Humphrey School News

Senior U.S. Diplomat Leads Humphrey School Students in Global Crisis Negotiation Training

April 4, 2017
U.S. Ambassador Tom Pickering

It isn’t every day when graduate students are asked to resolve a global crisis involving countries half a world away—alongside one of the United States’ most distinguished diplomats.

But that’s just the real-world experience that U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering gave participants of a  two-day workshop on international crisis negotiations, treating as "real diplomats" the 35 students from the Humphrey School and half a dozen members of the Minnesota National Guard.

The workshop, developed and presented by the U.S. Army War College, was an intensive role-playing exercise for the participants. They engaged in a realistic negotiation simulation to tackle a major global challenge; in this instance, a crisis in Kashmir involving political, military, and humanitarian issues. 

The exercise gave students the unique opportunity to work on strategic-level negotiations, according to the Humphrey School’s diplomat-in-residence Mary Curtin, who organized it.

“The students gained an understanding of how global actors function in the midst of crises,” said Curtin, who noted that the training is worthwhile for students in any field of study. “They learned how complex negotiations work, and how negotiation teams function—or don’t function.”

 Set against the backdrop of a United Nations summit, the exercise divided students into seven teams representing key players in the conflict, including the United States, China, Russia, the UK, India, Pakistan, and a Kashmiri group, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). A retired Foreign Service Officer or Minnesota National Guard senior officer mentored each team, providing negotiating and strategic advice.

Pickering played the role of a UN Special Representative appointed to mediate the talks.

His participation was especially meaningful for Master of Human Rights candidate Marina Kelly, a recipient of the Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship from the U.S. Department of State. Kelly is planning to work in the Foreign Service after she completes her degree.

“This was a unique experience that the other Pickering Fellows in my cohort were not able to have, and I am extremely grateful,” Kelly said. 

The complexity of diplomacy

Contrary to what one might think, the main goal of the training session was not to come up with a neat resolution to the crisis, but to illustrate how difficult it is to negotiate solutions to complex global problems.

 Col. William Jones of the Army War College emphasized that point in his opening remarks.

“Keep in mind, diplomats deal with complex and ill-defined problems that have been around for decades, so don’t expect to solve them,” Jones said.  “Focus on the progress you make, even if it’s baby steps.”

Kelly said mentors drove home that point over the course of the weekend. She participated as a delegate for the PDP, a political entity that represents the people of the Jammu-Kashmir region.

 “Our team's primary goal was to get all parties present at the negotiations to publicly recognize the legitimacy of the PDP. But Russia and China would not meet with us,” Kelly said.

Another member of the PDP delegation, Master of Public Policy candidate Audel Shokohzadeh, said this exercise provided valuable insights into the tenuous nature of crisis diplomacy.

“Usually when I read an article about how a negotiation came to a standstill, I would be critical of the parties involved and wonder why it was so difficult for them to come to a consensus,” Shokohzadeh said. “This exercise opened my eyes to the intricacies of the negotiation process, and how history and politics can prevent a resolution.”

The Army War College conducts these negotiation exercises at more than a dozen institutions across the country each year. This is the first one held at the Humphrey School, where students said they appreciate opportunities for such real-world training experiences.

“It's so crucial for us to interact with individuals who have actually lived and breathed policy, like the members of the military and former Foreign Service Officers who participated in the simulation,” said Maddie Welter, a Master of Public Policy candidate. “It’s one thing to study something like negotiation, and another thing to actually go through it. Having professionals and practitioners who could help provide context was a great feature of this exercise.”

Another similar training exercise is in the works for November. 

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