Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: January 2012

APSA TLC 2012 simulation panels

As in previous years, this year’s American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference (17-19 February 2012, Washington DC) will feature a number of panels and tracks concerned with simulation and role-playing in the classroom:

If you are presenting at or attending the conference and might want to contribute something to PAXsims, let us know.

Connections 2012 interdisciplinary wargaming conference announcement

The Connections 2012 interdisciplinary wargaming conference will be held on 23-26 July 2012 at National Defense University in Washington DC. According to the announcement issued today by the conference co-chairs:


On behalf of my co-chair for Connections 2012, Tim Wilkie and myself, we are pleased to announce the dates for this year’s conference.

Connections 2012 will held from Monday 23 July through Thursday 26 July.

We are also pleased to announce that our host will again be the Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL) at the National Defense University (NDU), Fort McNair, DC.

Our agenda will be shaped by the theme of Connections 2012, “Methods for Tomorrow’s Wargames.” As always Connections 2012 will work to facilitate advancing the technology and technique of wargaming. Specifically we will be exploring both needs (pull) and opportunity (push) across the spectrum of wargame applications.

Our agenda will also be shaped by the first change to the Connections mission statement since the late 1990s.  In response to a case made at Connections 2011 as well as insights from a post conference survey, we have expanded “advance the art, science and application of wargaming” to “advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming.”  The change is in recognition of the need to insure wargaming capabilities are not lost between one generation and the next. We will address this need through a working group and other elements of the agenda.

Our first day tutorials will again include the blocks Wargaming 101 and Defense 101 and will expand to include blocks on getting started in wargaming and connecting with others in the field.

Our agenda will also include a speaker panel on identifying needs and opportunities for tomorrow’s wargaming as well as a speaker panel on the application of social science methods to gaming.

Finally, our working groups will include a group that will build a specific list of wargaming needs and opportunities as well as both standing Connections working groups (developing a wargaming community and on enhancing our web presence).

Add in the chance to see demonstrations of many wargames and to play several and you can see Connections 2012’s agenda will be just as packed as those of previous Connections.

So, mark your calendar and watch our web page for more details as they develop. See you at Connections,

Matt Caffrey and Tim Wilkie

Connections is an annual conference devoted to advancing and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming by facilitating exchange the exchange of information and perspectives on achievements, best practices, and needs of all elements of the field (military, commercial and academic) of wargaming. One or both of the PAXsims editors (and several of our contributors) will almost certainly be there.

Peacekeeping missions and the protection of (simulated) civilians

The Policy, Evaluation and Training Division of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations has recently produced a six part training module on the protection of civilians and the prevention of/response to conflict-related sexual violence. The first five modules address key themes, while the sixth module consists of a dozen scenario-based exercises which examine the sorts of situations that might confront a UN peacekeeping mission charged with the protection of civilians. The exercises are set in the conflict-affected of Carana, the fictional country used (in differing ways) by the UN, African Union, and World Bank for training simulations.

You’ll find the full set of modules available online at DPKO’s Peacekeeping Resource Hub. The Carana exercise material can be found there in four parts (here, here, here, and here). In addition to the scenarios outlined in the materials, the package contains ample background information on the country, region, conflict, and peacekeeping mission that could easily be adapted by a course designer to create other exercises.

simulations miscellany: 28 January 2012

Some recent items that might be of interest to PAXsims readers:

  • Over at Play the Past, Jeremy Antley examines the challenge of modelling counter-insurgency operations through the lens of Volke Ruhkne’s forthcoming game Andean Abyss, Brian Train‘s counterinsurgency gamesand Robert Hossal‘s ongoing simulation course project on the Baghdad security plan. There are also subsequent comments by Matthew Kirschenbaum, Volke Ruhnke, and Robert Hossal (and possibly others too after I post this). Go join the conversation!
  • Last week, the British broadcast and telecommunications regulatory authority Ofcom ruled that ITV had mislead viewers by claiming that video from the Arma series of combat video games was actually footage of the IRA attempting to shoot down a British helicopter in Northern Ireland  in June 1988. (That this wasn’t the real thing ought to have been immediately apparent: the IRA attempts used machine guns, not truck mounted ZU 23 AA.) In any case, this led the BBC’s picture editor Phil Comes to post an interesting piece on how the quality of computer and video game imagery is increasingly blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual. To illustrate the point, the website features some war photography by photojournalist John Cantile, and then reproductions generated by the makers of the Arma series, Bohemia Interactive Studios. I’ve included on pair of examples at the right, but see the full article for more.
  • Elementary school teacher John Hunter has made Time Magazine’s list of “12 Education Activists for 2012” for his work on the World Peace Game:

Hunter, an elementary-school teacher, is a legend in his home state of Virginia, where the World Peace Game he designed in 1978 allows fourth-graders to game out various scenarios of global doom or global cooperation. The game, which is played on a huge multi-level board and is a bit like an analog version of The Sims, got traction nationally when Charlottesville-based filmmaker Chris Farina turned it into a documentary film that had many screenings last year and is still making the rounds at film festivals. As World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements has quietly circulated in the education world, Hunter has given TED talks and addressed audiences around the country about the game’s power to inspire students and teachers. The film, which emphasizes not only children’s optimism, but also the game’s power to teach collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, speaks to a lot of people in education. When I moderated a screening at Harvard last year, several audience members were moved to tears. The film should see wider distribution in 2012, and Hunter has started a foundation to advance the work behind the World Peace Game and hopefully spawn high-quality imitators.

Inside the Haiti Earthquake: student perspectives on a serious game

For the last two years I have used the interactive online game Inside the Haiti Earthquake as one of the “required readings” for my upper-level course on peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction at McGill University. The simulation challenges players to assume the role of an earthquake survivor, an aid worker, or a journalist, and in so doing highlights the many complexities and dilemmas of humanitarian relief operations.

This year, Inside the Haiti Earthquake stimulated a quite lively online discussion among students in the class about the game and its impact. Their unprompted commentary offers insight into how useful a serious game of this sort can be when it is crafted in an engaging, thoughtful, and nuanced way—and so, with their permission, I’ve posted some of their unedited thoughts below.

AB, a third year undergraduate who is majoring political science and English, wrote:

I found the game to be fantastic. Extremely unsettling, but I applaud the designers no-holds-barred approach to presenting the graphic realities of the situation.

