A group of high school students from around Northeast Ohio participated in a crisis simulation exercise at Hiram College titled “The North Korean Nuclear Nightmare.” The purpose of this simulation , which took place June 20-23, was to consider ways the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear capability could be addressed in manners which didn’t lead to military confrontation.
The topicality of this simulation was of course greatly enhanced by the fact that, just eight days prior, the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea engaged in a historic summit, in order to address precisely this issue. That summit provided some reason for hope that, at long last, these extraordinarily dangerous issues might be peacefully addressed. On the other hand, the raft of ambiguities which emerged from that summit — for instance, what exactly the North Koreans meant when they agreed to “denuclearization,” and what the U.S. meant by agreeing to not engage in military drills with the South Koreans — reinforced the extremely thorny nature of the situation. As an added point, China’s direct involvement in the staging of the summit – it was a Chinese airplane, after all, which flew Kim Jong-Un to the summit in Singapore — brought to mind that it’s not merely a question of getting the U.S. and North Korea to agree; other countries, including China and South Korea, must be able to endorse any agreement which is reached.
For three days, therefore, the high school students at Hiram were divided into teams, representing the U.S. weapons inspection team, the North Korean government, the South Korean government, and the Chinese government. Under the expert guidance of retired members of the U.S. armed forces — including an Army General, a Brigadier General, a Colonel, and a Navy Commander — the students then reacted to an evolving scenario, in which each team, via both secret and open negotiations with each of the other teams, sought to achieve as much as they could for their side.
The result was — as if often the case in the real-world of international diplomacy — that no team fully got what it wanted. The U.S. obtained its goal of having the North Koreans to agree to inspections during its denuclearization process, but the North Koreans only agreed to allow the Chinese, not the U.S., to carry out those inspections. The Chinese thus achieved a substantial strategic role, but in the end it turned out that the North Koreans planned to hide key aspects of their nuclear program from the Chinese inspectors. The North Koreans, as such, managed to gain a temporary advantage against both the Americans and the Chinese, but, when their ruse was discovered, they were dealt severe penalties by the Chinese. And finally, the South Koreans benefited from a ratcheting down of confrontational rhetoric relating to the Korean peninsula, however, they experienced the frustration of having relatively little influence in bringing this situation about.