IPE and Statecraft

November 5, 2011

We have been surveying the subfield of international political economy (IPE) for the last two weeks in my international relations course.  Statecraft is designed to illustrate a number of key IPE concepts, so I was able to draw on students’ simulation experiences during lecture and discussion to make some of these concepts “hit home” for students.  See the lecture outlines (provided to any instructor who has adopted, or is interested in adopting, Statecraft) for a full explication of these Statecraft-IPE links, in the areas of trade, interdependence, globalization, and perspectives on IPE (mercantilism, liberalism, and Marxism).  But here’s a sampling of the ways I’ve drawn on Statecraft over the past two weeks to help inform class lecture and discussion:

(1) Links between Politics and Economics: to drive home the point that IPE is an indispensable subfield of IR because of the interconnectedness of politics and economics, I asked students to identify ways in which political factors shaped economic outcomes, and vice versa.  I asked for both real-world and Statecraft examples.  Statecraft examples included economic wealth as a basis for military power, UN/coalition decisions imposing trade sanctions against “rogue states,” domestic factions’ demands (e.g., the capitalists vs. environmentalists) affecting economic development, and the politics of foreign economic aid.

(2) Autarky, Comparative Advantage, and Trade:  There are five resources in Statecraft: gold, food, steel, scientific knowledge, and oil.  Each country will be rich in some resources and poor in others (although all countries produce the same amount of total resources per turn when the simulation begins).  Students can pursue a variety of strategies to acquire the resources they need to build their domestic quality of life and construct military units.  Some strive for autarky, or self-sufficiency, by building a full range of resource-enhancement structures such as gold mines, factories, steel mills, farms, oil refineries, and research labs.  (These structures increase their production of specific resources by a certain percentage: for example, each gold mine increases gold production by 5% of original production).  But perceptive students realize that this is an inefficient way to acquire resources.  A better strategy is for countries to focus on producing the resources they can produce most efficiently and trade for the rest.  For example, a country that is endowed with ample gold and naturally produces 1,000 gold per turn can gain 50 extra gold by purchasing one gold mine (+5% gold).  But a country that only produces 100 gold per turn receives a mere 5 extra gold from each gold mine purchased.  Since gold mines cost the same for each country to build, it makes sense for gold-rich countries to focus on their comparative advantage by “maxing out” on gold mines and other gold-producing structures, and trading their surplus gold to countries that are naturally rich in food, steel, etc. 

(3) Zero-Sum vs. Positive-Sum Perspectives on Economics: In lecture I noted that the mercantilist perspective is based on a zero-sum view of the global economy, whereas the liberal/capitalist view assumes a positive-sum universe.  To illustrate these concepts, I asked students to identify which of the Statecraft awards (extra credit in my class) are zero-sum, which are positive-sum, and why.  The global awards are all positive sum, or win-win, in nature–if the world achieves Global Peace, Saving the Environment, Wiping out Terrorism, or Solving World Hunger, all countries receive 5 points for each goal.  The competitive goals such as Healthiest Country, Most Scientifically Advanced Country, and Most Militarily Powerful Country, are zero-sum goals in that only one country can win each prize, and when a country does so, this reduces the pool of extra credit by 5 points for the other countries.

The above examples just scratch the surface of the Statecraft-IPE links that instructors may wish to highlight in their classes.  You are under no obligation to mention every single link to your students; some of these are best discovered through their own “ah-ha” moments (which they’ll frequently tell you about), and others you simply won’t have time to explore in any depth.  As with the security, foreign policy, IO, and other elements of Statecraft, there’s much more going on each week than you will be able to sort through in class discussion.  Pick and choose the examples and concepts that you want to focus on, and those that aren’t relevant to your class (or to your plan for a given day) can be ignored.

War and Peace in Statecraft

October 18, 2011

Under the current simulation rules–which have largely been in place for the past few years–about 30% of my “worlds” (classes) have avoided war altogether.  Of the 70% that have experienced armed conflict, about half of these worlds have had localized, regional conflicts, and about half have experienced general war involving (at least peripherally) most of the great powers in the international system.  While students can learn a lot from an entirely peaceful simulation experience, I have found that the most intense student involvement and the deepest learning about world politics occurs when students are grappling with the presence or the looming threat of armed conflict.