From the AID worker’s perspective, it reminded me a Prof. Brynen’s remarks in lecture regarding situations that provide no clear “right” answers. You are down there to help and assist those in need, there is death and suffering all around you, yet you have to ignore the tugging on your heart-strings and maintain a pragmatic, organized approach to relief effort. That was difficult enough to do in a game scenario, I can only imagine what it is like in real life.

Secondly, the bigger picture reveals that there is not only a responsibility to the survivors, but to the donors who have sent you to the disaster stricken area on their behalf. You want to do the best job possible. Journalists, for their part, want to get the best story possible, and more often than not, doing your job in the most effective way does not necessarily generate positive impressions. This is a balancing act that, as the game suggested, could easily leave one overwhelmed.

Thirdly, as a survivor, the game really illustrates the difficulty in maintaining hope in a desperate situation. The image of that looter being shot was quite disturbing. It forces one to wonder if they would be tempted to do the same thing if they had a starving family that has yet to receive any relief. At the same time, maintaining a semblance of law and order in these circumstances is also essential for progress to be achieved and relief to be effectively carried out.

Lastly, to answer your question, I think the main responsibility of games like this are to present the situation as accurately as possible. Toning it down will only do a disservice to those who play, as well as to those who are on the scene and dealing with vast array of complexities that these scenarios present. Perhaps some of the public will not want to digest such imagery and information, but perhaps other players will benefit from learning about how difficult relief efforts can be. In turn, this will enable them to approach information presented about these circumstances in the future from a more critical and understanding perspective.

SL, a third year undergraduate majoring in international development studies, also discussed the role that graphic realism played in shaping the simulation experience:

I also played the game a couple of nights ago and had similarly strong and contradictory reactions to it. At first I thought it was too graphic, but further into the simulation as I went back through each character to try different paths I realized that the images and the footage have to be a realistic representation of the reality in Haiti after the earthquake. Otherwise, I would not have felt compelled to skip the UN cluster meetings and give out aid in a disorganized hodge-podge. I wouldn’t have felt the same desperation as a survivor trying to find someone to help and being turned away by everyone. As a journalist, I wouldn’t have felt the pressure to label the images I saw in order to satisfy a pushy producer who wants a story.

The best part of this simulation is going back through it to learn from your original ‘mistakes’ – not oversimplifying a story before understanding it, not hastily distributing aid in an ineffective manner… As an IDS student myself, I was also well aware of these ‘lessons’ prior to engaging in the sim. The images were so real and the need seemed so urgent, I couldn’t resist jumping right into the fray and trying to help as much and as quickly as possible. I thought it interesting that the UN cluster meeting leader immediately told all the NGO workers present that they shouldn’t ask the UN for anything, because the answer would be no. I wonder if this is a typical speech prior to a coordinated aid distribution effort? If so, I wonder what an NGO worker does when they are stuck and have nowhere to turn.

Finally, I would have liked to see the perspective of a development worker also. The sim almost off-handedly mentions a polluted water-source that is making people sick. The bulldozers and excavators attempt to clear away the rubble while now-homeless Haitians scramble around trying to scavenge whatever they can out of the remains of their city. Haitians are living in tent cities that are ripe grounds for disease. These are development problems that need more integrated, long-term projects to resolve. I think a ‘follow-up’ sim, with the same concept of 3 different characters, should be made including an international development worker, a local entrepreneur, and again a journalist. The journalist would be particularly interesting because as the Haitian earthquake is no longer the ‘crisis du jour’ (as mentioned in other posts), it would be interesting to come up with a reason for the journalist to be there and what their story would include.

I’d also just like to mention how ridiculous I thought the American soldier was for asking the Haitian men to write down their names, occupations, *phone numbers and addresses*. I couldn’t believe he said that. The sim tells you to move on because your cell-phone was destroyed and you no longer HAVE an address… I was glad that the creators of the game responded to this ignorant statement. Although, now that I think of it, perhaps the soldier’s request for information was a subtle message to the men outside the gates that the army wasn’t going to hire anyone. Something to ponder.

AH, a third year political science and sociology major, had these comments:

I also played the “Inside the Haiti Earthquake” game and had some similar feelings as you. I personally thought that the game had a powerful impact on my basic understanding and knowledge of providing aid during times of crisis in general.

After reading many of the articles assigned for this class on humanitarian aid as well as listening to Prof. Brynen’s lecture on the difficulty of providing aid during times of crisis (such as in a civil war or a natural disaster in this case), I thought that I understood what I could do in order to provide aid to the people who most needed it within a systematic and timely matter. However, the game really opened my eyes as to how difficult administering aid really is, especially under a time constraint.

Within the game setting, I often found myself trying to choose between many options that all seemed worthy of action; however, some actions proved to have worse outcomes than others. I wasn’t expecting some of the outcomes that came with the actions that I chose and the game really opened my eyes as to how better planning and organization needs to go into aid distribution. In addition, the game highlighted the need to talk to the local population in order to determine which areas need the most aid, rather than relying on just the information provided by international or regional organizations. I know that it is hard trying to coordinate the actions of so many people, but I think that it is necessary in order to avoid chaos (as I experienced in this game setting).

In response to your question, I do not think that games, which insert the viewer into the crisis, need to be less intense in order for the popular public to grasp onto them. I think the reason more people don’t know about this game is just a matter of lack of media attention on the game itself. Maybe the national media just wasn’t aware of this particular game, despite its recent award. If anything, I think that the more intense games would create greater media attention for their graphic imagery and lifelike situations.

Regardless, I think that this game was very informative as to highlighting the key problems associated with the distribution of aid in times of internal crisis. Local actors often have to choose between many options and I think that this game showed how some options are better than others and people trying to distribute goods in these areas should be prepared to effectively handle the many options that they may face. Like you, I believe that more people (not just university students) should play this game so that they get a better understanding as to what is truly going on in areas of internal strife. Hopefully, this game can provide other people with insight on the necessity to try to talk with local populations and coordinate relief efforts before aid is distributed recklessly.

BK, a third year music and education student (with a minor in international relations) emphasizes how the game can change perceptions:

I have just played through the “Inside the Haiti Earthquake” game, and my entire world view has been opened, with many times I was sitting there thinking “Wow. I’ve lived an extremely lucky life to be where I am in Canada, a first-world country where we do not have these problems.”

