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Student Instructor

Iran Deal Breach

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.1 Role

Welcome to your role as a participant in the National Security Council (NSC)! You should have received an email with your role assignment, but if you did not, you can view your assignment by clicking on the “My Simulations” tab on your account page. At this point, you should have reviewed essential background information about the NSC, read the case, watched the accompanying videos, and perused some of the additional reading. Whether you have been assigned a specific role as an individual or part of a group, or as a general advisor to the president, we suggest you read the case once again to identify material that is particularly relevant to your role or that requires further investigation. After that, you will conduct independent research as you write your position memo and prepare for the role-play.


There are four subsections that follow. Research and Preparation (3.2) will aid your research for the position memo and provide additional reading to guide your research; the Guide to the Memoranda (3.3) provides information about position memos and an example; and the Guide to the Role-Play (3.4) provides more information on the in-class role-play.


You can learn about your role by reading the information provided on your role sheet, which can be found in the Guide to the Role-Play section (3.4).  Review this information thoroughly and often, as your objectives and strategy in the position memo and role-play will be shaped by the institutional perspective of the role you have been assigned (unless you are playing a general advisor). After you finish the role-play and subsequent debrief, you will have an opportunity to share your personal thoughts and recommendations on this case in a policy review memo (Section Four, Wrap-up).

GO TO SECTION 4.1

Case Roles

Description of Role:

The president is the head of state and commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. He or she presides over National Security Council (NSC) meetings and listens to the advice and information presented by others. The president is not expected to be an expert on any single subject, but instead draws on the expertise of the NSC to analyze options and choose what he or she feels is the best policy to advance U.S. interests.

The president’s goals are to

  • select one or more policy options after considering the opinions and recommendations of NSC members; and
  • balance and promote U.S. interests, with an eye toward both immediate goals and long-term foreign policy strategy.

 

Issues for Consideration:

These can be used to frame the role-play and encourage debate among fellow NSC members. 

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What is the nature of the U.S.-Iran bilateral relationship? How has it changed over time, especially since the conclusion of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? What do the evolution and current state of the relationship suggest about the potential effect of various U.S. actions in this crisis?
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • Where does the situation in Iran fit into the broader context of national security concerns facing the United States, especially in the Middle East? How should this analysis shape your consideration of policy options in this case?
  • What are the positions and interests of other countries and organizations that have a stake in the Iran nuclear debate? How, if at all, might they help resolve, exacerbate, or otherwise shape the current situation?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that accompany each policy option open to the United States, including unilateral and multilateral responses to the crisis?
  • What are the trade-offs raised by various potential policy options in this case?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The vice president must be ready at a moment’s notice to assume the presidency if the commander in chief is unable to perform her or his duties. Vice presidents can play a relatively active role on the National Security Council (NSC), serving as a general advisor and freely advocating their own positions during meetings. In particular, the president may ask the vice president to serve as an independent voice, untethered to any of the agencies represented by other NSC participants. The president may also ask about the interaction between the issue at hand and the domestic political situation, including in Congress.

The vice president’s goals are to

  • provide advice to the president on any topic, including those overlooked by other NSC participants; and 
  • understand the range of views in Congress and work to build congressional and public support for the president’s chosen approach. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What is the nature of the U.S.-Iran bilateral relationship? How has it changed over time, especially since the conclusion of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? What do the evolution and current state of the relationship suggest about the potential effect of various U.S. actions in this crisis?
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response and how should they be prioritized?
  • What is the range of attitudes in Congress on Iran’s nuclear program, on the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and on U.S. relations with the country more broadly? How, if at all, should the administration work with Congress in devising and implementing potential responses to the current crisis?
  • How do the media and public opinion affect U.S. policy toward Iran? Which, if any, constituencies in the United States have a particular interest in or especially strong views about this issue? What does all of this suggest about the domestic political consequences of various responses?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that accompany each policy option open to the United States, including unilateral and multilateral responses to the crisis?
  • What are the trade-offs raised by various potential policy options in this case?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The national security advisor (NSA) has a special role in crisis management, serving as the “honest broker” for the national security policy process. Although the president makes final decisions, the NSA is responsible for ensuring that he or she has all the necessary information, that a full range of viable policy options has been articulated, that the prospects for success and failure have been identified, that any legal issues have been addressed, and that all members of the National Security Council(NSC) have had the opportunity to contribute.