War broke out in my Statecraft world this week, as the countries of Candy Land and Dynamistan launched a joint invasion of the Constitutional Union of Patagonia (C.U.P.).  This attack cost all students the 5-point Global Peace Award.  The perceived injustice of this action, along with the threat that the two aggressors could become powerful enough to threaten the rest of the world’s chances of achieving their goals (and associated extra credit), has focused students’ minds and dramatically ratcheted up the intensity of the simulation.  In a tense but remarkably professional UN meeting, Candy Land’s Secretary of State tried to justify the invasion as a preventive war since C.U.P. had reportedly discussed the prospect of developing nuclear weapons–in a secret conversation that was leaked to Candy Land–and had completed research on atomic theory (information Candy Land had gleaned through its embassy in C.U.P.).  Candy Land claimed that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it was a signatory, gave it the right to take this action.  C.U.P.’s leader disputed this in a message sent out to the world on the day of the invasion.  I quote:

“Thirdly, the document that UN Representative Bess cites giving his nation the authority to unilaterally invade another nation does, in fact, do quite the opposite. The NNPT states, “Any Nation found to be in violation of these stipulations will be be subject to any of, but not limited to, the following consequences AS DETERMINED BY THE UNITED NATIONS” The phrase to be noted is that consequences to any offense must be determined by the United Nations. Even if these claims of a treaty violation were legitimate, at no point was the United Nations notified and given the chance to deliberate a proper course of action. Because there is no recognized reason for invasion, both Dynamistan and Candy-Land should be found in violation of SIGNAT and labelled as aggressors and rogue states.”

An articulate UN ambassador from another country also accused the aggressors of violating international norms.  C.U.P. appeared to have won the argument in the UN and when I left at 3:45 (the end of class) about 20 students were huddled in a back hallway deciding how to deal with Candy Land and Dynamistan.  If past semesters are any indication, these conversations will continue all week (Turn 5 ends at noon on Saturday) in dorm rooms, the library, the dining hall, and coffee houses across campus.  Students will be weighing their options and their tools–diplomatic, economic, military, and political–for ending this crisis in a satisfactory way and maximizing their extra credit points (I make all of the simulation awards extra credit; alternative grading options are available).  Individual countries will have to decide how committed they are to defending C.U.P., how serious a threat the aggressors pose to other countries, and whether balancing or bandwagoning is a better approach.  Already some students (particularly domestic affairs advisers, whose job it is to focus on building their domestic quality of life ratings) are grappling with the “guns vs. butter” tradeoff: the diversion of scarce resources to build armies at this juncture will certainly detract from countries’ ability to improve their health, welfare, environmental, and other domestic conditions and achieve Quality of Life (QOL) extra credit.  So there are some powerful economic pressures to reach a quick settlement to this conflict.

Students seem to have overlooked the news message released on Saturday warning that scientists now believe global flooding is imminent, as the Ice Mountain has begun shedding ice at an alarming rate.   Their priorities lie elsewhere, but this will soon change and they will recognize that all countries have some interests (like survival) in common.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the course of events in my Statecraft world this semester.  Students are becoming increasingly “addicted” to the simulation and are grappling in a very raw, emotional way with how to use the tools at their disposal to make peace or manage a war in a way that doesn’t undermine their other goals.  Students will have a great foundation of vivid personal experiences that I’ll use as examples throughout the rest of the course as we discuss security, IPE, IO, human rights, and environmental issues.  (See the lecture outlines–available on the professor’s “dashboard”–for lots of ideas on how to link students’ Statecraft experiences with specific IR concepts).

Turn 4 Developments

October 16, 2011

This past week (Statecraft Turn 4 in my class) provided some great opportunities to illuminate key IR concepts with Statecraft.  To provide some context, we have finished our survey of foreign policy and are beginning to delve into international security in this introductory IR course.  On Monday we had a student-led debate on whether the U.S. was justified in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan (followed by a 45-minute Turn 4 simulation session), and on Wednesday I lectured about Just War Theory and some core security concepts such as the security dilemma, deterrence, and compellence.  (This class meets Mondays and Wednesdays for 75 minutes).

After laying out the basic principles of Just War Theory (just cause, right intention, proportionality, etc.) I asked students to reflect on whether the same principles apply to war in Statecraft.  This question has yielded some remarkably interesting and heated conversations over the years.  It is a sneaky way to get students to apply the principles they just learned and to think about differences between the real world and a fictional world in which the stakes are not nearly as high and yet the players have the ability to harm or help each other, with real points in the balance.  Many students argued that despite the lack of actual death and destruction, students still had an obligation to not harm each other (and potentially each other’s grades) without just cause, such as self-defense, and should not engage in disproportionate retaliation.  In a paradoxical way, using Statecraft makes questions of ethics and war more real to many students because they are personally affected by the aggressive actions of others and feel righteous indignation when they believe basic principles of just cause and proportionality have been violated.  Introducing the principles of Jus ad bellum and Jus in bello gives students a framework and vocabulary to critique the actions of others, and this vocabulary frequently surfaces later in the simulation as conflict arises or is contemplated.

