I've had the opportunity to cover the crisis simulation twice now, and each time Dr. Robert Farley has written the scenario. He's remarkably good at developing scenarios that soon resemble real life. Two years ago it was an abrupt change of power in Cuba. This time it involved pirates capturing a ship off the coast of North Africa - except this scenario was developed weeks before the Maersk Alabama was seized.
Rob's a smart guy and a former "drinking buddy." In addition to his position on the Patterson School faculty, he's an active blogger at Lawyers Guns & Money and TAPPED, the blog of The American Prospect. He's actually an expert on military and maritime issues, so this year's sim really played into his strengths. (If you're really into the issue of piracy, you should definitely check out this video conversation between Robert and Dan Drezner, who is on the faculty at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and blogs for FP Magazine.)
As always, here's the detailed Q&A I did with Robert for the column. Enjoy.
Q: Most Americans haven't known much about the problem of 21st Century piracy until very recently. I certainly don't know much about it. Can you assess the scope of the problem and give us an idea of how long piracy in the way we know it today has been going on?
A: Piracy has always been with us, but we haven't always been paying attention. Southeast Asia began to see a serious uptick in piracy in the early part of this decade, largely in response to the fallout from the Asian financial crisis. Because of concerted action from regional powers and the US, the trend in that area has been on the down slope for several years. However, in the middle of this decade we started to see a significant increase in piracy off the Horn of Africa. From the point of view of the international economy, the problem is thus far more of an irritant than a crisis, but that will change if pirate attacks increase. The international community is certainly beginning to respond forcefully to the problem, by deploying a flotilla of warships to the afflicted areas.
Q: Why should Kentuckians care about a problem that, at least for now, seems somewhat isolated to a stretch of ocean of the coast of East Africa?
A: Kentucky, like every other part of the world, depends on international trade. The goods we consume and that we produce come from and end up in all parts of the world. Ocean transit remains the cheapest form of transport, which means that Kentucky will be affected if trade is disrupted. As piracy could emerge as a greater concern off Somalia, off Nigeria, and even potentially in the Caribbean, it's best that Kentuckians stay abreast of the problem.
Q: Can you describe the Patterson School's annual crisis simulation? What is it, what are its aims, how long has the School been doing it, who is involved?
A: Each year, the Patterson School launches a 24 hour, real time policy crisis. The idea is to give our students an opportunity to practice what they've learned in the classroom in a quasi-real policy setting. In other words, we give them the chance to put what they've learned to good effect. We've been doing the simulation for years (I don't know how long, actually), and I've written the last four scenarios.
Q: How did this year's simulation go? What was the scenario and the outcome?
A: This year, a ship carrying machine parts to Iran was intercepted and seized by pirates. The nature of the cargo came under question (Iran was smuggling contraband equipment for a nuclear centrifuge), and the identity of the pirates was unclear. Eventually, our Iranian team tried and failed to sink the merchant vessel before it could come under the scrutiny of the international community. An Iranian destroyer collided with a Russian cruiser that was escorting the seized merchant vessel; Prime Minister Putin was not pleased.
Q: You brought the journalism school in to the simulation this year - how did that idea develop?
A: Very well. Bringing the journalism school on board gave our students the opportunity to deal with an inquisitive media, which is one of the most important tasks that they will face in any policy position. The simulation also gave the Journalism school the opportunity to train its students in a crisis situation. In the future, we'd like to include other units at UK; international politics touches on all facets of American life, and in an international crisis the government draws on many different areas of expertise.
Q: The Crisis Sim has been almost creepy in its ability to "predict" scenarios that actually take place not soon after. Is this just luck, or is the faculty looking at the way things are and assessing something that's reasonably likely?
A: Luck, and some attention to what's going on in the world. The policy simulation gives our students the opportunity to work in a crisis situation, but it's also helpful when the crisis they're working on is something that might come up in the real world.
Q: How does the simulation prepare students for "real world" work in global business and diplomacy?
A: During the simulation, our students have to make critical decisions in a short time with limited amounts of information. That's a lot like the real world, whether in business or in government.
Q: Speaking of the "real world," what's your assessment of how the Obama Administration has handled the piracy issue so far? What more needs to be done?
A: I think they've done a good job thus far. The rescue of Captain Richard Phillips was conducted very well; they gave the pirates sufficient time to surrender, then allowed the Navy to handle the rescue with utmost expertise. The administration can continue to help by formulating legal standards under which pirates can be tried and imprisoned, by patrolling the waters off Somalia, and by facilitating the work of the international coalition that has been deployed to stop piracy.