The national security advisor’s goals are to

  • facilitate the president’s consideration of issues by keeping the NSC discussion on track and guiding it toward concrete policy options; and
  • build trust as an honest broker among the other NSC participants. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • Where does the situation in Iran fit into the broader context of national security concerns facing the United States, especially in the Middle East? How should this analysis shape your consideration of policy options in this case?
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • What is the current state of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? How has it changed or is it expected to change under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that accompany each policy option open to the United States, including unilateral and multilateral responses to the crisis?
  • What are the trade-offs raised by various potential policy options in this case?
  • What are the most important factors for the president to balance when making a decision? What types of analyses would be most useful for other members of the National Security Council to present?
  • Research the performance of past national security advisors and the ways in which they managed the interagency process. Which advisors and policy processes have been considered especially successful or unsuccessful, and why?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The Department of State maintains the U.S. diplomatic presence around the world, conducting foreign relations and using an on-the-ground perspective to generate country-specific knowledge. As head of the department, the secretary draws on this knowledge to present an authoritative view of the United States’ bilateral relationships, the relationships between foreign countries, and the behavior and interests of foreign governments.

The secretary of state’s goals are to

  • serve as the president’s principal foreign policy advisor; and
  • analyze how policy options will affect the interests, reputation, and relationships of the United States.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What is the nature of the U.S.-Iran bilateral relationship? How has it changed over time, especially since the conclusion of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? What do the evolution and current state of the relationship suggest about the potential effect of various U.S. actions in this crisis?
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response and how should they be prioritized?
  • What are the interests of the other countries and organizations, such as the P5+1 of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States, plus Germany, involved in this case? What kinds of relationships does the United States have with these countries and organizations? How, if at all, might they help resolve, exacerbate, or otherwise shape the current situation?
  • How would various U.S. responses to the crisis affect the perception of American leadership among the United States’ allies and friends? Among governments and nonstate actors that want to do the United States harm?
  • What has the role of sanctions been in current and historical U.S. policy toward Iran? What is the range of views on their effectiveness? What are the costs, benefits, and risks that would accompany the imposition of sanctions, whether unilateral or multilateral, on Iran in response to this possible violation of the nuclear deal?
  • What has the role of diplomatic negotiations been in current and historical U.S. policy toward Iran? What is the range of views on their effectiveness? What are the costs, benefits, and risks of using negotiations in response to Iran’s possible violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The secretary of defense is the principal defense policy advisor to the president, under whose direction he or she exercises authority over the Department of Defense. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the secretary analyzes the security situation in the relevant region and explains the likely implications of U.S. military involvement, both for the immediate crisis and for the United States’ overall strategic position.

