Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 09/04/2012

NDU CASL roundtable and talk (with thoughts from a virtual lurker)

The Centre for Applied Strategic Learning had its quarterly roundtable today at National Defense University, with audio streaming of the event for those of us not in Washington DC. Mike Markowitz (Center for Naval Analyses) talked about CNA’s work for Army TRADOC on wargaming irregular operations, while Joe Saur of the Georgia Tech Research Institute presented “Thoughts on DIME and PMESII Modeling: the DARPA Integrated Battle Command Experiment.”

The slides and audio may or not be available later, as CASL sorts out attribution issues. In the meantime, however, you’ll find a live-blog of the event by Brant Guillory at Grog News.

In his presentation, Mike drew a distinction at one point between simulation “modeling” and “representation,” the former more appropriate for the physics of kinetic operations, while the latter highlights the importance of narrative (as well as the inherent “fuzziness” of diplomatic, social, and economic factors—especially in irregular warfare). A large part of Joe’s presentation also touched upon the challenge of validating simulations of insurgency with their substantial DIME (Dime/Information/Military/Economic) or PMESII (Political/Military/Economic/Social/Infrastructure/Information) elements.

The picture is complicated still further, I think, by the tension between doctrinal fidelity versus critical thinking. US and Western militaries have developed extensive population-centric doctrinal approaches (exemplified by FM 3-24) that emphasize the importance of securing local populations, building host country legitimacy, and winning “hearts and minds.” These are, however, essentially a set of hypothesized relationships, based on a particular inductive, largely qualitative reading of contemporary modern history. Others have argued that this particular view of insurgency, advanced by the so-called “COINdinistas,” is wrong, or at least misleading. The “COINtras” argue that the FM 3-24 approach is based on a misreading of past campaigns, and underestimates the role of kinetic force (see, for example, here and here). While US COIN doctrine is currently undergoing a rewrite, I’m not at all convinced that the new version will fully resolve these tensions.

With regard to gaming COIN, then, one is faced with a challenge. Does one build dynamics into the game that reflect doctrinal assumptions about the way the world works? Or does one build a model of the world and then see how doctrine (or alternative doctrinal approaches) work, thereby encouraging original, critical thinking? In the former case, how does one avoid building a simulation that confirms existing approaches because it is, in essence, biased from the outset to do so? In the latter case, where does one derive that alternative model from?

It was, as always, another excellent CASL roundtable, with two great presentations and some stimulating discussion—although I must admit that I missed the excellent snacks that NDU usually provides!

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Last week, CASL also hosted a talk by Peter Perla on April 4. They’ve now uploaded both the audio and the slides here.

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