Playing through the game as the refugee first, I was stunned at the images of looting/searching for goods through abandoned and dilapidated structures. I put myself in the shoes of those who are in that situation, and would probably do the same thing if it was the means of survival. I’m not sure how I would move on though emotionally if my entire family had been killed in an earthquake, along with all of my belongings and home, leaving me with only the clothes on my back. Being refused work from the Red Cross also stung as well, instilling a sense of hopelessness of rebuilding and earning some money and resources from work, and helping to rebuild the town.

When playing through this game as a journalist, I was conflicted. I wanted to help, but I also wanted to please my employers and keep my job. I ended up being fired because I took an angle on the story too soon, when I was going on my gut instincts throughout the whole game in guiding me for my decisions. I realized that it is important to give stories and images that will deeply effect the decreasingly sensitive general public audience, to have them the most informed possible on the situation. It is also important to take a side when reporting, but I was really conflicted over what side to take, and how to portray what was being filmed and recorded, as there was chaos, but it was aid being delivered to the general population, with people being injured during the distribution.

As the aid worker in the third time through the game, I took a more thorough approach, investigating the big picture, assessing all of the needs before being called that the shipment arrived. I also tried to network with the Canadian Consulate, only to realize how overrun it was with people seeking to become refugees in Canada and receiving travel visas. At that point, I was quite thankful for the fact that I am a Canadian, born and raised to never have to seek refuge in another country.

I wish that there was more international efforts by governments to provide international aid. In an ideal world, democracies would negotiate through their disagreements to come to a mutual agreement that is of the most benefit for both sides, instead of spending BILLIONS of dollars on warfare, killing and at times, even creating or encouraging situations like these which require humanitarian aid. In some states where there are rebel attackers and armies, humanitarian aid never actually makes it to those in need, and is diverted or sold off for a much-inflated price to those in need. Being idealistic, it would be only too perfect if funds were redirected into international peacekeeping efforts by major international powers, instead of fuelling their armies…. of course, this would be an effort that would have to be mediated and a sincere and promised priority for all in order to help provide faster aid. (especially in times of natural disaster!)

It is possible that states are less likely to assist states for which they have no stakes or motives to ensure their survival, but do it out of humanitarian concerns and to assist neighbors in need. It is important as well (and a bit of a balancing act/conundrum!) that states also fund their own needs in social security, economy, health care, etc. and prioritize that before international humanitarian aid, which in a perfect world, would be prioritized before military spending if all states would negotiate in a democratic fashion…

Alas, only in a perfect/ideal world would this actually work. I’m a Music Education student minoring in IR, if I was teaching a social studies class or global justice, I would certainly have high school (gr. 11-12) students try out this game!

One of the themes I frequently highlight in POLI 450 concerns the complex trade-offs and difficult moral choices that practitioners can face when operating in fragile, conflict- and disaster-affected countries. KW, a third year political science major, also commented on this:

Wow! Very intense game indeed. Not only did it show the devastation of the earthquake, but it showed how difficult it is for aid distribution to be done successfully amidst so many starving people desperate for food. despite the fact that it was just a game, I found myself really struggling to pick the right option in fear of only making things worse. I can only begin to imagine being a real aid worker on the ground having to make these actual decisions (of course, without the luxury of having 2 or 3 different decisions being presented).

This simulation gave me a greater appreciation for those who work in the field. they have almost unimaginable responsibilities, and their decisions could even mean the lives of thousands. After completely failing the journalist role the first time around, I felt a sense of shame–even though it’s an online game. thus, for those who actually have to make the real decisions, and who are put between a rock and a hard place day in and day out, I commend you!

AS,  a second year student in international development studies, highlighted the way in which the game humanized the challenges of emergency relief:

It was really eye-opening to realize that all the decisions made on the ground are made by real people—it’s easy for me to imagine a UN agency as a single entity robotically working towards maximum efficiency to distribute food, water, medical aid, and so on, when in fact there are many individual workers and volunteers working with limited resource and expertise and under immense pressures from various actors with very different interests. When playing the role of the humanitarian aid worker, for example, one of the first challenges was figuring out how to get your aid to shore. It turned out that asking a local fisherman for help was the only answer. In fact, many of the endeavors of the humanitarian aid worker required informal agreements with local people and other groups and actors—there were no official UN trucks and escorts as I had perhaps imagined. Success in this role was contingent upon individual initiative, resourcefulness, and rational decision-making in the face of immense local and international pressure.

Taking on the role of the journalist both helped to highlight the broad range of interests being represented on the ground, and to raise questions about ethical practices in journalism in crisis situations. I could see how the journalist was facing pressures to get a story from her editor and from donor groups who had sent her there, which may work contrary to the interests of the aid workers looking to deliver aid in an organized (though perhaps less sensational) manner rather than create the perfect scene for a story. As the journalist, I kept being pressured by my editor to choose an angle for my story with an inadequate understanding of what was really happening around me, which gave me a good idea of how news stories that emerge from crises can be inadvertently biased or only reveal partial truths. I eventually “won” by successfully resisting my editors’ demands to choose an angle immediately, and the result was a story depicting the local people’s efforts to rebuild their lives rather than a story condemning international aid workers’ inefficiencies or casting survivors as animalistic, lawless looters, both of which had been options at various parts of the game. This brought up other ethical issues for media workers as well; for example, what is the journalists’ responsibility towards aid groups and the local people? On one hand, it’s the media’s job to tell the truth; on the other hand, depicting an aid group as inefficient and withholding needed goods from the population lowers morale and could negatively impact donations. There is also the issue of “poverty porn” and other emotional manipulations of local peoples’ stories, which can disempower them and reduce them to objects of aid in the eyes of the international community. In this Haiti game, doing so might have worked counter to the empowered manner in which the survivors were attempting to rebuild.

Finally, I mistakenly believed that I would learn the most about humanitarian aid by taking on the role of the relief worker or of the journalist documenting the efforts; but, of course, as Brynen stressed in class on Monday, most relief actually consists of efforts by the disaster-affected populations themselves (in the case of this game, the “survivor”).

SR, a Danish graduate student in political science who is currently an exchange student at McGill, commented on how engaging the experience was:

I also found the game a real great educational tool and quite an eye opener to the complexities associated with humanitarian aid in situations of crisis. It makes it really clear that you can’t plan for everything, and that it´s about to impossible to predict the consequences and overall impact on ones choices. It also does a very good job of showing some of the possible stumbling blocks you may be confronted with as an aid worker (e.g. how to get gas for the car, the impossibility to retrieve ones goods and valuables as a survivor, or the impossibility to enter the embassy as a journalist) However you can minimize risk I guess.

