Students Simulate Roles in Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Students Simulate Roles in Russia-Ukraine Conflict

by Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor

After intensive back-and-forth debate, word came down that the United Nations had helped broker an agreement that was supported by the leaders of the United States, Ukraine, Russia and other NATO nations.

No, the proclamation was not made in New York City, Moscow or Kiev. It was announced in a classroom in Kaplan Hall. While only an exercise as part of a class taught by Matthew Schmidt and Howard Stoffer that explored the development of United States foreign policy, the stakes seemed almost as real.

“You can understand the theory of how international relations work and how foreign policy gets made, but unless you have some sense of what it is like to have to make those decisions with a lack of information under a time pressure, the theory doesn’t necessarily make any sense,” said Schmidt, a Russian affairs expert who will be in Ukraine later this month as an election monitor. “That’s what we try to replicate for them.”

Matt Schmidt (left standing) and Howard Stoffer (right standing) look on as Paul Raffile '14 (sitting right), plays the role of Ukraine president Oleksandr Turchynov; Congressman Chris Shay, plays the role of Barack Obama (sitting center); and Simone Quartey '15 plays the role of Vladimir Putin (sitting left) during a negotiation session.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking part of the class was the differing stances taken by Schmidt and Stoffer, as well as former Congressman Chris Shays, who played the role of President Barack Obama throughout the two-week simulation.

“Having two professors with different backgrounds and often times conflicting views exemplified the meaning of experiential learning,” said William Quiroz ’17, a former member of the U.S. Marines Corps. who served as the U.S. secretary of defense.

Several times in each class a new scenario would be presented for the students to react to.

“They found that the alliance process in order to reach a unified position requires a great deal more work than they ever thought it would,” said Stoffer, associate professor of national security and a former senior foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State and former director of counterterrorism at the United Nations. “This is what experiential educational is all about.”

Shays, an 11-term U.S. congressman, said simulations such as this provide more realism than listening to a lecture or reading a text book.

“Some of the textbook on politics make me laugh,” he said. “They put fancy names next to things we do. This was more realistic. We came close to going to war, and I think they realized that as one takes a step and another takes a step you almost end up with both sides losing.”

During the final class of the simulation, Sebika Mazumdar, who played the role of the secretary-general of the United Nations, talked about her efforts to foster a peaceful diplomatic simulation.

“We truly learned what it takes to interact with others with different perspectives, how global decisions are made and how foreign policy is made,” said Mazumdar. “We are better educated to understand the crises that plague the world and are now on a path to continue to learn and potentially act to resolve situations in the future.”

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