An oil tanker capsizes off the coast of Baffin Island and unmarked ships trespass in the area — it’s a hypothetical situation set to be discussed at next month’s Queen’s Interactive Crisis Simulation (QICSIM).
Students from 10 North American universities will meet at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre for the conference. They represent delegate countries and government bodies, including the United States, Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
In separate rooms, delegates solve a simulated international crisis, rarely meeting face-to-face in an attempt to mimic a real-life scenario.
The scenario is based on an international dispute over the Northwest Passage, a 7,000-km route that’s frozen for most of the year. It’s made up of a series of seven channels that link the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, a route favoured by ships for cargo transport from Asia to Europe.
For the past 132 years, Canada has claimed the Passage as national waters.
“Since Britain passed over all the Arctic territories to Canada in 1880, everything above sea level has been technically Canadian,” political studies Professor Kim Nossal said. “The Canadians have exercised or tried to exercise sovereignty but the fact is it wasn’t until well into the 20th century that all other countries in the world recognized Canada’s sovereign claims.”
Countries like the United States don’t acknowledge Canada’s claim, Nossal said.
“The United States wants as much of the world’s oceans to be considered international waterways,” Nossal said. “They are a global power and they want to be able to move their boats wherever they want to move them.”
Whichever country lands Arctic sovereignty could potentially charge for entry into the Passage’s waters and create shipping regulations.
“What you don’t want are ships floating around the Arctic that don’t have the right kind of ice-hardened hulls or that are carrying hazardous cargo,” he said, adding that oil spills are also a concern in the Arctic seas.
“The Chinese are absolutely looking to the Arctic Ocean as a new shipping route for the new century so they have a deep interest in how this particular dispute turns itself out,” Nossal said, adding that no solution can satisfy every country.
“The only way that a conclusion would be reached is essentially if Canada gave up its claim because it’s highly unlikely … the United States would give up its claim [to the Northwest Passage],” he said.
For the first time since the Queen’s crisis simulation began in 2009, invitations were extended to American military academies, like the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Students from McGill University, the University of Toronto, Carleton University and University of Ottawa have also been invited to this year’s conference.
Organizers say the number of delegates hasn’t been finalized.
QICSIM’s expansion to students outside of Queen’s began last year when Royal Military College (RMC) students were invited to join the delegations.
The conference, which operates under the Queen’s International Affairs Association, went from 45 students in 2009 to nearly 80 last year.
“We want to slowly grow,” Michelle Waintraub, ArtSci ’12, said. “At the moment QICSIM is the only [Canadian conference] of its kind and nature so why not expand so other students can experience it as well?”
This is Waintraub’s second year co-chairing QICSIM.
Last year, she helped bring in retired Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire as a keynote speaker for the conference. He’s best known for leading the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the 1990s.
“I won’t lie,” Waintraub said. “[This year], there is a feeling of pressure — not that we have to top last year but I feel as though we raised the bar.”
This year, QICSIM is reaching out to Canadian government officials like Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, but none have confirmed thus far.
Each year’s simulated crisis is chosen according to the country’s current political issues.
“With all the focus on waters and natural resources and sovereignty itself, like who owns what with natural resources, Arctic sovereignty seemed like the perfect thing,” Waintraub said. “Arctic sovereignty is right now a sexy topic.”
The Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia in December 2010, proved to be a missed opportunity for QICSIM.
Hana Delibasic, another QICSIM co-chair, said the Sudanese referendum was chosen as last year’s conference topic months before the Arab Spring broke out.
“We didn’t know the Egyptian uprisings would happen last year,” Delibasic, ArtSci ’14, said. “Had we known, it would be an amazing conference to have.”
Delibasic is already looking to the future of QICSIM.
“I’m actually more stressed about next year than this year,” she said. “We want to be really tough, almost like a competition, and work towards something that’s really exciting for people.” Delegates will be posed two hypothetical challenges: an oil spill in the Passage and the presence of unmarked ships.
David Last, head of RMC’s department of politics and economics, is one of two professors from RMC working with student organizers to run the conference. No Queen’s professors are participating.
“It’s different from the Model United Nations and the Model North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the sense that it’s not as competitive,” he said.
“I think in that sense, it’s a very good learning opportunity.”
RMC contributed $1,500 to last year’s Queen’s crisis simulation.
Last, who’s completing a research project on alternative decision support, wanted to observe the response to a simulated international crisis.
“That was DND [Department of National Defence] research money paying for support to the simulation,” he said. “The cadets who participated wrote reports on their experiences at the simulation.”
At the 2011 conference, retired Canadian Ambassador in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade John Schram briefed the delegates on strategy before they entered simulation.
“They knew their countries and limitations,” Last said. “I think they brought a level of focus.”
RMC student Jamie Hill participated at QICSIM last year.
“I assisted with planning and got members from RMC to join and take part,” he said, adding that he was also Lieutenant Dallaire’s aide.
Hill said the conference was a good way for RMC students to interact with students outside of their campus.
“They got the opportunity to work with Queen’s students in similar programs and get a different point of view,” he said. “RMC provides a well-rounded education but … there’s a bit more focus on how things interact with the military.”
Last year’s conference brought in government officials like Sudanese Ambassador to Canada Elsadig Almagly, and gave students the chance to explore a future in international relations.
According to Hill, QICSIM’s expansion will bring new perspectives to this year’s conference.
“It’ll be an interesting discussion especially if we’re having American students coming in,” he said. “For most Canadians, we see [the Arctic as] sovereign territory whereas American political goals aren’t always congruent with that concept.”
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