I agree with another comment here that the game only works this well precisely because of the strong images. If it wasn´t for the strong images, I think the choices you have to make wouldn’t be as difficult. It would be much easier to just follow textbook recommendations, but I believe that the real world very rarely is like a textbook example.

I think the games does an excellent job in exemplifying the ”time is of an essence” perspective and trade-off between on the one hand acting in timely manner and on the other hand the need for organizing and coordination, as was mentioned by Brynen in class the other day.

As an aid worker I turned down the journalists offer to do a positive story on a small NGO acting independently when the need was great, in order to go to the UN coordination meeting. The media subsequently published a negative story on how the UN and NGO community were dragging their feet, when all the needy people were just outside the fences. Boy I felt like I made the wrong decision, in allowing the distribution of aid to be postponed and swallowed up by bureaucratic routines and rules.

I then later on found out that all this coordination actually often is the best choice, as it often minimizes the risk of havoc and makes sure that the aid is also distributed to the most vulnerable and not only to the strongest.

This was just one of the many examples of difficult choices and trade offs that the game showed me.

Keep in mind, when reading the comments above, that I didn’t solicit them or even require or ask that students comment on the game.Rather, they’re simply a representative sample of the class discussion on our online discussion board for the course. While I’ve been quite critical of a lot of the serious games out there in my field , in this case the designers clearly got something right. (Thanks, of course, to the students above for allowing me to post their comments here.)

* * *

UPDATE: I’m still getting student comments on this one. AB, who is majoring in International Development Studies, remarked:

Late Tuesday night I played “Inside the Haiti Earthquake”, the game assigned as part of this sections readings. I had some really strong reactions to it, and am curious to hear what others thought about the game.

Personally, I found it really effective. Despite being in my final semester of an IDS degree I found myself struggling between what I knew I should do and what I felt compelled to do as a result of the overwhelming images of desperate people who – due to the nature of the game – I felt some responsibility to.

Being in IDS and all the other organizations I’m hooked into I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the game before. It won a gaming award in 2011 and yet this is the first time I have ever heard of it. I think it’s a fantastic educational tool and would be beneficial for anyone to play, not just university students, yet it really hasn’t received much media attention.

The video and pictures the game uses come from a documentary of the same name and are quite intense. I sort of wonder if this is perhaps some of the reason it has not been latched onto by the public.

My question is, do you think games and other imagery from humanitarian crises which insert the viewer into the crisis need to be less intense in order for the popular public to grasp onto them? I’m also curious as to what other people thought of the game generally.

LeH, a third year student in political science and East Asian studies, added:

I played this game both as an aid worker and as a journalist. In the first scenario, I put the lives of the survivors at risk by relying on the military to distribute aid on a first come first serve basis, thus excluding the most vulnerable. In the second scenario, I was fired by my producer. I felt horrible, and it helped me realize how challenging relief campaigns really are.

I personally come from Lebanon, a developing country, and in high school I volunteered at the Red Cross for a year. Although I wasn’t a relief worker in a humanitarian crisis situation, I worked in the poorest areas of Beirut and provided food on religious holidays as well as organized hygiene awareness campaigns among other things. I’ve also taken courses on development before here at McGill and knew what I was supposed to do in theory, so I naturally thought I would score high on the game. But my emotions kept getting in the way of my judgment. I couldn’t bear to wait until the UN finished coordinating all the relief efforts when people were dying, and instead I went out by myself to deliver the food (in the game). In the end, I ended up hurting the most vulnerable by distributing the supplies to an angry mob, instead of waiting for the Red Cross (how ironic) to help me deliver my NGO’s supplies.

As a journalist, I kept making my producer angry, because I helped a woman who was getting trampled instead of just filming the scene to let the world know what’s happening, and I refused to show aid workers in a positive light because I wanted to focus on the challenges of the survivors instead of glorifying the UN who looked like it wasn’t doing that well. My producer found me inconsistent in finding a good angle for the story and fired me.

During this simulation, I learned a few lessons. Most importantly, I learned the importance of coordinating relief efforts between different NGOs. Waiting a few more days to deliver aid is worth it if it reaches the most vulnerable, and if it preserves survivors’ dignity that they don’t have to trample over each other to get water and food. It ensures smart planning like giving pregnant women priority to get food so they can feed their kids and other kids made orphans by the disaster.

I became aware of the moral implications of every choice that aid workers and journalists make. I also like the fact that the game exposes a reality that we have talked about in class which is “aid pornography” and the idea of the “white knight”. The media is hungry for stories depicting the misery of the survivors, and NGOs are hungry for recognition and for more donations, so they use the images of the helpless survivors to their benefit, at the expense of providing relief, and at the expense of the truth.

In addition, check out the comments section below for additional remarks from David Becker (who served as the US Stabilization Coordinator in Haiti from 2007 to 2010) and Katie McKenna (Interactive Producer, Inside the Haiti Earthquake).

LA Times: How global conflict shows up in computer games

From the online version of the Los Angeles Times (27 January 2012):

Earlier this month, an Iranian court handed a death sentence to a former U.S. Marine of Iranian descent who was convicted of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency. One strange twist in the case was that the defendant allegedly confessed to using video games to manipulate public opinion.

Iranian state television broadcast a purported confession by Amir Mirzaei Hekmati saying he worked for a gaming company that was funded by the CIA “to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the U.S. does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable.”

Strange as it may seem, this isn’t the first time that video games have played a part in foreign disputes. Rex Brynen, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal who co-edits a blog on conflict simulation, answered our questions about how computer games reflect global tensions.

You’ll find the full interview here.

Call for speakers: 9th annual Games for Change Festival

The 9th Annual Games for Change Festival will be taking place  in New York on 18-20 June 2012, and they have put out a call for speakers and presentations. The submission deadline is February 17 at 11:59 pm EST. Accepted speakers will be notified on March 16, and will receive a complimentary pass to the Festival.

More information on the topics that they are looking for this year (as well as information about their review process) can be found here. The same page also includes a link to the online submission form.

h/t G4C email list

WPR/CNN: Video Game Wars

A piece that I wrote today for World Politics Review on the intersection of international politics and video games has been reprinted on the CNN “Global Public” blog:

Video game wars

Editor’s Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of World Politics Review. For more from WPR, sign up for a free trial of their subscription service, get their weekly e-mail, or follow them on TwitterRex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University and co-editor of the PAXsims blog on conflict simulation.

