November 5, 2003: On the Campus
Keeping the peace
By Tom Hale 04
Illustration by paul zwolak
One recent morning, a team of Woodrow Wilson School students found themselves leading a relief convoy along a dirt track in the Bosnian countryside. Turning a bend, they found the road blocked by a group of men brandishing Kalashnikovs. As the students rolled their Bradley Fighting Vehicle to a halt, one student wondered aloud what had brought him from the manicured Princeton campus to this war-torn Balkan country. His classmates laughed. Though Princeton seemed distant in that moment, the students had, in fact, not taken one step away from its collegiate-gothic arches.
The Woodrow Wilson School sees itself as a bridge between academia and the policy world. But can the Woody-Woo wonks hold their own beyond Robertson Hall? This was the challenge put to the 50-odd students who participated in a simulated peacekeeping operation one weekend in September.
Overseen by Consequence Consulting, a transatlantic sponsor of instructional experiences, the simulation was led by Bruce Newsome of the Rand Corporation, and Christie Ansley, chief technical officer and antiterrorism officer for the U.S. Navy Fleet Information Warfare Center in San Diego, California.
Assuming the roles of humanitarian, government, and military workers, the students found themselves in Bosnia at the beginning of the Dayton cease-fire in 1996. Their mission: to establish a relief camp in the wake of an ethnic massacre an effort that would require logistic, political, and military maneuvering.
After a planning period Saturday night, participants had six hours Sunday morning to locate, secure, and provision a base capable of caring for refugees.
Newsome and Ansley used digital imaging programs to help re-create the Bosnian countryside in the basement of Robertson Hall and populate it with friendly, neutral, and hostile forces. From a command center, students interacted with this virtual world, communicating with Newsome and Ansley via short-wave radios. They converted the students orders commands to move trucks or send out scouts, negotiations with local strongmen or frightened villagers into a series of algorithms and radioed back the results.
Divided into 10 teams, the WWS students faced competing priorities, limited time, and a shifting environment. No one unit or individual was in charge; the group had to devise and execute a plan.
The initial result was general confusion. At 9 a.m. Sunday, groggy students struggled to figure out who needed to do what and when. Faced with multiple crises surprise roadblocks, skittish refugees students found it difficult to coordinate an effective response.
Things hit a low point in the fourth hour, when a truck convoy sat idling, several military units were surrounded by enemy combatants, and one of the refugees died after being denied medical assistance.
But after lunch the students performance rose with their blood sugar. Enemies were dispersed, refugees collected, and food, shelter, water, and medicine delivered. By the end of the six hours a functioning safe camp had been established and filled with 50 relieved refugees.
In the debriefing, participants were told they had completed between 50 and 60 percent of the mission objectives, a respectable result given that the highest any group including business school teams, military personnel, and corporations had ever scored was just below 70 percent.
Discussing the exercise, students focused on civilian-military interaction. The humanitarian workers felt the military teams had dominated the activity, placing military needs over relief work. Those on the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, charged with collecting forensic evidence of the massacre, felt their interests were neglected.
When asked which team contributed most, which put in the most effort, and which was the most difficult to work with, students chose Cimic, the military unit charged with working with civilians, for all three categories. This triple-sweep was an indication of Cimics important role in making progress, and suggested that resolving conflicting military and humanitarian priorities was crucial for success.
All told, the experience was intriguing and educational but also trying. At least nobody got killed, one student quipped on her way out, before adding, Well, for real.
Tom Hale 04, from South Kingstown, Rhode Island, is a Woodrow Wilson School major.
ON THE CAMPUS ONLINE: Please go to www.princeton.edu/paw, to read Keeping it honest, by Jennifer Albinson 05.