Academics, Upper School

Seniors Simulate Negotiations with North Korea

In Trimester 3, senior Humanities students studying East Asian and the Modern World experienced the challenges of diplomacy in a simulated event. Students split into groups representing Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, the United States, and North Korea, and worked towards an agreement in which North Korea would tone back its nuclear program.

“The idea of the simulation is for students to engage in something similar with what they accomplish in an essay, in which they have a broad question and take their specific knowledge to answer that question,” says Humanities teacher Isaac Meyer. “Here, they have a broad goal and some specific points of negotiation. Their job is to take that goal and use their knowledge to shape a strategy out of it, with concrete positions along the way.”

Isaac provided students a role sheet that contained a list of objectives and a broad framework to help determine how the countries interact. This simulation was specifically a culmination of a unit on North Korea, focusing on understanding the ideology behind North Korea’s actions, and the strategic thinking of its foreign relations.

During the unit, students learned about the North Korean experience by watching a Frontline documentary and reading Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick, a book featuring over 100 interviews of refugees from Chongjin, North Korea.

The North Korea simulation took place over two days, and the six represented countries had to produce a treaty addressing five key areas:

  • Whether inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to visit civilian sites, military ones, or both, and how much advance notice they need to give.
  • Whether UN resolutions and economic sanctions targeting North Korea will be terminated, and when.
  • Whether the Yongbyon reactor will be redesigned so it cannot make weapons-grade plutonium and what percentage of its spent nuclear fuel will have to be sent out of the country for inspection.
  • Whether or not North Korea will be allowed to maintain a stockpile of highly enriched uranium
  • Agreements on limits to North Korea weapons deals abroad.

The treaty had to be signed by North Korea, China, South Korea, and two of the three other countries.

Zoe T. was a member of the North Korea team, and the six-party talks helped her realize just how hard it is to deal with the rogue nation.

“This simulation brought to light how difficult multi-country talks can be, especially when it involves North Korea,” says Zoe. “My teammates and I realized early on we didn’t have anything to gain from the talks outside of increased economic opportunity and improved diplomatic relations. Everyone had to compromise to get us to agree to anything at all.”

For Isaac, watching as the students hatched side-room deals with one another and represented their countries’ interest with enthusiasm helped reinforce what he wants the students to learn through the process.

Says Isaac: “The hope is now when they see North Korea in the news, or any country in that region, they will have the knowledge and the invested interest to make sense of the news, and further pursue the topic.”