By Rex BrynenWorld Politics Review

When former U.S. Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati was sentenced to death for espionage by an Iranian court earlier this month, he was accused, among other things, of helping to make video games. In his televised “confession,” Hekmati stated that, after working for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, “I was recruited by Kuma Games Company, a computer games company which received money from [the] CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion’s mindset in the Middle East.” He added, “The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the U.S. does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable.”

Needless to say, neither Hekmati’s alleged confession nor his conviction means the charges are true. Rather his arrest is better seen as yet another indicator of the escalating geopolitical tensions between Tehran and Washington. Still, the incident highlights the extent to which video games and international politics have increasingly intersected in recent years. 

As with any other form of popular culture, digital video games can be bearers of incidental or intended political ideas. For instance, with military simulations and “tactical shooters” being the most popular genres, it is hardly surprising that the post-Sept. 11 era would spawn a variety of U.S.-produced games that involve some combination of terrorism, counterinsurgency, weapons of mass destruction, the Middle East and similar headline topics. Kuma Games, for example, offers more than 100 scenarios for its Kuma\War game series, most set in Iraq or Afghanistan. Three scenarios involve Iran: Two are based on the failed 1980 American hostage rescue mission, while a third, released in 2005, concerns a fictional U.S. raid on an Iranian nuclear facility. The same company also produces “Sibaq al-Fursan,” an Arabic-language car-racing game set in a radioactive, post-apocalyptic Persian Gulf, where the villains fly Iranian aircraft and drop North Korean bombs.

Read: Global Insights: Ahmadinejad’s Latin American Tour Highlights Iran’s Isolation

Both series have a very small fan base, however, compared to blockbusters like the “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” series, which has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. While “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” features some fighting set in the Middle East, most of its plot revolves around the rise of Russian ultranationalists. Subsequent protests in Russia led to some scenes being deleted from Russian releases, even if one Russian video game distributor, bemused by the uproar, wryly noted that, “Activision and Infinity Ward are perhaps the only game development companies that still portray Russia as a high-tech superpower, capable of bombing the U.S.”

Typically, most tactical shooter games use the scenario largely as a narrative setting for game play, with little overt political commentary. There is, however, a general tendency to portray U.S. or Western forces as the “good guys.” A Cuban website condemned “Call of Duty: Black Ops” (2010), set in the Cold War-era 1960s, as “perverse” for glorifying U.S. assassination attempts against Fidel Castro. (Clearly they hadn’t seen the optional scenario that has Castro, John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara and Richard Nixon teaming up to defend the Pentagon from hordes of zombies.) When “Medal of Honor” was first released in 2010, its multiplayer option would have allowed players to assume not only the role of U.S. forces battling the Taliban, but also that of the Taliban battling U.S. forces. In the subsequent outcry, then-U.K. Defense Minister Liam Fox called for the game to be banned. The Canadian and Danish defense ministers criticized the game, as did some veterans and their families, while on U.S. military bases, exchanges refused to sell it. The publisher, Electronic Arts, ultimately tweaked the game by simply renaming the Taliban team as “Opposing Force.”

Read: Over the Horizon: The Defense Budget Revolution Won’t Be Televised

In other cases, game designers outside the Western world have offered very different perspectives on conflict and international relations. The Syrian company Afkar Media, for example, published two games in which players assume the role of Palestinians battling the Israeli occupation, “Under Ash” (2001) and “Under Siege” (2005). Interestingly, both games strongly prohibit players from targeting civilians. The militant Lebanese Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah has produced and marketed two games that showcase its struggle against Israel, “Special Force” (2003) and “Special Force 2” (2007). More recently, the Vietnamese company Emobi Games released “7554” – a tactical shooter about the struggle against French colonial forces that commemorates the Vietnamese victory at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

In recent years, Iran has also produced a growing number of video games focused on nationalist topics. Perhaps the first of these was “Special Operation 85: Hostage Rescue” (2007), a tactical shooter pitting an Iranian agent against U.S. and Israeli forces, developed in direct response to the Kuma\War series. Other recent Iranian gamesinclude several with nationalist themes set amid the colonial era or the Iran-Iraq War. Some of these games appear to have been encouraged by the Iranian government as a riposte to their Western counterparts.

Read: The Realist Prism: Iran’s Nuclear Pipedream, and Washington’s

By far the most successful case of state sponsorship of digital gaming for political reasons, however, is the “America’s Army” series produced for the U.S. Army. The games were specifically designed to improve the military’s image and spur recruitment, and indeed are integrated into some Army recruitment efforts. In the original edition, most scenarios were fought against insurgents, while in multiplayer games the opposing team appears as generic terrorists. In the latest version, “America’s Army 3” (2009), U.S. forces intervene to protect a threatened government against foreign aggression and address humanitarian needs, in a fictional scenario resembling the post-Yugoslavia Balkans.

In an era when digital games can be seen as both cultural challenges and possible tools of publicity and propaganda, and in the particular context of growing tensions between Washington and Tehran, it is hardly surprising that Iranian authorities might see Hekamti’s work with Kuma Games and his service with the U.S. military as proof of nefarious intent. Certainly, previous Kuma products had attracted considerable attention within Iran. And as electronic gaming continues to globalize and grow, it is unlikely to be the last incident of its kind.

Simulation & Gaming: December 2011

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 42, 6 (December 2011) focuses on the theme of simulation in international studies, and has a great deal in it that will likely be of interest to PAXsims readers. Unfortunately you’ll need an individual or institutional subscription if you want to read beyond the abstracts.

Guest Editorial

Simulation in International Studies
Mark A. Boyer

Symposium Articles

NGOs—Cooperation and Competition: An Experimental Gaming Approach
Dirk-Jan Koch

Evolving Beyond Self-Interest? Some Experimental Findings From Simulated International Negotiations
Anat Niv-Solomon, Laura L. Janik, Mark A. Boyer, Natalie Florea Hudson, Brian Urlacher, Scott W. Brown, and Donalyn Maneggia

Multiple Identification Theory: Attitude and Behavior Change in a Simulated International Conflict
Alexander J. Williams and Robert H. Williams

Civil Engineering: Does a Realist World Influence the Onset of Civil Wars?
Richard J. Stoll

Weighted Voting in the United Nations Security Council: A Simulation
Jonathan R. Strand and David P. Rapkin

Estimating Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Simulation
William J. Lahneman and Hugo A. Keesing

Association News & Notes

Association News & Notes
Songsri Soranastaporn

CASL roundtable summary: October 2011

On Wednesday, the Center for Applied Strategic Learning at National Defense University held the most recent of its quarterly roundtables on strategic gaming. I was only able to listen to part of it online, but Gary attended the whole thing and will be providing an account on PAXsims soon.

