| by Jason Warburg

News Stories

Global security students engage in a negotiation session representing China and Norway as part of the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise.
Global security graduate students engage in a negotiation session representing China and Norway as part of the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise at the Middlebury Institute. 

Middlebury Institute students were recently joined by students and faculty from San José State University, the Defense Language Institute, and the Naval Postgraduate School for a weekend-long simulation designed to give them the opportunity to apply diplomacy best practices to a hypothetical international crisis.

Thirty-five Institute students from seven different academic programs participated in the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE), which was designed and led by faculty members of the Army War College and organized by a planning committee consisting of Toni Thomas (associate dean for academic operations), the Institute’s resident Army War College Fellow COL Ken McGraw, and Professor Sharad Joshi of the MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies program.

“Participants have the opportunity to gain greater knowledge and understanding of regional situation analysis, strategic thinking, negotiation best practices, time management, leadership, decision making, and teamwork,” said McGraw. “The exercise also emphasizes more nuanced skills such as critical reasoning, empathy, cooperation, and creativity. What I believe resonates most with participants is the realization that relationships are essential in diplomacy because they provide a foundation of trust, respect, and communication between two parties.”

This year’s ISCNE scenario focused on a crisis in the Arctic Circle with both environmental and geopolitical implications. Student participants were organized into country teams of five to six members, each representing a nation with a stake in the issues at hand. 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.

Hands-On Practice for Careers in International Policy and Diplomacy

“ISCNE provides a practical, hands-on, problem-solving experience for students,” said Joshi. “It builds on the rich foundation of academic courses at the Institute on policy studies, security, area studies, diplomacy, trade, environmental policy, and language interpretation, among other subjects. Students take their academic and policy training and apply it to diplomatic negotiations in a crisis scenario, helping them to hit the ground running as they go on to meaningful careers in complex international policy and global security arenas.”

Thomas agrees. “Student participants build skills that will be directly relevant to the career paths they are pursuing, while learning and practicing the key elements of successful negotiations. The scenarios are all real-world examples of major conflicts. The students not only learn about what actually happened, but have the chance to think through other ways that the negotiation may have been approached to achieve different—perhaps better—outcomes.”

Students take their academic and policy training and apply it to diplomatic negotiations in a crisis scenario, helping them to hit the ground running as they go on to meaningful careers in complex international policy and global security arenas.
— Professor Sharad Joshi

In previous years, ISCNE scenarios have included crises in Kashmir, the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and South Sudan. This is the eighth year the Institute has hosted ISCNE on campus since the exercise first came to Monterey in spring 2016, organized by 2015–16 Army War College Fellow LTC Christopher Wendland.

Joshi has helped to plan six of the eight ISCNEs held at MIIS to date. “Students learn the basics of diplomacy in the bilateral and multilateral setting, the very language of diplomatic communication, crisis negotiations, and international law. They refine their public speaking, research, negotiation, and listening skills and must learn to work as a team, building friendships and professional bonds.”

Adds Thomas, “Our version of ISCNE has been unique in two respects: we invite regional universities to participate, and we incorporate our translation and interpretation programs.” Including student interpreters in the proceedings provides valuable experience for both the interpreters themselves and the delegation members who gain experience working with interpreters in a simulated diplomatic setting.

War College
Associate Dean for Academic Operations Toni Thomas, Army War College Fellow LTC Ken McGraw, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson, and Professor Sharad Joshi confer during a break in the March 3, 2023, opening session of the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise.

Collaboration with Local Military Institutions Expands Offerings for Students

The ISCNE’s return to Monterey continues the long history of cooperation and collaboration between the Middlebury Institute’s academic programs and its neighbors, the Defense Language Institute (DLI) and the 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 DLI students may also take language courses at MIIS, and DLI faculty may take courses in the Institute’s MA in Teaching Foreign Language program.

The Middlebury Institute’s reciprocal exchange agreement with NPS has brought 45 students over from two NPS departments: national security affairs and defense analysis, with the same number going to NPS from the Institute.

 “Our students love taking classes on a military installation and mixing with career military professionals,” says Jill Stoffers, senior director of institutional partnerships. “And having NPS and DLI students on our campus often broadens and enriches the conversations our students and faculty have in the classroom.”

In addition, during a typical semester the Institute’s student body includes 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.).

McGraw says that the most valuable part of his experience as an Army War College Fellow at MIIS has been “the international perspectives that offer me a wide range of context on global issues, including diplomacy, environmental policy, international trade, nonproliferation, and conflict resolution.” He also appreciates the focus on language and what he describes as the “practitioner approach to learning, emphasizing practical, real-world experiences that encourage students to seek internships, research projects, and other hands-on experiences in their field of study.”

Still, he says, “the highlight of my time here has been getting to know students and faculty. The students have welcomed me, and helped me expand my diversity of thought, particularly on environmental issues and concerns. The faculty has also been exceptionally welcoming of me and has empowered me to explore my intellectual curiosity in class.”