The secretary of defense’s goals are to

  • understand the options for and feasibility of any military action, as well as its possible outcomes; and
  • identify ways to prevent the deterioration of a crisis to the point where it mandates U.S. military intervention.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? What security and other interests are at stake in this crisis?
  • What is the current state of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and how has it changed or is it expected to change under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)?
  • Where does the situation in Iran fit into the broader context of national security concerns facing the United States, especially in the Middle East? How should this analysis shape your consideration of policy options in this case?
  • How, if at all, have the U.S. and Iranian militaries come into contact over the years? What lessons might be drawn from these encounters?
  • What military capabilities does the United States possess to conduct air strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? What military capabilities does Israel possess? What is the range of views on the damage each country could inflict on a hardened Iranian facility?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that would accompany responding to the possible Iranian violation with air strikes, either unilaterally or in conjunction with Israel? In particular, how might Iran retaliate against U.S. and allied interests in the Middle East?
  • What are the immediate security risks of the policy options being considered in this case? For example, what would be the implications if U.S. military personnel carrying out air strikes were captured or killed?
  • What is the state of military relationships among the United States and its Middle Eastern allies, including Israel and various Arab partners? How might the crisis, and a U.S. military response, enhance or endanger these relationships?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military and the principal military advisor to the president, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council(NSC), and the Homeland Security Council. The CJCS does not exercise command authority over U.S. troops. Instead, he or she works with the heads of the U.S. military services to provide advice to the president and other senior leaders.

The CJCS’s goals are to

  • serve as the president’s military advisor on the NSC; and 
  • advise the president on specific military options and the corresponding risks, benefits, and implications. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? What security and other interests are at stake in this crisis?
  • What is the current state of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? How has it changed or is it expected to change under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)?
  • Where does the situation in Iran fit into the broader context of national security concerns facing the United States, especially in the Middle East? How should this analysis shape your consideration of policy options in this case?
  • What military capabilities does the United States possess to conduct air strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? What military capabilities does Israel possess? What is the range of views on the damage each country could inflict on a hardened Iranian facility?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that would accompany responding to the possible Iranian violation with air strikes, either unilaterally or in conjunction with Israel? In particular, how might Iran retaliate against U.S. and allied interests in the Middle East?
  • What are the immediate security risks of the policy options being considered in this case? For example, what would be the implications if U.S. military personnel carrying out air strikes were captured or killed?
  • What is the state of military relationships among the United States and its Middle Eastern allies, including Israel and various Arab partners? How might the crisis, and a U.S. military response, enhance or endanger these relationships?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The Department of the Treasury carries out policy on issues related to the U.S. and global economies and financial systems. The secretary of the treasury, as head of this department, serves as one of the president’s chief economic advisors. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, he or she analyzes the economic dimensions of foreign policy issues and weighs the potential impact of policy options on U.S. economic concerns, including growth, trade and investment, and the position of the U.S. dollar.

The secretary of the treasury’s goals are to

  • serve as a senior presidential advisor on economic policy; and
  • determine how foreign policy options might affect the U.S. economy and financial system, the global economy, and economic relations between the United States and others.

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • How, if at all, does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten the U.S. economy and the economies of U.S. allies? What might be the economic effects of various U.S. policy approaches to the current crisis?
  • What are the chief characteristics of Iran’s economy? What economic goals are Iran’s leaders seeking to pursue today?
  • What role does oil play in Iran’s economy? How have sanctions affected the importance of oil to the Iranian economy? How, if at all, has this changed since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed?
  • Does the United States import any oil from Iran? Do any U.S. allies? More broadly, how do Iranian exports affect international oil markets and, in turn, the U.S. economy?
  • What has the role of sanctions been in current and historical U.S. policy toward Iran? What is the range of views on their effectiveness? What are the costs, benefits, and risks that would accompany the imposition of sanctions, whether unilateral or multilateral, on Iran in response to this possible violation of the nuclear deal?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that would accompany the imposition of new or enhanced sanctions on Iran in response to this possible violation of the nuclear deal? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of unilateral or multilateral sanctions?
  • How might U.S. policy steps in this crisis affect the Iranian economy? How might this shape any Iranian reaction, including retaliation? Are there any effects on the well-being of Iranian citizens that the president should consider?

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The attorney general is the head of the Department of Justice and the chief lawyer of the U.S. government. The department represents the United States in legal matters, including by prosecuting violations of federal law. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the attorney general gives the president advice and opinions on the legal aspects of policies under consideration. 