In the meantime, our good friend Archipelago Annie has sent us a report of the previous CASL roundtable, held in October 2011. We’re pleased to present it below.

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CASL Strategic Gaming Round Table

Summary of Oct 25, 2011 Meeting

Joe Lombardo “Gaming in support of the Civilian Response Corps”

Games can play a critical role as part of a course by enhancing learning, however the game must be designing to compliment and reinforce the broader objectives of the course.  Mr. Lombardo spoke on two games designing in support of courses to training the Civilian Response Corps (CRC), and addressed key lessons learned.

For both games, the fact that they supported short courses that were run repeatedly over a several year period allowed for refining of game mechanics and elements over time.  Because these revisions were conducted in close conversation with course instructors and administrators, it was much easier to insure that changes to the course objectives were reflected in the games, and that the game elements were fully embedded in the course.  Both games also relied strongly on the use of rolls: in one highly scripted roles were used to simulate the tensions of the interagency process, in the other, teams took on the role of a red team to critique their own strategic document.

Peter Perla “Separating Sudan”

The Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline Project (JIWAB) has been developed by a team based out of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) to produce a scenario for use in future irregular warfare planning.  The team has developed an interdisciplinary process to produce the final set of baseline products. This process includes scenario development via general morphological analysis, counterfactual reasoning, structured scenario fusion, and stakeholder analysis.  Separating Sudan gamed the scenarios developed during this process to flesh out the consequences of each scenario for use in later stages of the JIWAB.  The game itself involved several innovative mechanisms for gaining participant buy-in, including prolonged interaction with key experts and a role auction.  The game also subscribed to the philosophy of using the players as adjudicators whenever possible. The JIWAB team also applied Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin’s technique to analyze the control group as if it were another player.  That analytical team created an ethnography of the game, which pointed to the critical role of buy-in and experience in the gaming process.  The analysis also highlighted the role of the facilitator in drawing out specific actions participants would take, then eliciting the reactive actions of other players representing other stakeholders in the region.  While these techniques may not be generally reproducible, Separating Sudan was an “interactive story living experience” that was able to create a rich world for participants to think though consequences and futures.

Selected points of Discussion from the Q & A

Role of Emotion in Games

  • Trust, both between participants themselves and the participants and the staff, was a critical force as it allowed participants to fully inhabit the roles.
  • Players often needed to use break time to differentiate the choices being made in the game from their personal preferences, particularly when ethnically trick decisions were being made.  This often causes more conservative play then we might expect in reality and is worth noting in game analysis.
  • Self-censorship in asynchronous games can mask the very emotions we look for in face to face exercises, suggesting the need for an alternative paradigm.

Value of Asynchronous Play

  • The value of asynchronous play was agreed to vary based on what you want out of the game.  Generally, if the environment being simulated is asynchronous it makes sense that the game should be as well.  However, by its nature gaming is going to require more artificial limits then reality, and often will need forcing functions such as meetings to insure deliverables are done.  The big advantage might be logistical, but asynchronous games will almost always require more time to play then the same event run face to face.

MCU/PILPG Afghanistan simulation

In December 2011, the Minerva Initiative, Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University, and the Public International Law and Policy Group held an Afghanistan reconciliation simulation exercise:

The intent of this event was to involve a variety of participants in order to simulate negotiations related to crafting an end to the conflict in Afghanistan. Reflecting the real-world situation to the greatest degree possible, we expected the proceedings to draw attention to issues of discord and to highlight potential roadblocks in future negotiations, as well as to stimulate thought on developing potential work-arounds and to delineate areas of common ground. One of the principal intended benefits of this simulation was to develop its utility as a teaching tool that could be replicated for those preparing to deal with the Afghanistan issue or for students of the Middle East or of general foreign affairs.

We were fortunate to be able to bring together a wide variety of participants, some having dealt with Afghanistan over many years, others without such direct personal experience but with wide- ranging expertise in other applicable fields. Participants included military officers, government and think tank analysts, diplomats, journalists, academics, NGO representatives, and contractors.

The players were divided into four teams representing Afghanistan (the current government and the political opposition), the Neo-Taliban, Regional Actors, and the United States and Non-US NATO. In most cases, within each main category, players were assigned to represent specific national or factional entities, reflecting the spectrum of interests and positions even within a single broad category. Players were asked to focus on four principal issues in their negotiations: the cessation of hostilities, the current and future U.S. military presence, constitutional issues, and minority and women’s rights.

In preparation for the negotiations, each participant received a read-ahead with both general background and specific guidance on the positions for the entity he/she was to represent. Over a four-hour period, various sessions were structured to enable individual delegations to formulate their positions on the key issues, to negotiate with other delegations, and to engage in shuttle diplomacy across delegation lines. Rapporteurs from PILPG followed the negotiation proceedings, recording the key ideas that emerged, and drafted this synthesis of the results.

The full PIPLG report can be read here. Other PILPG negotiation simulations can be found on their website.

INSS Iranian nuke simulation

The Institute for National Security Studies has now released the full summary of their October 2011 simulation of the aftermath of a successful Iranian nuclear test. The “principal findings” are quoted below. I have also added this to the list of ever-growing Iran simulation reports at Wargaming Connection.

Principal Findings

Iran does not intend to forfeit the nuclear weapons in its possession, but will attempt to use them to reach an agreement with the major powers to improve its strategic standing. Iran assumes that even if the economic sanctions are strengthened it will be able to withstand them, and in any event, the international community will eventually agree to a dialogue with Iran in order to establish new rules of the game. These are among the principal insights to emerge from a simulation conducted at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) on the ramifications of an Iranian nuclear test.

In the simulation, the US administration exerted heavy behind-the-scenes pressure on Israel not to wage a military strike against Iran, with an implied threat that an Israeli action would harm US-Israel relations. In an attempt to persuade Israel not to take military action, the United States suggested examining the possibility of a formal defense pact and/or of including Israel as a member of NATO.

