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ODU's Graduate Program in International Studies Will Conduct NATO-Led Learning Exercise Featuring Virtual Crises

Insurgents have gotten their hands on a dirty bomb, and are threatening to detonate it in a Mediterranean country, putting millions of lives at risk.

How will NATO respond? Old Dominion University students are poised to find out.

Students in ODU's Graduate Program in International Studies (GPIS) and Model UN will soon take part in a unique set of simulations by NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT), designed to test their ability to respond to real-world crises.

The March 18 event is called "Crisis Decision Making." Three dozen GPIS students, along with a few hand-picked undergraduates in political science and geography, will gather at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) in Suffolk.

Each assigned to a different role in NATO, the students will be asked to respond to three crisis simulations, generated by ACT, which NATO might have to face - for example, an oil supply crisis in the Middle East or a terrorist attack in the Mediterranean using weapons of mass destruction.

The simulations will take place in real time, displayed on the large video board in the VMASC conference room, and will evolve as students respond to the unfolding events.

The exercise will build on the decade-long partnership between ACT and ODU, stemming from a memorandum of understanding between the two "to extend a cooperative mode of operation in the interest of sharing resources which support the missions of both parties, and which enable individuals associated with both to benefit from the wealth of expertise represented."

ODU President John Broderick said events like "Crisis Decision Making" demonstrate the unique value of the Agreement.

"It's really a win-win opportunity. It provides a realistic learning exercise for our students with an interest in international relations, and builds on the partnership that we have with Allied Command Transformation. At the same time, this event offers ACT a chance to partner with a nearby university and utilize its research expertise and talented graduate students," Broderick said.

Regina Karp, GPIS director in ODU's College of Arts and Letters, said her students are extremely fortunate to be able to take part in the simulation exercise, something she views as a special student leadership opportunity.

"It presents the students with crisis simulations very similar to what NATO would face. It's also a great experience for students who may be interested in pursuing a professional career in this area," she said.

According to its mission statement, ACT "actively promotes the comprehensive understanding of political and military processes governing NATO responses to threats against Alliance solidarity and security.

"Addressing this objective, ACT's mission is to utilize an interactive 'computer-assisted crisis management simulation' to expose politically aware university students to the rigors of 'consensus' decision-making by the political/military leadership bodies in the Alliance."

ODU students have been assigned roles for the simulations: 28 students will represent the various NATO nations; one will play the role of the NATO secretary-general; one will act as chairman of the Military Committee; and other students will be assigned to play the role of the "media."

Students are preparing for their role in the simulations by doing online research, from material provided by ACT, about their country's willingness to use armed force and its potential political interests.

The exercise will be conducted at VMASC, supported by a simulation technology provided by NATO ACT, which constantly updates the master program to reflect real-world events such as piracy off the Horn of Africa.

Joshua Behr, associate research professor at VMASC and an associate professor of political science and geography at ODU, noted that the university's modeling and simulation experts will study the simulations to see if there are ways they can offer suggestions to improve them.

"There's a desire, looking in the future, to expand and capture more of the complexities in the simulations," Behr said. "VMASC sees this as a potential opportunity to help them evolve, especially with the substantial multidisciplinary M&S expertise that Old Dominion University has assembled."

This event will be the third technically supported ODU/ACT educational series on campus, and the first that is truly interactive in nature. Previous events featured panelists with geopolitical expertise.

This article was posted on: March 10, 2010

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