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‘Model Quad’: Japanese Students Role-Play to Learn Security and Diplomacy

Students at a university in Tokyo realize how interdependent we truly are, and the challenges faced by the personalities involved in international politics.





Earlier in August, at a university in Tokyo, students gathered for an in-person summit meeting of the leaders of the countries comprising the so-called Quad: Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. 

This “summit” was a simulation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal diplomatic, military, economic, and political arrangement first begun in 2007 at the initiative of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of his concept for an “Asian Arc of Democracy.” It was restarted in late 2017 in pursuit of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump. 

This role playing was the first known “Model Quad.”

The scenario of the student-led summit was a gathering of the four heads of state to be held this fall. In mid-July, current U.S. President Joe Biden proposed the in-person summit to coincide with the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, when the world’s leaders traditionally gather.

Earlier in 2021, at the first virtual Quad summit on March 12, the leaders agreed in their joint statement to “hold an in-person summit by the end of 2021.” The statement, entitled “The Spirit of the Quad,” also stated: 

We will redouble our commitment to Quad engagement…. Our experts and senior officials will continue to meet regularly; our Foreign Ministers will converse often and meet at least once a year…. The ambition of these engagements is fit to the moment; we are committed to leveraging our partnership to help the world’s most dynamic region respond to historic crises, so that it may be the free, open, accessible, diverse, and thriving Indo-Pacific we all seek.

The release of this statement was an important milestone, and so was the commitment in writing toward more regular and consistent meetings. The Quad has had its fits and starts during the past decade-plus, but seems to be on track now, particularly with the hosting of the foreign ministers gathering in October 2020 in Tokyo. The September 2021 summit meeting, too, will be an important milestone as it will be the first in-person meeting of the leaders of the group.

Why a Student Summit

Technically, the student summit was the first face-to-face meeting of the leaders, except, of course, they were students role-playing.

I got the idea of running the exercise from the Model United Nations, which I participated in as an undergraduate student (in the final days of the East-West Cold War, when the People’s Republic of China was being groomed to join the West — a myth most have come to regret as a mistake for the misplaced faith in the dictatorial Chinese Communist Party). 

The Model United Nations brings students from colleges and universities all around the world together to practice their negotiation and coordination abilities and leadership skills. It also allows them to network among themselves and others, and to get a better idea if they wish to pursue a career in diplomacy. There are the Model European Union, Model General Assembly of the Organization of American States, and Model Association of Southeast Asian Nations, among others.

In the case of the “Model Quad” this time, it was simply the students of one course at one university in one country, but hopefully the idea will catch on and spread to other institutions and other participating countries. Doing so will bring the next generation of the Quad members together early, to understand each other and hopefully promote greater cooperation and solidarity. Furthermore, the ideas of the students might eventually translate into actual policies and initiatives if disseminated properly.

The real Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) ministerial meeting in Tokyo, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. (Kiyoshi Ota/Pool Photo via AP)

Bringing the Model to Life 

The intensive, all-afternoon course at the Tokyo-based university was on U.S.-Japan relations, but as I have long been a proponent of expanding the bilateral security treaty to include other like-minded democracies, I decided this academic year to use the Quad as a model for seeing what sort of adjustments might be needed to make the bilateral relationship more multilateral in nature and effective in content. 

The students did not let me down. They took their roles seriously, not only paying close attention in class and asking questions, but preparing every morning and evening during our one week together.

One of the highlights of the class was bringing in retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Grant F. Newsham, a prolific writer and expert on the region with more than 20 years’ experience in Japan, remotely from the United States. He provided an overview of the Quad, its potential, and challenges, and handled all of the students’ questions with thoughtful, penetrating analysis and a mentor’s concern that the younger generation understands what was at stake and had the intellectual tools and information to cope.

At the end of the first day, we had already discussed and decided on the countries for which the students would be responsible. Rather than assigning them myself, I asked the students to introduce what country or countries they were interested in representing and why. Amazingly, the assignments worked out naturally. 

One second-year student, for example, was hoping to enter the Ministry of Defense, and so we agreed (and the rest of the class supported that decision) that it was best for her to represent Japan, in the person of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in order to better understand the important role Japan has in the Quad as its leading, earliest proponent.

Another student, a junior, was planning on a career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I recommended she go with one of her non-Japan choices in order to understand the perspective and interests of another country. She decided to represent India, which was also her first choice after Japan. She learned the important role Japan has in being a bridge between the United States, an ally, and India, which has had difficult relations with the U.S. over much of the previous 75 years, due to the former’s non-aligned foreign policy.

Another student, a senior, had an interest in visiting Australia when international travel becomes easier again, and so it was a natural choice. She seemed to have done the most work preparing for the summit, and I could see her becoming a valuable link with Australia in the future.

Another student represented the United States. She found it difficult to play the part of Biden, whose policies and stances she found somewhat untruthful and worrisome, a reflection perhaps of the concern many Japanese had about the true intention of the administration.

With their roles assigned, their homework began with studying about their “countries,” and going through the websites of the respective foreign affairs ministries and Tokyo-based embassies for relevant positions, concerns, interests, etc. The second night’s homework involved preparing to ask Newsham questions — the more difficult, the better. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Thinking Outside the Box

Some of the questions were indeed difficult, which Newsham appreciated. He said such questions and the premises behind them “would push policy makers to have to think out of the box.” 

The capstone, at the end of the week, was the “summit” itself, with each “head of state” being welcomed into the meeting by the host, “President Biden” amid national anthems and flags flying (albeit on the classroom monitors). Following welcome remarks, each “head of state” gave an opening speech about the situation of their country and their desires for the summit. 

The second round allowed for comments on the opening speeches of the other members, requests for clarification, offers of support and assistance, and occasional pressure on others when the feeling was they were not doing enough on certain issues.

The final round was devoted to drafting the joint statement. Normally, for a real summit meeting, much of it would have been written ahead of time, with final approval given at the summit if tweaks had been made in the meantime. For the Model Quad, the students needed to write it then and there, and they all made significant contributions. In fact, I found their final product to be of more detail and use than the aforementioned actual March 2021 statement.

Japan Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi speaks during the Quad ministerial meeting in Tokyo, Oct. 6, 2020.(Kiyoshi Ota/Pool Photo via AP)

Realizing the Core Issues that Bind the Quad

Their final project was to submit a report on what they learned during the week, especially at their “summit” meeting. 

Among the comments were that they learned how all-encompassing security is, how interdependent we truly are, and the challenges of the personalities involved in international politics. Moreover, they realized the importance of a philosophical outlook. 

It is not just about national interests, in other words, but how those interests become defined. The Model Quad gave them a glimpse of that, at least.

Of course, their work as students of diplomacy does not end here. But the Model Quad gave them a good beginning.


Author: Dr. Robert D. Eldridge

Eldridge is the director for North Asia of the Global Risk Mitigation Foundation in Hawaii. He recently co-founded Diplomatic Support Services, a consultancy advising foreign embassies in Japan on domestic politics in Japan, public affairs, and international education. 

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