IDL Offers Simulation on Iran's Nuclear Program

Discussions began, tentatively at first, as the delegates slipped into the roles they had been assigned and for which they had prepared for several months. The tension mounted as they anticipated meeting with their heads of state, to whom they would propose their country’s goals for the upcoming U.N. Security Council meeting.

Thus began the Third Annual IDL Student Conference in International Security, sponsored by the Initiative on Distance Learning (IDL). IDL offers Stanford courses in international security to nine Russian universities via distance-learning technologies. Its annual conference brings together top students and instructors from each of the participating universities with students and faculty from Stanford. This was the first year that the conference centered on an international security simulation, led by political science professor Scott D. Sagan, director of CISAC, and Coit D. Blacker, director of FSI. Sagan has been conducting such security simulations for eight years at Stanford and other U.S. universities.

This year’s simulation scenario was the referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for failure to fully disclose its nuclear activities. Council delegates convened in the Russian provincial capital of Yaroslavl, 150 miles northeast of Moscow, due to “security concerns”— as they were informed—about U.N. headquarters in New York.

Delegates’ opening statements reflected a wide range of views on Iran’s status with the IAEA. The U.S. delegation called for sanctions and showed little interest in negotiation. “We find the Iranian regime corrupt and repressive,” said Oleg Borisov, head U.S. delegate and a student at Petrozavodsk State University. He added, rather menacingly, “The United States is not intending to use military force unless Iran keeps up its nuclear capability and continues to support terrorism.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Venezuela, Pakistan, and Iraq indicated no willingness to consider sanctioning Iran. China urged delegates to “choose the only right option—diplomacy.”

By the end of the two-day session, delegates had overcome seemingly intractable differences during four intensive legal drafting sessions. The council’s resolution gave Iran three months to comply with IAEA demands and provided for Iran to obtain enriched uranium from Russia, with the production, transport, and waste disposal to occur on Russian soil under IAEA controls.

As a learning experience, the simulation is well matched to the IDL program’s goal of fostering critical analysis among a new generation of students in post- Soviet Russia. FSI director Coit Blacker wants to develop future generations of diplomats and policymakers whose worldview is shaped “by how they think, not what they’re told to think.”

After the session ended, students reflected on what they had learned. Putting themselves in others’ shoes seemed the most valuable aspect for many. Natasha Pereira-Klamath, one of the Stanford undergraduates who participated in the Yaroslavl simulation as a representative of the Russian Federation, said she was surprised at the “extent to which people reflected the views of their (assigned) countries.” This was echoed by other students, who expressed their surprise at how easy it was to begin thinking as a representative of another country, although their official position might be very different from their own.

“I’m glad to see the resolution passed today,” said Homkosol Bheraya, an exchange student from Thailand who attends Ural State University. “I hope that in the real world this can happen someday.” Perhaps she will be in a position to advance that goal. “My dream,” she said, “is to one day work for the IAEA.”