Discerning the interests and priorities of diverse stakeholders

Katrina Younes, Rob Alfieri, Aaron Zaltzman

This is the third in a series on the use of Somalia in Crisis role play in a law school course on International Humanitarian Law. Read the Introduction.

During the simulation of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting regarding the 2011 Somalia Famine, we observed that the first step for building consensus between parties espousing disparate positions was to efficiently and accurately categorize the identities, key issues, and positions of the respective groups. The task of the NSC Committee Chair was to incorporate the competing views of 20 different voices, representing four distinct interest groups, and facilitate a consensus in just a few hours. While this extremely tight timeline made us nervous, the key to working effectively was the efficient management of the conversation.

One way we navigated these time constraints was by laying out a roadmap that outlined the policy points that were predicted to generate the most debate. This roadmap was developed after each team had been invited to specify which issues they believed could fairly easy garner consensus, versus the issues they felt would require further persuasion. The central aim of the NSC team, for example, was to end the famine and secure legal assurances that individuals would not be prosecuted for delivering life-saving humanitarian services to this end. This was their static position, from which they would not budge. The NSC team also identified lower-stakes positions that they were open to re-thinking—so long as their core static position was not compromised.

Once the respective views of each team had been expressed, the next task was to speak to other members of other teams to see what headway could be made.  One of the groups—which consisted of U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of National Intelligence and Department of the Treasury—chose to focus on interacting with groups whose views were not in alignment with their own in order to see if there was any room to maneuver. It was during this part of the simulation exercise that it became clear just how entrenched various teams were in their positions. Upon a return to the plenary formation, the Chair of the NSC meeting quickly identified which policies had broad general support, and which were now proving to be the most contentious.

In the final round of negotiations, it was clear that all parties agreed that the Somalia famine represented an emergency that demanded immediate action. It was also evident that the idea of a humanitarian exemption to the counter-terrorism laws had some support, particularly if it could be executed in conjunction with a Partner Vetting System. The most contentious issue, it emerged, was whether NGOs should be permitted to pay access fees to FTOs if necessary. Ultimately, this issue consumed the bulk of the discussion. It also ended up standing in the way of a group consensus on the overall approach. However, since the various issues had been divided up and dealt with according to level of difficulty, many smaller and less divisive issues were still possible to agree upon. This enabled the parties to forego needless arguments over small points and focus on the more significant issues at hand. Read Part 2 and Part 4.

Written by law school students Katrina Younes, Rob Alfieri, Aaron Zaltzman as part of the Re-Imagining International Humanitarian Law course at University of Western Ontario Law School.

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