In response to the new situation, Russia proposed to establish a Russo- American defense alliance that would ensure the security of the Middle East states. Members of the alliance that are not currently in possession of nuclear weapons would make a commitment not to develop such weapons. However, states that already have a military nuclear capability would not be required to disarm. The United States was the chief opponent of the initiative because of its doubts concerning Russia’s ability to provide security guarantees, and because of what it claimed are the difficulties in implementing the alliance and the ability in the framework of the alliance to prevent terrorist and subversive activity. The American solution in the short term is deterrence and containment of Iran through increased coordination and cooperation with US allies.

Israel made it clear to the United States that it opposes an outright rejection of the Russian initiative, and greater cooperation between the West and Russia is called for, if only so as not to undermine the front against Iran. However, Israel stressed consistently that it cannot accept a nuclear Iran, and that it will not commit to necessarily reject the option of military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, implying that this was the case even if it opposed Washington’s position. Indeed, the Israeli military option is likely to be a significant and potent issue, if not for Iran then for some ofthe main players. The simulation showed that this option, or the threat of realizing it, would also be relevant following an Iranian nuclear test.

An acceleration of nuclear proliferation in the region cannot be ruled out, even if it does not occur at a rapid pace, as has generally been envisioned. US allies, especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have questioned the willingness of the United States to extend deterrent backing in the event that Iran acquires military nuclear capability. This in turn has led them to examine parallel options and/or to accelerate their own nuclear development. Iran’s crossing the nuclear threshold will prompt Saudi Arabia to strive to reach a strategic balance with Iran, and the Kingdom will find it difficult to adopt a policy of denial. It appears that Saudi Arabia, perhaps more than any other actor in the Middle East, has the ideological-strategic motivation and the economic ability to examine the nuclear route, and it is reasonable to assume that it will do so by means of outside aid and/or acquisition of an off-the-shelf deterrent.

“Getting serious about video games”—and some caveats

Over at Tom Ricks’ “Best Defense” column at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Bacon recently examined the possible contribution of video games to improving understanding of history and international relations, enhancing military training and preparedness, and sharpening the ability of even civilian policymakers to address key foreign policy challenges:

…In the foreign policy arena, video games can and should serve as a powerful tool for educating civilian and military personnel about war and foreign affairs.

Video games can serve to help bolster America’s glaring deficiency in one crucial discipline: history. Video games focused on war and IR provide refreshing bursts of information about often-overlooked leaders and wars. These games can offer descriptive backgrounds of leaders or events (e.g. Age of Empires’ description of Genghis Khan or the Crusades). These methods can sometimes provide a deeper and more-engaging understanding of history than just a textbook or lecture.

A subgenre of games, so-called “serious” games, goes further by explicitly trying to educate gamers about historical or political issues. For example, Niall Ferguson in 2007 played the World War II serious game Making History and played out some of his WWII counterfactual scenarios, such as war breaking out over German seizure of Czechoslovakia in 1938. His experience led him to conclude that his counterfactual historical scenarios “weren’t as robust as [he] thought.” As a result, Ferguson ended up advising this series. This episode, forcing critical re-examinations of events, anecdotally illustrates the range of useful educational experiences gleaned from games like Making History or other, current games such as Global Conflicts: Palestine or the future-themed Fate of the World: Tipping Point that can help civilians better understand history and policymaking, thereby making better choices when voting or arguing politics.

All of the above is great for civilians, but what about actual warfighters and policymakers? Games cannot finely simulate actual combat or crises, yet can provide training related to the planning and responses needed for tactical and strategic decisions. Indeed, military officers have engaged in a modern form of Kriegsspiel by using tactical warfare games for their training: for example, the Close Combat series proved so popular that in 2004 the developer released Close Combat: Marines explicitly for military training. Other games, such as the tank-simulator Steel Beasts or the situational training tools of WILL interactive, have been used by the military for realistic simulations of warfighting and decision-making.

Civilian practitioners, however, have not embraced gaming as readily as the military: while think tankers or civilian politicians outside the Pentagon may play games in an unofficial capacity, official efforts like the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Serious Games Initiative have petered out. In stark contrast, DOD policy practitioners embrace video games even in non-kinetic planning: Michael Peck’s article on a DOD budgeting game shows how policymakers can prepare for things as prosaic as the budget with games. Hopefully civilian policymakers in the future will use games, both serious, educational games and fun strategy games, to prepare for the decision-making necessary during times of crisis.

It is good to see more and more attention to serious gaming within the policy community and among those who think about building greater capacity in this regard—after all, that is what this blog is all about. However, I can’t help but play devil’s advocate on some of these issues too.

Video games are just one subset of games, and it is important we not lose sight of the contributions of non-digital serious and educational gaming. Certainly computer-based gaming can deliver computation modelling, complexity, immersive audio-visual experiences, systematic monitoring of student performance, greater content standardization across courses and instructors, and a wide range of other benefits. On the other hand, they can also suffer from inflexibility (it is usually much easier to reconfigure a BOGSAT, role-play, or cardboard game), “black boxing” (whereby outputs are rendered believable by the technology used to produce them, while the modelling assumption are hidden from users), rapid obsolescence (in either software or the platforms necessary to support it), and high development costs. Digital games have, and will continue, to transform gaming. However, they are only part of the gaming universe, and focussing on them exclusively only serves to obscure the contributions that can be drawn from other dimensions of gaming. Ludology doesn’t presuppose a mouse (or joystick).

Undoubtedly the military, and the US military in particular, games and simulates more than anyone. However, there are a great many relevant examples of games-based training and education out there that the column misses, even just in the Washington DC area itself. There is all the gaming, for example, that is done at NDU’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning—most of it explicitly interagency, and involving civilians from various government departments, Congress, state and municipal governments, and others. Moreover, while most of this gaming enjoys electronic supports, it is technologically-enhanced role play rather than video gaming. The United States Institute of Peace offers myriad courses on conflict and conflict resolution to government, NGO, and academic audiences that include a simulation/gaming component, and while some of this is computer-based (SENSE) or computer-facilitated (Open Simulation Platform), much of it is also of the BOGSAT (“bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table”) variety too.

Organizations like the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UNHCR, the World Bank, ICRC, IFRC, and others also use some games-based training for their personnel. Again, however, it tends to be of the non-digital sort, both because they lack DoD-size acquisition budgets and because they often find more traditional gaming and simulation methods more effective, especially when teamwork, diplomacy, negotiation, coalition-building, and group facilitation are important parts of the skill set to be enhanced.

