Inside the Situation Room: A National Security Crisis Simulation

Kennedy School Students Simulate Nuclear Crisis 50 Years After Cuban Missile Crisis

October 30, 2012
by Sharon Wilke, Belfer Center Communications

Harvard Kennedy School students convened at the Kennedy School on October 27 to simulate a meeting of the National Security Council to resolve a modern-day crisis. The simulation, developed entirely by a team of HKS students, coordinated by HKS student Leon Ratz, was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center and the Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership. The event was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Two groups of students, playing roles of U.S. Cabinet officials and advisers, were unaware of the nature of the crisis until they arrived at the simulation. They had two hours to respond to a scenario that focused on the possibility that Iran was about to test a nuclear weapon and might trigger an attack by Israel. Playing the role of President of the United States, HKS Lecturer in Public Policy Elaine Kamarck challenged her team with tough questions and demands for creative thinking and decision as they discussed a response to the crisis in “realtime.”

Several of the student participants – from the U.S., Italy, Australia, Germany, Canada, Armenia, and Iran – said in the debriefing afterwards that they had rarely experienced as much stress in real life – that this had been a highlight in their HKS education.

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Photo of Cuban missile crisis simulation

Elaine Kamarck, lecturer in public policy (R), played the role of President during the simulation

Several of the student participants – from the U.S., Italy, Australia, Germany, Canada, Armenia, and Iran – said in the debriefing afterwards that they had rarely experienced as much stress in real life – that this had been a highlight in their HKS education.