The attorney general’s goals are to

  • consider the legal elements and implications of U.S. foreign policy options; and 
  • ensure that any policies decided by the NSC are in compliance with domestic and international law. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • What are the treaties and agreements that underpin the international nonproliferation regime? What legal standing do these have in the United States? What, if any, obligations do they impose on the United States in this situation? Might they be useful in crafting a U.S. policy response? 
  • What is the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the international nonproliferation regime? What legal authority does it have in dealing with Iran in this case?
  • What are the legal considerations surrounding potential U.S. air strikes in Iran, whether unilateral or conducted with Israel? What are the roles of the president and Congress on this issue?
  • What are the legal considerations surrounding potential U.S. sanctions against Iran, whether unilateral or imposed along with other countries or international organizations? What are the roles of the president and Congress on this issue?
  • What kind of legal backing, such as congressional legislation or UN Security Council resolutions, might be useful or necessary for any U.S. policy response to Iran in this case?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The chief of staff oversees the Executive Office of the President, which provides the president with support to govern effectively. This post has traditionally been home to many of the president’s closest advisors. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the chief of staff ensures that the president has the necessary analysis on the full range of factors relevant to the case, including the U.S. political situation. He or she also guides the process of implementing and communicating presidential decisions.

The chief of staff’s goals are to

  • highlight the domestic implications of U.S. foreign policy choices; and 
  • develop strategies to carry out the president’s policy and communicate it to U.S. and international audiences. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • What are Iran’s likely reactions to various U.S. policy options? How might these reactions affect the domestic political impact of the chosen U.S. approach?
  • What is the range of attitudes in Congress on Iran’s nuclear program, on the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and on U.S. relations with the country more broadly? How, if at all, should the administration work with Congress in devising and implementing potential responses to the current crisis?
  • How do the media and public opinion affect U.S. policy toward Iran? Which, if any, constituencies in the United States have a particular interest in or especially strong views about this issue? What does all of this suggest about the domestic political consequences of various responses?
  • What criticism and praise did the U.S. government’s nuclear deal with Iran elicit? How might these reactions shape U.S. action in this case?
  • What are the trade-offs raised by various potential policy options in this case?
  • How can the president best articulate a decision and communicate it to the American people and the world?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The U.S. intelligence community consists of seventeen agencies and organizations that gather and analyze intelligence to help policymakers formulate and implement U.S. foreign policy. The director of national intelligence oversees this network of agencies. He or she focuses on providing the latest relevant information to National Security Council (NSC) members and articulating the capabilities and interests of the intelligence community. 

The director of national intelligence’s goals are to

  • provide complete, accurate, and up-to-date information to the NSC on the situation under discussion; and
  • serve as the principal advisor to the president and the NSC on intelligence matters.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • Where does the situation in Iran fit into the broader context of national security concerns facing the United States, especially in the Middle East? How should this analysis shape your consideration of policy options in this case?
  • How should Iran’s rocky relationship with the United States—and its support for groups that the United States deems terrorist organizations—inform any U.S. action in this case?
  • What are the chief characteristics of Iran’s economy, particularly its oil resources? What economic goals are Iran’s leaders seeking to pursue today? What points of leverage might exist for U.S. and international policy?
  • How have the United States’ relationships with its allies and friends in the Middle East—Israel and certain Arab states—evolved in recent years, particularly in the context of debates over policy toward Iran? What is the nature of Iran’s relationships with Israel? What is the nature of its relationships with the United States’ Arab allies? 
  • How is Iran’s government likely to react to various U.S. policy approaches to the current crisis, including sanctions and air strikes? In particular, how might Iran retaliate against U.S. and allied interests in the Middle East? 
  • What are the primary interests, motivations, and goals of the major actors in this crisis? What factors drive potential responses to it?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The role of the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) is to advance U.S. foreign policy interests in the bodies and forums of the UN system. Reporting to the secretary of state, the permanent representative helps formulate and articulate the U.S. position on all political and security matters under discussion at the UN.At National Security Council(NSC) meetings, he or she outlines policy steps available to the United States at the UN and advises NSC participants on the positions and actions of other UN member states.

