| by Jason Warburg

News Stories

Felix Naim and Sharad Joshi
Felix Naim MAIT ’25 (seated at right) and colleagues, with Professor Sharad Joshi observing from the back, during the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE) at the Middlebury Institute in spring 2024.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” is easy to apply to learning a language or a musical instrument, but how do policy students practice?

U.S. Army War College recently provided them a great opportunity to apply diplomacy best practices to a hypothetical international crisis through a weekend-long simulation held on campus.

“As a student of international trade, our usual negotiations never reach outside the scope of commerce,” said Felix Naim MAIT ’25, one of two students who conducted their negotiation sessions in Chinese. “This simulation was beneficial for me in that it exposed me to just how escalated an international conflict can become, especially when tied to land and resources.”

The 29 participants included students and faculty from the Middlebury Institute, the Defense Language Institute (DLI), the Naval War College (NWC) at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), and San Jose State University (SJSU). 

Naim said the exercise was great preparation for his future career. 

“Building on my negotiation skills is important for me as I hope to work in an international setting. With this experience, I feel that I can better appeal to employers in the national defense, government contracting, and export controls fields.”

High-Stakes Scenario Puts Diplomacy and Language Skills to the Test

The International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE) was designed and conducted by faculty members of the Army War College and organized at the institute by Toni Thomas, associate dean for academic operations, Sharad Joshi, professor of nonproliferation and terrorism, and the Institute’s resident Army War College Fellow, LTC Robert Botsford. For several years now, ISCNE scenario generation and research has been expertly led by Mr. Ed “Cliffy” Zukowski, the ISCNE program director. COL Mike Stinchfield of the Army War College was the overall exercise director.

“Before coming to the Institute, I didn’t realize just how talented these students are,” said LTC Botsford. “Seeing their backgrounds, listening to things that they’ve done before going to school and want to do after they graduate, and seeing the way they solve problems is very cool—there’s a lot of talent here.”

In a typical semester, the Institute has 15 to 20 full-time students who are veterans of the U.S. military, and several more who are considered “military affiliated” (active duty, dependents of active duty, reserves, etc.).

“ISCNE has always been a natural fit for the Institute because it is focused on international policy and conflict resolution; it is relevant to all Institute programs; and it is multifaceted and very practical in the way it tests the skills and poise of student participants,” said Joshi, who has helped plan seven of the nine ISCNEs held at the Institute. “It’s the best kind of experiential learning and an exceptional training opportunity for everyone involved.” 

This year’s ISCNE scenario focused on the current challenges in the South China Sea, where multiple nations, including China and the U.S., are competing for influence. Participants were organized into country teams that represented nations with a stake in the issues at hand. Each delegation was also designated a faculty member from MIIS, SJSU, and NWC (as well as the Army War College Fellow), who acted as mentors for the delegations, bringing their diverse professional, practitioner, and academic expertise to the exercise. Mentors included Dr. Netta Avineri (MIIS), LTC Rob Botsford (AWC), Dr. Keith Carter (NWC), Dr. Danijela Dudley (SJSU), and Dr. Craig Whiteside (NWC). 

The event kicked off with a lecture on negotiations by International Trade Professor Robert Rogowsky, who also played the role of the United Nations Secretary General’s special representative during the exercise. Each delegation met to strategize based on the scenario parameters, and the representatives of the delegations negotiated with their counterparts from other nations toward a mutually agreeable resolution. Multiple strategy and negotiation sessions played out over the three-day exercise, with initial briefings supplemented by new information—and twists—as the exercise progressed. The exercise provided students with opportunities for public speaking, working in a team, understanding group dynamics, and leadership skills. Students provided consecutive interpretation in Chinese for the negotiations and simultaneous interpretation in French and Chinese for the opening and closing sessions.

“Everything went quite well,” said Botsford. “Middlebury is unique in the fact that translation and interpretation are offered here. Having those students also involved in the exercise showed everyone involved how useful and complicated it is when there is a language barrier to navigate.”

Raim, Felix
Felix Naim MAIT ’25 (seated at right) and colleague during ISCNE 2024 at the Middlebury Institute.

A Long History of Military-Civilian and Cross-Institutional Collaboration

Previous years’ ISCNE scenarios have included crises in the Arctic Circle, Kashmir, the Korean Peninsula, and South Sudan. 

This annual event builds on a long history of cooperation and collaboration between the Institute and the nearby Defense Language Institute (DLI) and Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). The Middlebury Institute (then known as the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies) was founded in 1955 by three former DLI faculty members. Today NPS students may also take language courses at the Institute, DLI faculty often take courses at the Institute, and an educational exchange allows Institute students to take courses at NPS and vice versa. Indeed, senior DLI leaders, including LTC Edward Mikkelsen, the director of the Foreign Area Officer program at DLI, were present for several sessions of the exercise. 

“Our students love having the chance to collaborate with career military professionals in an academic setting,” said Jill Stoffers, senior director of institutional partnerships. “And having students and faculty from DLI, NPS, the Army War College, and San Jose State on our campus brings fresh perspectives and insights into the conversations our students and faculty have in the classroom.”