Russian students practice diplomacy in CISAC arms control exercise
One day perhaps Marina Agaltsova will join the diplomatic corps at a foreign embassy, or help write policy positions for the Russian government. Coit Blacker hopes that the lessons from her Stanford-sponsored distance-learning course will stick.
Agaltsova was among a group of Russian students brought to the provincial city of Yaroslavl in late May for an academic conference that capped this year's five distance-learning courses offered at nine universities across Russia by the Initiative on Distance Learning at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
Through videotaped lectures, web readings and online chat sessions with senior research scholar Kathryn Stoner-Weiss and 14 other Stanford instructors, students in Democracy, Development and Rule of Law explored democratic ideals and practices, studying examples in Latin America, Asia and the former Soviet Union. "The course taught me that there is a black side to the reforms" that followed perestroika in Russia, Agaltsova says. "I learned more about Russian history [in the course] than I had learned in school."
That's the idea, says FSI director Blacker, who wants to re-establish the teaching of critical analysis, lost under decades of Communist rule, in Russian universities. "The social sciences were disemboweled," he says. He wants to develop future generations of diplomats and policy makers whose worldview is shaped "by how they think, not what they're told to think."
This year, to cap off the courses, 40 students came to Yaroslavl to participate in a mock United Nations Security Council session addressing Iran's nuclear program. They traveled from the farthest reaches of the Russian hinterlands, like Amur State University in Blagoveschensk, 4,800 miles from Moscow.
The arms control simulation is a teaching tool developed for the Stanford undergraduate class International Security in a Changing World, taught by Blacker and Scott Sagan, a political science professor and director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation within FSI. Sagan has exported the simulation to several universities in the United States where his former graduate students now teach--UC-Berkeley, Dartmouth, Columbia, Duke--but this was the first one he has conducted overseas.
This year's scenario was the International Atomic Energy Agency's referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council for failure to fully disclose its nuclear activities. During the simulation, students submitted proposals to their heads of state, played by Blacker, Sagan and Russian faculty members. By the end of the two-day session, delegates had overcome seemingly intractable differences during four intensive sessions led by Stanford third-year law student Matthew Rojansky, acting as U.N. undersecretary-general for legal affairs. The council's resolution gave Iran three months to comply with the IAEA's requests and provided for Iran to obtain nuclear fuel from Russia, with the production and waste disposal to occur on Russian soil under IAEA controls.
After the session closed, students set aside their delegate roles to reflect on what they had learned. Narina Tadevosian, a student from Yakutsk State in far eastern Siberia, said she was surprised at "how strict Russia was" in taking a leading role in the session.
"If only it were so in real life," she added.