The U.S. permanent representative to the UN’s goals are to

  • advise the president and secretary of state on the diplomatic actions the United States can or should take at the UN; and
  • promote the United States’ interests and values at the UN. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • What is the nature of the U.S.-Iran bilateral relationship? How has it changed over time, especially since the conclusion of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? What do the evolution and current state of the relationship suggest about the potential effect of various U.S. actions in this crisis?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that accompany each policy option open to the United States, including unilateral and multilateral responses to the crisis? 
  • What has the role of the United Nations and its component parts in nonproliferation been broadly and in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions specifically? What role could or should they play in addressing the current crisis?
  • Which of the proposed policy options might require or benefit from a UN Security Council resolution? How important is it for the United States to secure such a resolution for any action it takes in response to Iran?
  • What position do other UN member states, particularly those on the UN Security Council, take on the situation in Iran? How are these governments likely to react to various policy responses by the United States? How should the United States take these views into account when deliberating its policy options?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The secretary of energy leads the Department of Energy, which carries out U.S. policy on energy, environmental, and nuclear issues. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the secretary must consider the energy-related dimensions of foreign policy issues, any energy-related tools that might form part of the U.S. response, and the implications of policy decisions for the American energy supply and environment.

The secretary of energy’s goals are to 

  • formulate and evaluate energy-related measures as part of policy options; and
  • gauge the implications of foreign policy decisions on U.S. energy security and environmental concerns. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • What is the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the international nonproliferation regime? How does the United States work with the IAEA? How might the agency be helpful in addressing the current crisis?
  • What is the current state of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? How has it changed or is it expected to change under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? In particular, what nuclear facilities and technologies does Iran possess for energy production or research?
  • What are Iran’s current and projected energy needs? What is its current and projected supply? In particular, how much oil is Iran projected to produce and use? What major energy policies, if any, are Iran’s leaders seeking to advance?
  • Does the United States import any oil from Iran? Do any U.S. allies? More broadly, how do Iranian exports affect international oil markets and, in turn, the U.S. economy? 
  • How might U.S. policy responses to the current crisis, such as sanctions, affect Iran’s oil production and exports? What might be the ensuing effects on the energy supplies of the United States and its allies?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The general advisor offers analysis and recommendations that are unconstrained by the interests of any department or agency. He or she is tasked with providing a comprehensive assessment of the situation at hand and ideas for policy options that serve U.S. interests.

The general advisor’s goals are to

  • understand the breadth of the issue and outline its stakes for the United States; and
  • advise the president on the range of policy options proposed by all NSC members.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How does the situation in Iran as presented in this case threaten U.S. national security? 
  • What is the nature of the U.S.-Iran bilateral relationship? How has it changed over time, especially since the conclusion of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? What do the evolution and current state of the relationship suggest about the potential effect of various U.S. actions in this crisis?
  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this crisis and in the U.S. relationship with Iran generally? How should these various interests influence a U.S. response? How should they be prioritized?
  • Where does the situation in Iran fit into the broader context of national security concerns facing the United States, especially in the Middle East? How should this analysis shape your consideration of policy options in this case?
  • What is the range of attitudes in Congress on Iran’s nuclear program, on the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and on U.S. relations with the country more broadly? How, if at all, should the administration work with Congress in devising and implementing potential responses to the current crisis?
  • What criticism and praise did the U.S. government’s nuclear deal with Iran elicit? How might these reactions shape U.S. action in this case?
  • What are the interests of the other countries and organizations, such as the P5+1 of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States, plus Germany, involved in this case? What kinds of relationships does the United States have with these countries and organizations? How, if at all, might they help resolve, exacerbate, or otherwise shape the current situation?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks that accompany each policy option open to the United States, including unilateral and multilateral responses to the crisis?

 

Research Leads:

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