Vienna Convention Simulation


Students simulate the Vienna Convention of 1985 to gain a visceral experience of political negotiations.


(1)  Students will have the opportunity to apply and reinforce their knowledge in an experiential setting.

(2)  Students will gain a better understanding of the political negotiations behind the Vienna Convention of 1985.

(3)  Students will learn about the role of coalition formation and secrecy in political negotiations. 

Introduction/Background: In this class activity, students simulate the Vienna Convention of 1985. Each student is assigned a role in the convention and is prepped with information on the role’s specific interests and position. During class, students have the opportunity to conduct private and official negotiations to achieve their preferred outcomes. By the end of the simulation, the convention presents its negotiated agreement or a public statement on the outcome of the negotiations.


  1. Before Class
    1. Instructor hands out an assignment packet that contains background information on the simulation. (See attachments below for example.)
    2. Each student will be assigned a role in the Vienna Convention simulation (i.e. UNEP, United States, DuPont, etc.) and will receive a unique role biography in the packet that details his/her preferences and specific agenda. (Attached is an example of the role biography of Austria.)
  2. During Class
    1. Students have five minutes to re-read the provided materials. Students should not discuss with others during this time. Considering the information that they have, they should use the time to develop a strategy that helps them achieve their preferred outcome during the negotiation.
    2. Students, then, have 10 minutes to conduct one-on-one discussions to simulate private negotiations that frequently occur before a formal convention is held. Small groups of actors with similar interests can meet unofficially to coordinate strategies for convention.
    3. After workshop discussions, students have 30 minutes for the official negotiation. Austria, as the host and presiding member, will open the convention and propose an agenda. Austria may unilaterally recognize any member to speak to the convention. Any motion made – including votes to change the status of members, the proposed agenda, any component or all of the final agreement – must be approved by a majority of present voting members. Any member may leave the convention at any point to hold backchannel negotiations and may return afterwards; however, if a vote is held while a voting member is absent, only a majority of the voting members at the table is needed to approve the motion. These backchannel negotiations are a valuable way for observers to update the voting members on their preferences. Thus, students are allowed and encouraged to slip outside the room or pass notes to simulate backroom negotiations.
    4. If an agreement is approved at the end of the convention, an outline of the important points should be formalized in writing and signed by at least a majority of voting members. If no agreement could be approved, a public statement should be drafted about the outcome of negotiations and any plan to continue the negotiations in the future.  
    5. During the last five minutes of class, a representative member of the convention should present the final conclusion to the instructor. The presentation should take into consideration what occurred during the simulation and why the strategy succeeded or failed.
    6. Throughout the simulation, the instructor facilitates the convention but does not take part in it. If he/she sees students that should be communicating with each other not approaching each other, he/she can encourage them to talk. Additionally, the instructor should diffuse any unnecessary situations during the simulation.   
  3. After class
    1. During the section meeting following the simulation, students will debrief about their experience and share what they learned about negotiations. Additionally, they will go over what actually happened at the Vienna Convention of 1985 and compare it to their experience.
    2. The simulation experience will be a possible exam question.

Comments: Professor Tingley advises instructors to make sure students get the material ahead of time. The instructor should also emphasize to students that they should not discuss with each other before the day of the simulation.

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