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Dec. 23, 2004

Students flex policy analysis muscles in Small Arms Forum

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—“Representatives” of the United Nations, manufacturers, human rights groups and other dignitaries will gather next month at the University of Michigan for a week-long forum about setting small arms policies.

This isn’t a typical international forum, but a simulation featuring students who will serve in the roles of the dignitaries and representatives. In the program, which is spearheaded by U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, faculty and guest speakers will give advice to the students.

The Integrated Policy Exercise (IPE) is an innovative component of the Ford School curriculum that helps graduate students integrate the skills they are learning in different courses and to work together across classes and concentrations. It is an intensive policy simulation that gives student teams the chance to do a time-pressured policy study from the point of view of a particular policy actor. Student teams present the results of their study and their policy recommendations in public and form coalitions around policy positions.

"“We don't have enough time during the semester to be together, let alone work on intensive projects outside our regular classes, so it should be fun,” said Kyle Browning, a first-year graduate student from Overland Park, Kan. “It should also be great experience in negotiation and debate.   I think everyone is looking forward to analyzing a real policy issue for a sustained period of time.”

The program, which began in 1999, will run Tuesday afternoon Jan. 4 through Friday afternoon Jan. 7 in the Michigan Union. Campus map: The forum isn’t open to the public, but the media is invited to attend on Jan. 4.

All Ford School classes will be cancelled during the program, so that students and faculty can devote their full attention to the simulation. Both faculty and outside experts will be closely involved in working with student teams and evaluating their performance.

“IPE is an excellent opportunity for Ford School students to practice our newly acquired policy skills in a real-life situation, much like we can expect in our future jobs,” said Steven Yarger, a second-year graduate student (science policy) from South Bend, Ind. “It allows us to make mistakes safely among ourselves as we learn how to become better public policy professionals.”    

This year’s theme is "Small Arms Forum" and will explore three proposals to regulate the international small arms trade. The forum will consist of several plenary sessions that involve all or most participants, as well as other activities that include guest speakers and opportunities for formulating positions, reporting, caucusing or lobbying.

Six sets of players have been identified for the forum.   Each student has been assigned to represent an actor in these categories: U.N. member states, presiding officer, U.N. staff from Department of Disarmament Affairs, non-governmental organizations, arms manufacturers and media. They will consider several options to contain and regulate the international flow of small arms (revolvers, sub-machine guns) and light weapons (grenade launchers, recoilless rifles).   

“The greatest benefit of the IPE is that it provides a fun real world context in which students can apply the skills and theories they learned in the classroom,” said John Balbach, an Ann Arbor resident and one of two graduate students coordinating IPE. “It also gives students a chance to see the important role that personal interaction plays in the policy making process.”

"IPE is a wonderful, hands-on experience for our students to incorporate the policy analysis skills they have learned in class," said Ford School Dean Rebecca Blank. "Many students look forward to the program and interacting with their peers, faculty and guest speakers."

Some guest speakers include:  

• (Tuesday, Jan. 4) Rachel Stohl, senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington D.C.

• (Tuesday, Jan. 4) Douglas Farah, investigative journalist and former Washington Post West Africa Bureau chief 

• (Wednesday, Jan. 5) Antonio Evora, political affairs officer and Small arms team leader in the United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs

• (Thursday, Jan. 6) Maryam Elahi, director of Human Rights Program at Trinity College.

The widespread use of imported small arms in many post-Cold War conflicts brought the issue of small arms trade to the United Nation’s attention in the mid-1990s, said Susan Waltz, this year’s IPE coordinator.  

The trade and traffic in small arms has fueled conflicts in some of the world’s hottest spots, including Darfur—where bazookas, grenades and rifles are among the weapons most frequently used by militias to kill civilians, Waltz said.   The U.N. Charter does uphold sovereignty and asserts a right of individual and collective self-defense in response to attack, but its principal purpose is to maintain international peace and security, she said.

“While there has been a long history of efforts to regulate conventional and nuclear weapons, international efforts had not previously focused on efforts to regulate small arms,” said Waltz, a professor of International Relations and Public Policy.

Several U.N. conferences have been held on small arms issues since 1995, and the next one is scheduled in 2006.

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Contact: Jared Wadley
Phone: (734) 936-7819