Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Peck on “Washington’s War on Wargaming”

Pentagon budget-cutters descend upon NDU.

At Kotaku today, Michael Peck decries the Pentagon decision to cut funding for National Defense University, and especially the Centre for Applied Strategic Learning:

The only thing that’s cheap about war is the gaming. The US military services and their assorted war colleges, the Department of Defense and various thinktanks do quite a bit of wargaming of potential conflicts such as Iran. Compared to a billion-dollar aircraft carrier, wargaming isn’t terribly expensive (all you really need is a table, chairs, coffee and danish, and PowerPoint). It’s a lot less expensive than learning the hard way in war.

Now, to the military, wargaming doesn’t mean games. It’s actually an analytical technique in the Military Decision Making Process, which essentially means analysing the likely outcomes of various choices and then making the best one. Nonetheless, what Joe Gamer thinks of as wargames — simulations involving players, maps, playing pieces and goals — is done by the military.

But one bastion of military wargaming is under assault. National defence University, at Fort McNair in Washington DC, is the Pentagon’s flagship for joint professional military education. It’s where officers leave the cloistered world of their individual service and come together to study joint high-level strategy and operations. “Jointness” is a fuzzy word but an important concept. Though sometimes the American military services seem to be at war with each other, modern warfare is a combined endeavour; the army needs ships and planes to get overseas, the navy needs the army because ships can’t occupy territory, and the air force provides an umbrella for both (and needs both to protect its airfields).

A vital part of that training is the centre for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL), which conducts wargames for military and civilian personnel, Congressional staffers, and even a journalist like me, who had a chance to play the Gemstone counterinsurgency game.

But NDU’s budget is being slashed by Pentagon staffers who believe that the college is too expensive, wasteful and is doing too much namby-pamby intellectual education instead of focusing on real military education. CASL is being chopped by half, which means a much less robust wargaming capability. Though all of the military is feeling the pain of budget cuts, what is happening to NDU and CASL is an example of the military mind at its narrow worst….

Michael has weighed in on this before, in a piece back in August at Foreign Policy. We agree with him, too—see our earlier take on the situation at NDU.

Picture above: The Gamer’s Table blog.

One response to “Peck on “Washington’s War on Wargaming”

  1. brtrain 06/11/2012 at 2:24 pm

    Yep, and I say what I said before – it’s a feature of this kind of budget cutting that the cheapest things, whose effects are the least visible, will be what goes first. Heaven forbid that there should be one fighter plane less (or 400 Abrams tanks the Army has said it does not need or want, but will get anyway, just to keep the tank plant running).

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