Log in to get started!

Don't have an account yet? You can create one below.

Student Instructor

Dispute in the East China Sea

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.

  • In what way does this dispute affect U.S. national security? What interest does the United States have in the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and in the maritime security of the East China Sea?
  • Should the United States continue its longstanding policy of neutrality toward the islands’ sovereignty or should it adopt a new approach? How important is it for the United States to maintain alliances dating back decades in today’s global environment? In particular, what price should the United States be willing to bear—financial, human, and otherwise—to fulfill its treaty commitment to Japan’s defense?
  • How would various U.S. responses to the crisis affect the perception of American leadership among the United States’ allies and friends? What about among governments and nonstate actors who want to do the United States harm?
  • What effects might U.S. intervention have on other pressing issues, including nuclear proliferation, the global economy, climate change, and the safety of Americans abroad?
  • What do the tensions in the East China Sea suggest about China’s regional and global intentions? Should China succeed in acquiring control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands through force or the threat of force, would it be likely to pursue the same option in territorial disputes with other governments in the region, including U.S. allies? What would this mean for U.S. foreign policy?

 

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:

  • In what way does this dispute affect U.S. national security? What interest does the United States have in the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and in the stability of the East China Sea?
  • Should the United States continue its longstanding policy of neutrality toward the islands’ sovereignty or should it adopt a new approach? How important is it for the United States to maintain alliances dating back decades in today’s global environment? In particular, what price should the United States be willing to bear—financial, human, and otherwise—to fulfill its treaty commitment to Japan’s defense?
  • What do political analysts mean when they say that miscalculations or accidents could lead to an armed conflict in the East China Sea? How could the United States play a role in efforts to prevent such incidents? What steps by the United States might help reduce tensions over the disputed islands more broadly?
  • What are the attitudes of Congress and the general public toward this issue? What might be the domestic political consequences of a U.S. response perceived as “weak” or “strong?”
  • How would various U.S. responses to the crisis affect the perception of American leadership among the United States’ allies and friends? What about among governments and nonstate actors who want to do the United States harm?

 

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 U.S. mutual security treaty with Japan affect U.S. policy options? How will the U.S. response to this conflict affect its credibility as a responsible treaty ally and its bilateral relationships with Japan and other allies?
  • What are the major elements of U.S. relations with China and Japan and of Chinese-Japanese relations? What is the nature of each country’s relationship with Taiwan?
  • How might the U.S. foreign policy rebalance or “pivot” to Asia be affecting the East China Sea dispute? How consistent are various policy options with the broader strategy of the pivot? What message would these options send to China?
  • What tools of diplomacy would be most effective in easing tensions in the East China Sea? Can the United States establish or support crisis management tools such as hotlines or diplomatic forums in order to prevent escalation?
  • What obstacles have prevented the creation of a code of conduct in the East China Sea?

 

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:
 

  • What is current U.S. policy on this issue? Is the United States obligated to use force to defend Japan against attacks on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? What difference, if any, would it make if it were revealed whether China or Japan fired first?
  • What tools of diplomacy in the military arena, such as joint training exercises, might help prevent further conflict in the East China Sea?
  • If the United States declines to assist Japan, how would this affect U.S. relationships with Japan and other countries that maintain security guarantees with the United States? What would this mean for the global U.S. military presence, which relies on agreements with countries that host U.S. troops?
  • Does China’s rise as a great power suggest that an armed clash in the East China Sea or elsewhere in the region is inevitable? What steps by the United States might reduce the risk of such a clash? What would be the implications of China’s using force to acquire control of the disputed islands?
  • What would be the implications of an extended military deployment in the East China Sea for U.S. military capacity in other parts of the world?

 

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 could an intensification of this crisis affect U.S. access to energy supplies, especially oil, that are traded on global markets? How does the ongoing boom in U.S. energy production affect this calculation?
  • How might damaged relations with China or Japan affect multilateral efforts to combat climate change?
  • Is access to energy resources a root cause of this dispute? Why or why not?
  • Are there energy-related steps the United States might take to ease tensions and facilitate a peaceful outcome of the crisis?

 

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:

  • What role is China’s rising military capability playing in the East China Sea dispute, and what does it mean for potential U.S. military involvement?
  • What capabilities could Japanese military forces bring to the crisis, either alone or in combination with the United States?
  • What are the implications of intervening or not intervening for the regional U.S. military presence, which relies on agreements with countries that host U.S. troops? What are the implications of an extended military deployment in the East China Sea for U.S. military capacity in other parts of the world?
  • What is the state of military-to-military relationships among the United States, China, and Japan? What could the United States do to promote more transparency by the Chinese military and more trust among the three militaries?

