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Student Instructor

Role Assignment

UN Security Council Cases

The UNSC consists of the representatives of fifteen countries. There are a couple of points to watch out for as you assign roles.

Remember that the five permanent members, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have veto power, so they will have greater influence over the conversation.

Note whether any UNSC members are involved in the case. Because of the wealth of information provided in the cases, researching and deciding on a position will be straightforward for students assigned to such roles, and they will probably play an outsize role in the discussion.

In the real UN Security Council, the members take turns presiding, rotating on a monthly basis. (The UN website keeps track of whose turn it is.) In the role-play, you can do the same, reminding the student acting as president to always make clear whether they are speaking as president or on behalf of their country. Alternatively, you can preside.

NSC Cases

In the National Security Council simulation, students play the roles of various cabinet secretaries and agency directors. The NSC also has two additional and central roles: the president and the national security advisor.

The president is the ultimate decision-maker, and the entire NSC meeting is designed to inform the president so they can make a decision. The president must read and prepare for the meeting, but unlike all the other positions the president does not write a position memo. Instead, they are present to listen and ask questions along the way in order to clarify or push the discussion toward formulating a final decision. Instead of a position memo, the president may write a memo describing and explaining his or her decision. If equity of workload is important, or you are concerned that your students may not be well prepared to handle the role of president, you can play the role yourself. Some instructors invite an outside guest—often someone with leadership experience—to sit in on the class and play the role of president.

The national security advisor runs the conversation. They keep time, call on speakers, and ask clarifying questions along the way. The national security advisor does write a position memo, but with both the memo and the moderation of the conversation, they must assume the role of “honest broker.” Rather than push any option, the national security advisor’s main job is to elicit clear, well-thought-out options for the president to choose from. The job requires careful listening and the ability to guide the conversation effectively. If you do not have a student suited to handle this role, you can play it yourself.

If your class will need a lot of guidance, it may make sense for you, the instructor, to serve as both national security advisor and president.

Other positions vary slightly from case to case but generally include cabinet members, agency representatives, and other relevant people. Each will have role guidance, with suggested questions to consider and suggested sources for research. Students assigned to these roles will write a position memo based on their specific role. While they may end up changing their mind as a result of discussion during the role-play, they will arrive with a clear point of view.

In every case, there is also a general advisor role. This can be useful if you have a few more students than available roles. General advisors receive role guidance, but because they don’t represent a specific government department, their point of view is less defined.

Some instructors who want to simplify the simulation choose to assign everyone who is not the president or national security advisor the role of general advisor. The preparation is more straightforward because students do not have to take into account varying points of view, but the downside is that there may be less diversity of opinion during the role-play.

If you have many more students than roles, you can follow a couple of possible routes. If you have the time, you could divide the class in half and run two separate simulations in a fishbowl exercise, where the half of the class that is not role-playing observes and reflects on the role-play. You can also assign each position to a team of two (or more) students. If you take this route, consider how you will ensure that work is distributed equitably across the writing assignments and speaking roles in the role-play.