into best practices for pedagogy and assessment, but also raise questions about the appropriate roles of technology, social networking, and the Internet.

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