Iran Sanctions Security Council Simulation


Students learn about the effectiveness of sanctions and a pressing international conflict through a simulation of a National Security Council meeting.


  • To enliven learning about an academic area of research: the effectiveness of unilateral and multilateral sanctions
  • To engage students in discussion and debate requiring student participation and preparation
  • To connect scholarly material to real world crises in a way that ensures deeper comprehension of material
  • To inspire students to communicate efficiently and collaborate effectively as a group

Class: Gov 40: International Conflict and Cooperation

Introduction/Background: This course introduces students to the analysis of the causes and character of international conflict and cooperation. In one of the last classes of the semester, students learn about economic sanctions in lecture. As theories on the effectiveness of unilateral and multilateral sanctions can often be abstract and prosaic, the instructor wanted to bring the scholarly material to life by showing how relevant it is to one of the major international crises of our time: negotiations with Iran.


Before Activity

  • The instructor directly emailed students outlining the simulation, requirements, readings, and recommendations. Howell finds that the most effective way to pass along instructions to students is through emails that are clearly formatted with subtitles, recommendations, and cogent instructions. Emails regarding the assignment and how students should write response papers are attached.
  • Students were informed via email that during the simulation they will discuss major policy recommendations for the Iranian nuclear crisis, particularly whether and how to change sanctions against Iran. They were also informed of the two key goals: "First, we need to come to agreement on what sanctions are, whether they work, if so how and in what contexts, as well as what if any strategic value they have," and "Second, we need to determine which unilateral and multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran should be repealed. To do that, we need to determine the economic impact of these sanctions, the trigger and the target, and whether these sanctions are reversible." (email attached)
  • Students were delegated to positions ahead of time, so that they could prepare for their role. Roles are found in the attached email.
  • Students were instructed to read through three innovative real-world sources on the theoretical topic for that week, in addition to the three scholarly papers required in the syllabus. Each of these readings were treated as "unclassified" briefs in preparation for a simulation of a "National Security Council Consultative Meeting."
  • The students prepared three detailed talking points based on their reading of the "unclassified" briefs.

During Activity

  • During the simulation, the student assigned as "Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs" ran the Consultative Meeting with the following format:
  1.  Introductions
  2. Opening Statements
  3. Agreed definitions.
  4. Debated mechanisms.
  5. Debated strategies.
  6. Policy recommendations.
  7. Vote on the recommendations.
  8. Register of dissenting opinions.
  • After finishing the activity, the students briefly discussed the experience and talked through the strengths and weaknesses of their approach.
  • Students were strongly encouraged to consider writing their third response paper for the course on this topic, so that they were fully prepared for the simulation. As a result, many constructed papers that were far better than their previous work because of the excitement of the real-world application and the fascinating nature of the topic in action.


The instructor assigned three innovative real-world policy sources, which the students drew on before and during the activity:

1. A comprehensive report by International Crisis Group: "The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions," International Crisis Group, Middle East Report, No. 138, February 2013.

2. An interactive and animated data collection of international legal and economic sanctions: "The Spider Web of Sanctions," International Crisis Group, Interactive Data: Year Enacted, Economic Impact, Trigger, Targets, Reversibility.

 3. An interactive timeline with photos and archived articles: Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program, New York Times, Middle East, Multimedia, November 20th, 2014.

These materials were used in conjunction with the three assigned scholarly articles:

Kimberly Ann Elliott and Gary Clyde Hufbauer. Same song, same refrain? Economic sanctions in the 1990’s. American Economic Review, pages 403–408, 1999.

Navin A Bapat and T Clifton Morgan. Multilateral versus unilateral sanctions reconsidered: A test using new data. International Studies Quarterly, 53(4):1075–1094, 2009.

Meghan L O’Sullivan. Iran and the great sanctions debate. The Washington Quarterly, 33(4):7–21, 2010

groundwork.pdf45 KB
simulation.pdf58 KB
advice.pdf53 KB
instructions.pdf53 KB