When introducing the concepts of the security dilemma, deterrence, and compellence, I used both real-world cases and Statecraft examples.  Frequently the Statecraft examples “hit home” more directly with students–since they are personally experiencing these challenges–and make both the abstract concepts and the real-world cases more clear.  For example, students knew exactly how they would respond if a neighboring country in Statecraft undertook a significant arms buildup while claiming entirely defensive motives.  Some of them are currently dealing with such a neighbor.  They said they would be forced either to build up their own armed forces or to seek alliances with powerful countries to safeguard their security.  When I asked how these moves would appear to their neighbor, they again intuitively grasped the fear their actions would likely engender, and the ease with which what began as a defensive effort to achieve security could escalate into an arms spiral, increased tensions, and perhaps even armed conflict.  Some students will challenge the notion that such a spiral is inevitable and point to the fact that the identity of the country initiating the buildup is crucial in determining the response.  This is a great opening to discuss “balance of threat” theory, constructivist notions that anarchy and security competition can be ameliorated, and psychological research on perception and misperception.

Unlike the security dilemma, which frequently just “happens to students” in Statecraft, deterrence and compellence are tools that students can consciously try out as they explore their toolbox of diplomatic, economic, and military instruments.  Lecturing about the “nuts and bolts” of these strategies sensitizes students to the availability and proper use of these techniques and I frequently notice them employing deterrence and compellence more intentionally after I have explained the concepts.  Of course, frequently these efforts fail or are clumsily implemented, which provides great opportunities to discuss what went wrong and what the risks and limitations of these strategies are.

Turn 5 began at 3 pm yesterday and the news indicates it will be the most intense turn yet (which is great for learning, because everyone’s emotions and intellect are now deeply engaged, although it isn’t so great for students’ nerves).  Armed conflict has broken out and (as usual) it didn’t go entirely according to plan.  World peace (5 points) has been lost, due to the actions of the innocuously named but universally distrusted Candy Land.   Monday’s simulation session will be very interesting to watch.  I can’t wait to see how the world responds.

Turn 3 Thoughts

October 7, 2011

This week was Turn 3 of Statecraft for my international relations students.  Here are some lessons/highlights from this week:

1) Don’t forget the 95-question test bank is there to make your life easier.  I gave my first exam (of three) on Wednesday and I used several questions from the Statecraft test bank (just click on the “test bank” on your professor screen).  The questions are organized by topic, and you can just copy and paste into your exam/quiz those you want to use.

2) Remind students of the importance of Big Projects early in the simulation.  Big Projects are powerful structures that only one country can own; if more than one country wants a certain project, the project goes to the highest bidder.  These Projects have been designed to create uneven development that will produce power imbalances among the world’s countries and generate a host of interesting real-world dynamics.  Some of the most powerful Big Projects–which someone should build by Turn 3 if your students are paying attention–include the CIA (free intelligence data on all countries), the National Railroad Network (doubles output of gold, food, and steel), Moon Launch (two free technologies), and the Einstein Research Lab (three free technologies).  When Statecraft used to be “paper and pencil” I would have countries bid on Big Projects in class so these powerful structures were always front and center in students’ consciousness.  Now that bidding is entirely automated through the Ebay-like system, I think they sometimes slip “under the radar.”  We’ll work on making these more prominent online (perhaps through weekly messages highlighting unpurchased Big Projects’ effects), but it wouldn’t hurt to remind your students during the first few turns that Big Projects are game changers and they need to be thinking about acquiring them.

3) Let chaos happen.  This week one student accidentally sent their simulation memo to the entire world, and one country accidentally (they claim) gave orders for their military units to attack a neighboring country.  The inadvertent attack plan was quickly canceled (no actual movement of military units can happen until the turn ends–Saturday morning for my class).  But Statecraft allows countries to see planned invasions of their territory on the map, so the damage was done and accusations started to fly via the messaging system until the mistake became clear and some officials apologized (others appear to be holding grudges about the words that were exchanged).  As the instructor you may be tempted to step in and clarify misunderstandings, but incomplete information and misperceptions are common in world politics and they should be in your Statecraft world as well.  Weekly rumors–some of which are true, some of which are false–are randomly sent to students via the “Statecraft Rumor Blog,” and this helps to produce a realistic informational environment.  Let uncertainties multiply and watch what happens (then debrief your students when the simulation is over on the effects of these misperceptions–usually the implications are substantial).

