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Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, & Humanitarian Aid | Part B1: The National Security Council Dilemma

 Naz K. Modirzadeh, Dustin A. Lewis, and Molly R. Gray, with Lisa Brem  
Product number:
February 2015
10 pages
Product Type:
Role Play
Link to Teacher's Manual:


In 2011, Somalia experienced a devastating famine that was all the more dire because terrorists had seized control of affected regions. Not only was it an international humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions, but due to the role of the terrorist group al-Shabaab, the situation also was perceived to threaten U.S. national security concerns. The situation warranted consideration by the National Security Council, the principal forum for issues of national security policy requiring Presidential determination. In order to develop an interagency response, the National Security Council Deputies Committee would need to investigate the issues and present, if possible, a consensus analysis to the National Security Council Principals Committee.

This two-session hypothetical role play is designed to expose students to the challenges in developing a consensus response among U.S. government agencies to a humanitarian crisis where a terrorist organization perceived as threatening U.S. security interests is involved.

Participants work on one of five teams comprising the National Security Council Deputies Committee. One team coordinates the Deputies Committee (but does not have the authority to decide policy), while the other four teams must work to develop a unified policy to offer the National Security Council Principals Committee.

Participants first read to prepare for a meeting, in which each team succinctly articulates its objectives. Then, Team One prepares a summary of the options discussed at the preliminary meeting, while the other teams write three-page memoranda on the options as well as attempt to persuade each other and reach consensus. The groups then convene a second meeting, in which all teams summarize their memoranda. Team One will lead a discussion to reach a consensus among the other four teams, and will present this consensus to the instructor, who acts as the Chair of the Principals Committee.

The issues faced by the participants, as part of a mock National Security Council Deputies Committee process, are intended to illustrate many of the same challenges addressed by U.S. government actors during the 2011 Somalia famine.

For context, this exercise (B1) must be paired with the background document “Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, & Humanitarian Aid” (A). Instructors have the option of using an additional exercise with this case, on the legal and ethical issues faced by general counsel advising international humanitarian organizations (B2).

Subjects Covered

Humanitarian law, humanitarian aid, relief organizations, foreign assistance, international non-governmental organization, famine, terrorism, counterterrorism, material support, United Nations, national security, al-Shabaab, humanitarian crisis

Learning Objectives

  • Explore the challenges surrounding an interagency response to a humanitarian crisis involving a designated terrorist group.
  • Understand the process of and multifaceted interests represented in the National Security Council Deputies Committee.
  • Analyze the legal, political, strategic, and ethical concerns in a complex crisis.
  • Practice building consensus and making decisions in a climate of potential legal uncertainty and rapidly developing policy.
  • Practice giving clear, persuasive presentations and drafting memoranda in teams.


Geographic: Somalia, United States

Industry: Humanitarian aid

Event Start Date: 2011


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Additional Information

Law, Ethics, and Policy in Humanitarian Crises: A Student Perspective on New Simulations

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