Inside the Situation Room: A New Course Offering

Posted Mar 22 2023
Inside the Situation Room

Fall 2023 Semester


  • Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Professor of International and Public Affairs, 67th Secretary of State, and former Senator for the State of New York
  • Keren Yarhi-Milo, Dean and Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Relations

This course is open to Columbia SIPA and Columbia undergraduate students by application only. It will also be available on Columbia Plus.

In an era increasingly defined by geopolitical competition, it is more important than ever for future policymakers to understand why and how foreign policy decisions are made. Inside the Situation Room, co-taught by Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo, employs insights from diverse academic fields—including political psychology, domestic politics, and international relations—and the direct experience of high level principals in the room to understand the key factors which underpin a nation’s most crucial decisions. This course allows students to engage with a range of case studies and examine decision-making in a variety of historical and contemporary contexts, from the search for Osama bin Laden, to the “red line” in Syria, to negotiating with Iran.

Students will be taught how to analyze and understand the complex interplay between individual psychology, domestic politics, public opinion, bureaucracy, the international environment, and other factors which feed into decisions about foreign policy—from crisis diplomacy to the use of force, signaling and perception, intelligence and its analysis, the deployment of other instruments of statecraft, and more. Through this course, students will think carefully and analytically about how leaders and other actors view the world, how they arrive at their decisions, and how various social, political, and psychological factors shape the policies they devise to promote their interests abroad.

Selected questions to be addressed include:

  • How do factors such as experience, gender, personality, emotions, and more impact leaders’ decision-making processes? How do the limits of human cognition and rationality impact leadership during international crises?
  • Do groups make better decisions than individuals alone? Are democratic leaders therefore more effective at foreign policy decision-making than authoritarian ones?
  • How do leaders effectively engage in signaling during crises? How do they weigh decisions about whether and how to use force?
  • How does public opinion influence the decision-making process of leaders on issues of foreign policy?
  • How do bureaucrats and advisors receive and interpret information differently than leaders, and how does this affect the process of decision-making within a government?

The goal of this course is to give students a holistic understanding of the many facets of foreign policy decision-making. As future participants in the policy process, this course will provide vital background that they can draw on should they, too, find themselves facing high-pressure decisions with implications for national security and global stability. It will also enhance their ability to counsel intelligence officers, military leaders, advisors, or other government officials by improving their ability to anticipate other actors' actions, perceptions, and motivations.

This course is by application only; priority for undergraduate applicants will be given to those applying to the five-year joint degree program with SIPA. If you are a current Columbia SIPA or Columbia undergraduate student and are interested in being notified when applications for this fall 2023 SIPA course open, please enter your information.