Teachable Moments

September 29, 2011

One exciting feature of Statecraft is the innumerable “teachable moments” it generates as students simply go about their business trying to figure out how to maximize their point totals (extra credit in my class) given the constraints of the Statecraft universe.  Yesterday two such moments arose:

1) A student stopped by my office to discuss a non-Statecraft matter and I casually asked him how things were going in Statecraft.  He said his country, which had chosen the attributes pacifist and green and was not interested in any sort of conflict or arms race, was concerned about a saber-rattling country nearby.  His cabinet was weighing the costs and benefits of trying to counter this potential threat through alliances or arms buildups versus making some attractive trade concessions with the potential aggressor, thereby ingratiating themselves and making their country a valuable junior partner of a rising power.  He didn’t know the terms, but he was struggling with the age-old dilemma of balancing versus bandwagoning.  I introduced these terms and we discussed these strategies’ relative merits for several minutes.

2) After class a student asked me what his defense budget should look like in his weekly simulation memo (he’s Secretary of Defense).  I told him he just needed to propose spending on new units for the upcoming turn and list their resource costs (in gold, food, steel, etc.).  He then told me that he’s the only male in his country, that Secretary of Defense fell to him by default, and that he’s probably the most strategically or militarily minded of his cabinet members.  He appeared concerned that his president might not take his concerns seriously and purchase the military units he wants.   I mentioned that he is beginning to experience bureaucratic politics and this intra-governmental struggle will grow more intense as the simulation moves forward–it is common that those students with interests in the military, intelligence, diplomacy, etc., choose the relevant cabinet positions, and (even if they don’t start out with such interests) naturally begin to advocate for their organizational interests as they grow into their respective roles.  Clashes between Defense and State are as common in Statecraft as they are in the real world.

These spontaneous teachable moments occur frequently and are a great supplement to what I do in the classroom in a more planned form: using students’ Statecraft experiences to illuminate IR concepts through lecture, discussion, and papers.  Sometimes the “audience” is a single student, but often it is an entire country group or set of country groups that come to my office for advice or whose deliberations I sit in on during in-class simulation sessions on Mondays.

I expect many more such moments in the coming weeks.  Normally the intensity of the simulation skyrockets around Turn 3 or 4, and with it students’ tendency to let Statecraft consume all waking hours.  I do feel somewhat bad about this potentially impacting their attention to other courses, but not bad enough to stop doing what I’m doing.

Turn 2 Developments

September 27, 2011

It’s only Turn 2 and things are already getting very interesting in my world.  I lectured for about half an hour on Monday, then gave my students the rest of the class period (45 minutes) for their Turn 2 simulation session.  Turn 2 doesn’t actually end online until noon on Saturday, but these face-to-face sessions are invaluable for building intensity, relationships, and investment in one’s country and world.

Among this week’s developments:

* The UN is struggling with how to implement a collective security treaty to prevent anyone from taking Sapphire Island or attacking each other.  Any use of force will cost all students the 5-point Global Peace Award, but Sapphire Island’s wealth (1,000 of each resource per turn) acts as a magnet for imperialist powers.  I will lead my students through a discussion on the challenges of collective security in a few weeks when we get to the security part of the course; for now it’s best to let students experience these dilemmas without interfering.

* Countries harboring the Typhoon Pirates and Orion Liberation Front (OLF) are coming under pressure to shut down these groups’ bases as resource losses from these militant groups’ activities become increasingly severe each turn.  The global award for wiping out terrorism is an incentive for cooperation here.  Of course, the fact that these host countries receive lucrative tribute each turn from the Pirates and OLF gives them an incentive to drag their feet as long as they can.

* Stopping the melting of the Ice Mountain (and the threat of global flooding) doesn’t appear to be on countries’ radar screens yet, even though a Turn 2 news story about rising sea levels should have raised some eyebrows.  This is as expected.  As the news grows more dire each turn and countries begin to consider the need for action, the collective action problem will rear its ugly head.

This week we are covering foreign policy decision-making.  In lecture, I am providing real-world examples of key biases such as mirror imaging, attribution biases, and groupthink, but I’m going to avoid giving Statecraft examples yet because I want my students to fall into these “traps” and experience these biases themselves (and obvious examples from past Statecraft worlds will serve as warnings).  In fact, I’m considering putting off my discussion of groupthink (scheduled for tomorrow) for a month or so because students almost always experience groupthink in Statecraft–and learn a great deal from succumbing to this “decision pathology”–so I don’t want to prematurely awaken them to the dangers of group cohesion and collegiality (which are increasing rapidly as groups meet both inside and outside of class).