It is also important to underscore that effective teaching, training, and capacity-building is rarely delivered by a game in and of itself, but rather is a function of how that game is used and embedded in a broader curriculum. You don’t just sit students (let alone policymakers) in front of a game console and expect the learning to begin. In an educational settings, links to other course materials and components are essential. In all settings, the briefing and debriefing are of critical importance: even a good game can deliver little (or be counterproductive) without an effective debrief and discussion, while even a quite poor or unrealistic game can be used to surprisingly positive effect if discussion of its deficiencies to stimulate creative and critical thinking.  Similarly, in policy settings a great deal of attention needs to be devoted to how serious gaming and simulation might maximize its contribution to productive policy-making.

In terms of policy development, gaming takes time and energy, and it can be difficult to get civilian policymakers in a room long enough to do it properly. Having worked in a foreign ministry policy planning shop for a while, I can think of surprisingly few cases where the substantial opportunity cost of a lengthy game would have made it the best approach to take, compared to more traditional (non-gaming) methods of fostering productive policy discussions.

Finally, part of the reason for the slower take-up of serious gaming and simulation in the diplomatic, development, and academic communities is that an awful lot of the serious foreign policy games out there just aren’t that good. Unfortunately, the serious gaming community (of which I would consider myself part) has some real problems with what might be termed “hypertechnoludovangelism”— which is to say, uncritical acceptance of too much of its own hype about the transformative effects of (digital) gaming. Perhaps we PAXsims folks are a little curmudgeonly, but to date we’ve probably found more serious digital and online games that we didn’t like than ones that we did (even though we’re course instructors with whole rooms full of games at home, and enough computers to run a small space program).

In summary, asking “why aren’t more folks in the defence/diplomacy/development/policy/NGO/academic worlds using more games?” is a good one. Indeed, there are all sorts of organizational, cultural, generational, and other barriers to game adoption, and it would be worth exploring more fully what those are and how they might be overcome. However, at the same time we should also be asking the questions like “what might folks be doing that does not fall within digital gaming, narrowly understood?” and “why aren’t people making games that more practitioners find useful?” and “how should games and simulations be used to maximize their potential?”.

Pic above: Simulating the typical policy process.

simulations miscellany: 10 January 2012

Some recent simulation and gaming items of interest:

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In his regular gaming column at Foreign Policy Magazine this week, Michael Peck invades Syria. Milgeek note to Michael: the Turks have several hundred Leopard 1s and 2A4s, so perhaps using a modern German Army wasn’t entirely unrealistic after all.

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At the Smart War Blog, a graduate student discusses his ongoing work on developing an insurgency/counter-insurgency simulation of the 2007 Baghdad Security Plan for his class assignment  in Professor Philip Sabin’s well-known course on conflict simulation at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London:

Free tip from PAXsims: black counters with white printing might work nicely for the Sadrists’ “Mahdi Army,” given their usual parade uniform. Also, while periodic PAXsims contributor Brian Train is rightly considered the reigning king of small-box insurgency simulations, judging from your draft map you may already have him beaten on the graphic arts front. Watch out, Brian!

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As for Professor Sabin, this seems a good time to mention that his forthcoming book Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games (Continuum Press) will be published shortly. It seems destined to join Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming (1990) as an instant classic in the field.

Simulating War explores the theory and practice of conflict simulation, as applied in the many thousands of wargames published over the past 50 years. It discusses the utility of this form of conflict simulation by setting it in its proper context alongside military and professional wargaming, as well as more academically familiar techniques such as game theory and operational analysis. The book explains in detail the analytical and modelling techniques involved, and provides complete illustrative simulations of three specific historical conflicts, as used in Professor Sabin’s own courses on the wars concerned. It gives readers all the intellectual skills they need to use published wargames and to design their own simulations of conflicts of their choice, whether for interest or as a vehicle for teaching or research.

You can preorder it via and elsewhere.

Iran wargame du jour

The Times (London) reported yesterday on yet another political-military simulation of the Iranian nuclear program, this time conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University:

The Israeli specialists assumed that the following would occur:

THE US would try to restrain Israel from military retaliation and propose a formal defence pact, including possibly inviting the Jewish state to join Nato;

RUSSIA would propose a defence pact with the United States in an effort to stop nuclear proliferation in the Middle East;

SAUDI ARABIA, not content with US nuclear guarantees, would develop its own nuclear arms programme;

EGYPT would push for military action against Iran while Turkey would be likely to avoid a showdown with Tehran. If Israel were to become a member of Nato, Turkey would withdraw from the organisation.

All the predictions are based on current international policies.

The specialists – including a former head of Israel’s National Security Council, two former members of the Prime Minister’s Office, a former ambassador and others with close ties to Israeli military intelligence – believe that a nuclear test in January 2013 would be presaged by a series of provacative demands from Tehran.

They include an Iranian call for its border with Iraq to be redrawn; calls for sovereignty over Bahrain and low-level actions against the vessels of the US Fifth Fleet in the Gulf.

The specialists made clear that although Israel would come under pressure to abandon any military plans against Iran, it would keep this option on the table.

“The Israeli military option is likely to be a significant lever, if not toward Iran, then toward some of the main players,” said the minutes of the war game seen by The Times. “The simulation showed that this option, or the threat of using it, would also be relevant following an Iranian nuclear test,” it added.

“The simulation showed that Iran will not forgo nuclear weapons, but will attempt to use them to reach an agreement with the major powers that will improve its position.”

In their report, the Israeli authors, INSS fellows Yoel Guzansky and Yonatan Lerner, wrote: “Iran is closer than ever to the juncture at which its leaders will need to decide whether to stay in a relatively comfortable position on the verge of nuclear capability or, alternatively, to break through to the bomb. Iran has an interest in postponing the decision whether to cross the threshold to a later stage. Nevertheless, a series of regional and international developments is likely to cause Iran to decide to accelerate its nuclear development and to break through toward nuclear weapons.”

The original Times article is behind a paywall, but you can find a version here at The Australian, as well as a widely-cited AFP report (which seems to be based entirely on the original piece in The Times). The INSS website also released a summary (here), which mirrors the piece in The Times (and may have even have been the original source for it, or vice-versa).

For more on gaming an Iranian crisis, see the updated “Israel versus Iran wargame compendium” at Wargaming Connection.

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