Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

simulations miscellany, 29 September 2013


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

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At Forbes recently, Daniel Tack asked whether we were on the cusp of a games-based revolution in the way we teach:

Are serious games the classroom tool of the future? Is the future already here?  The tablet classroom may have once been the stuff of science fiction, but modern developments in technology and brain science may have come together to create a massive change in the way we think about education.

Certainly his interviewees are, with suggesting Nolan Bushnell “In some ways the world of education is going to go through one of the most massive changes in the next five years than it has seen in the last three thousand years. It’s a perfect storm.” I’m unconvinced. Certainly I think games have enormous educational potential. However I think over-hyping them as transformative overstates their impact. Indeed, the evidence on their effectiveness shows the effects are positive but limited, and that much depends on how they are integrtaed into more traditional curriculum.

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In the latest issue of International Studies Review 15, 3 (September 2013), Timothy J. Junio and Thomas G. Mahnken discuss “Conceiving of Future War: The Promise of Scenario Analysis for International Relations.” 

This article introduces political scientists to scenarios—future counterfactuals—and demonstrates their value in tandem with other methodologies and across a wide range of research questions. The authors describe best practices regarding the scenario method and argue that scenarios contribute to theory building and development, identifying new hypotheses, analyzing data-poor research topics, articulating “world views,” setting new research agendas, avoiding cognitive biases, and teaching. The article also establishes the low rate at which scenarios are used in the international relations subfield and situates scenarios in the broader context of political science methods. The conclusion offers two detailed examples of the effective use of scenarios.

Given the centrality of both scenario construction and counter-factual methods to conflict simulation, the article is one that social scientists using analytical games might find useful.

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At the must-read blog War on the Rocks, Adam Elkus explores the  the analytical and ethical issues that this raises about “good” versus “bad” models embedded within simulations:

From computer models of climate change to intricate simulations of future conventional conflicts, abstract models, wargames, and simulations remain prized tools for analyzing security problems. Models and simulations offer the ability to rigorously visualize uncertain complex situations with a vast array of variables and moving parts. Syria is no exception—think-tankers have created crisis simulations while gamers play topical tactical Syria-themed games. But while ethical and philosophical questions surrounding the Cold War analysis of nuclear strategy loomed large, today’s games do not receive similar scrutiny. There is no cinematic equivalent of Dr. Strangelove for today’s computational “web of war.”

It would be great if all models did was create a nice, simple abstraction of the world to inform good decisions. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. A model can also influence the reality it seeks to abstract.  Both finance scholars and sociologists of science claim that financial theory has acted as an “engine” as well as a “camera,” building marketpractices around models and theories designed to explain and predict those very market practices. The simulation could very well alter the thing it simulates.

More common (and pernicious) is the way bad models dress up shoddy thought with walls of  intimidating mathematical formalisms and computer code. While a simulation should be an exercise in exploration and experimentation, but it frequently also functions as a way to validate a narrow vision of a desired future. For example, the famous Millennium Challenge 2002 wargame’s purpose was to test a new suite of military concepts. But red-teamers playing opposing forces quickly found themselves stymied when they exposed the fragility of these operational concepts.

However, simulation, modeling, and gaming do not possess some all-powerful guild that can coerce every modeler to adhere to modeling norms that remain fundamentally hazy and informal. And replicating many models and simulations in the security world is difficult for those without security clearances. To use economic modeling terminology, theinformation asymmetry such a situation creates can help dishonest modelers “strictly dominate” more scrupulous counterparts.

Thus, even those who dislike simulations, models, and games must adjust to a reality in which they will enjoy continued prominence. An effective way to become an informed consumer of models and simulations (and thus argue against bad ones) is to design/build or run/play one’s own. Powerful simulations were once only available to military organizations and research universities. Today, we live in an unprecedented age of computational abundance. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of programming can create powerful models and simulations on standard computing equipment….

Go and read the full thing here.

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RR331Looking for a scenario (and background information) for your next crisis game? How about Bruce Bennett’s detailed examination of Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse (RAND, 2013):

A North Korean government collapse would have serious consequences in North Korea and beyond. At the very least, a collapse would reduce the already scarce food and essential goods available to the population, in part due to hoarding and increasing costs. This could lead to a humanitarian disaster. Factions emerging after a collapse could plunge the country into civil war that spills over into neighboring countries. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could be used and even proliferated. This report examines ways of controlling and mitigating the consequences, recognizing that the Republic of Korea (ROK) and its U.S. ally will almost certainly need to intervene militarily in the North, likely seeking Korean unification as the ultimate outcome. But such an intervention requires serious preparation. North Koreans must be convinced that they will be treated well and could actually have better lives after unification. The allies need to prepare to deliver humanitarian aid in the North, stop conflict, demilitarize the North Korean military and security services over time, and secure and eventually eliminate North Korean WMD. Potential Chinese intervention must be addressed, ideally leading to cooperation with ROK and U.S. forces. Plans are needed for liberating North Korean political prisons before the guards execute the prisoners. Property rights need to be addressed. The ROK must sustain its military capabilities despite major reductions in force size due to very low birthrates. And ROK reluctance to broadly address North Korean collapse must be overcome so that plans in these areas can move forward.

Personally, I found the focus on military intervention a little precipitous, especially given the risks of it provoking conflict with China. Still, it would be interesting to game. Also, don’t forget the compendium of modern North Korea-themed wargames at Wargaming Connection.

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In the category of “things PAXsims missed when they first appeared,” have a  look at Scott Swanson’s piece on “Enhancing Red Team Performance: Driving Measurable Value and Quality Outcomes with Process Improvement,” at Small Wars Journal (5 October 2012).

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On the subject of red teaming, we’re regular readers of Red Team Journal. Recently John Sullivan had a particularly interesting piece there on “Analytical Red Team Exercises for Irregular Warfare.”

Irregular conflict–terrorism, insurgency, and criminal warfare (“criminal insurgency” and transnational organized crime)–is a complex challenge to many states. Ranging from street gangs–”local insurgencies” to drug/crime wars or “criminal insurgencies” through transnational criminal or extremist networks challenging regions–these threats require intelligence and analysis to understand and forecast potentials and craft interagency, intergovernmental solutions. Adaptive, analytical red teaming is a process of refining tradecraft for indications and warning (for a range of scenarios along the spectrum of current intelligence, early warning through strategic foresight). Specifically, analytical red teaming places a team of analysts against an active red team simulating a criminal opposing force, or forces. This short paper will describe the process and briefly recap the experience of two adaptive, analytical red team exercises (Operation Talavera and Operation Chimera) conducted by the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning (TEW) Group. Lessons learned and suggestions for refining the process, as well as conducting future red team exercises for irregular threats, will be discussed.

The article is particularly important in the wake of several recent acts of urban terrorism, notably this month’s attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

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