Student involvement so far has equaled or exceeded that of recent semesters.  All country groups I sat in on yesterday were engaged in intense discussions about strategy, goals, potential allies/adversaries, etc., and several entire country groups stayed after class yesterday.  Whenever I check the “chat” feature online there are numerous students signed in–and not always the same ones, which is a good sign.  More to come as events unfold…

Turn 1 Tips

September 20, 2011

The fun begins!  Statecraft Turn One began online on Saturday, and I told the students in my international relations class to read the news messages before Monday’s class but otherwise to do nothing else.  Then I reserved the entire class period yesterday (Monday) for the Statecraft Turn One session.  As with every simulation session, students were free to meet with members of their own  country and foreign countries in order to make trades, form alliances, and discuss plans for achieving country-level and global goals.  I reminded everyone that Turn One doesn’t actually end online until noon on Saturday, so students should feel free to keep meeting, emailing, texting, etc., outside of class until the turn ends and the decisions they have entered online become final.

Almost the entire class stayed late (they were still scurrying about and talking in alternatively animated and secretive tones when I left).  So we’re off to a great start.  Right now they shouldn’t be thinking of learning IR concepts–only how much fun Statecraft is.  Once they are “hooked” and thoroughly immersed in their world, the learning will happen in a series of waves (some initiated by me, some by them).

Based on yesterday’s session (and prior experience), here are some important tips for making Turn One run successfully:

1) Remind students that there are many points available for achieving key global and country-specific goals.  Encourage them to decide what goals their country will pursue and focus on moving toward these; this will help focus their attention during a Turn One that is often chaotic.

2) Tell students to sit with their country groups and remain there for the rest of the semester (even on non-simulation days).  This fosters in-group bonding.  If you ever see simulation-related activity going on during non-simulation sessions (i.e., while you are lecturing), threaten to hit the offending country with a natural disaster using God Controls.  Usually the threat alone is enough, although occasionally I will unleash an earthquake or asteroid strike (with resulting resource losses) just to show I mean business.  If you want to get really creative, reward countries that do particularly well on quizzes or other activities with “the discovery of a new vein of gold” (e.g., +100 gold, again using God Controls) and discourage slackers by hitting particularly low-scoring countries with any kind of negative event (costing resources) that you can imagine.

3) Mandate a UN meeting during the Turn One class session.  I announced a time (half an hour into the class session) for all UN reps to meet up front for this initial meeting.  I sat in on part of the meeeting and heard them discussing a nonaggression treaty and several other global issues.  I told them that it is up to them whether they want to hold UN meetings during future sim sessions, but I mentioned that worlds that keep the UN vibrant and active are usually more successful in maximizing everyone’s Statecraft scores.

4) Announce that presidents need to set their “decision keys.”  The decision key is a code that presidents (or other officials they trust enough to give the code to) use to make decisions such as purchases, trades, and movement of troops.  Presidents should go to the “President” tab and click “set decision key,” then enter a code of their choice.  I realized yesterday that the decision key is not discussed in the manual so we are revising the manual accordingly; this should reduce confusion in the future.

5) Walk around and listen in on groups’ discussions.  It is important to make clear that anything you hear will remain confidential, so groups will speak freely.  As usual, I heard some very interesting things from a number of countries.

6) Remember that students will have questions on Turn One and refer them to Joe Jaeger (joe.jaeger@gmail.com) if you don’t have the answer.  The more familiar you are with the simulation manual the easier it will be to answer these questions, but there’s a learning curve for professors as well, so if this is your first time using Statecraft don’t feel at all hesitant to send students to Joe or contact him yourself with questions.  By the second or third time you use Statecraft you will be able to answer students’ basic questions and even give some strategy tips (I do this whenever students ask).  You will also find yourself with a growing repertoire of Statecraft stories to illustrate key concepts to future classes as the drama of your unique world unfolds.

I also had the opportunity to introduce the concept of comparative advantage to a country that was trying to decide whether to build farms (their country produces little food) or oil drilling sites (they are rich in oil).  These resource-enhancement structures cost all countries the same but provide percentage bonuses, so a country that produces 1,000 food per turn will gain much more from one farm than a country that produces only 200 food per turn.  I will discuss links between IPE and Statecraft later in the semester in lecture and discussion, but it is always useful to “plant the seed” of a concept with individual country groups when the opportunity arises naturally within the simulation (as it very frequently does).