 

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:

  • What are the primary interests, motivations, and goals of China and Japan in this dispute? What factors, such as ideology, nationalism, natural resources, broader strategy, and the personalities and interests of individual leaders, are driving each party’s behavior?
  • How are the historical relationships among China, Japan, and Taiwan affecting their behavior?
  • What role are different elements of each country’s government and society playing in this dispute? Examples of these elements include nonstate actors such as activists and fishing crews, the state-run media in China and, in Japan, the legislature and opposition parties.
  • How is China likely to view any assistance provided by the United States to Japan? How is Japan likely to view an American decline to provide such assistance?

 

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:

  • What is current U.S. policy on this issue? Is the United States obligated to use force to defend Japan against attacks on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? What difference, if any, would it make if it were revealed whether China or Japan fired first?
  • In what way does this dispute affect U.S. national security? What interest does the United States have in the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and in the stability of the East China Sea?
  • How would various U.S. responses to the crisis affect the perception of American leadership among the United States’ allies and friends? What about governments and nonstate actors who want to do the United States harm?
  • What effects might U.S. intervention, whether diplomatic, military, or economic, have on other pressing national security issues, including nuclear proliferation, the global economy, climate change, and the safety of Americans abroad?
  • What are the most important factors for the president to balance when making a decision? What types of analysis would be most useful for other members of the NSC to present?

 

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:

  • What does U.S. public opinion say about the East China Sea dispute? What would be the domestic political implications of various policy options, including military action that resulted in American casualties?
  • How could the president best articulate her or his decision and communicate it to the American people and the world? What constituencies in the United States have a particular interest in this issue and what are their views?
  • What steps would be required by the U.S. government, including the executive branch and Congress, to implement various policy options?
  • What are the most important factors for the president to balance when making a decision? What types of analysis would be most useful for other members of the NSC to present?

 

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:

  • Are there any options for international or regional adjudication that would help the parties resolve the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands?
  • What are U.S. obligations under treaties or other legal agreements relevant to the dispute?
  • What does international law say about maritime claims of the type at issue in this dispute? What are the merits of claims made by the parties over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and what do these merits suggest about the desirability of U.S. involvement in the dispute?
  • Under what conditions does the president have legal authority to use military force? What is the role of Congress in this context?

 

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:

  • What are the possible effects of the East China Sea dispute on U.S. trade and investment relations with the countries involved? How do U.S. business leaders view the dispute?
  • What effect would prolonged tension or conflict in the East China Sea have on American exports and imports? What effect would this have on American workers and consumers?
  • Might China reduce or stop its purchases of U.S. debt if the United States intervenes militarily in the dispute? How would such an action affect the U.S. economy?
  • Are there any economic incentives the United States could offer to encourage the parties to resolve the dispute peacefully? Are there any economic punishments the United States could impose? For example, what would be the consequences of imposing U.S. sanctions on China to dissuade it from pursuing its territorial claim by force?
  • What economic benefits would China or Japan derive from being able to exploit natural resources in the area of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands?

 

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:

  • What role can or should the United Nations and its component parts play in this dispute?
  • What actions aimed at reducing tensions and advancing possible resolutions of the dispute are available to the United States at the UN? In particular, should the United States call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address this crisis, and why or why not?
  • What is the Chinese view of addressing this type of dispute in the UN or other multilateral forums? What actions have the Chinese and other parties taken regarding this dispute at the UN?
  • What role might the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other UN documents play in identifying a resolution to the dispute?
  • What position do other UN member states, particularly those on the UN Security Council, take on the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? How are these governments likely to react to various policy responses by the United States?

 

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:

  • In what way does this dispute affect U.S. national security? What interest does the United States have in the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and in the maritime security of the East China Sea?
  • What policy tools, such as hotlines, diplomatic forums, joint military training exercises, adjudication, and economic incentives, could the United States offer to help prevent escalation and promote a peaceful resolution of the dispute?
  • What are the primary interests, motivations, and goals of China and Japan in this dispute? What factors, such as ideology, nationalism, natural resources, broader strategy, and the personalities and interests of individual leaders, are driving each party’s behavior?
  • What effects might U.S. intervention have on other pressing issues, including nuclear proliferation, the global economy, climate change, and the safety of Americans abroad?
  • What are the attitudes of Congress and the general public toward this issue? What might be the domestic political consequences of a U.S. response perceived as “weak” or “strong?”

 

Research Leads:

You are currently previewing the Dispute in the East China Sea NSC Basic case.

View Full Basic Case View NSC Advanced case Build a Simulation