PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

If the Cold War went hot in Asia

 

PournelleF2Sept14.jpg

Wargaming at the US NWC (1987).

Last month in the National Interest—and reprinted today in War is Boring—Robert Farley reviews the late Cold war series of Global wargames at the Naval War College, and what they had to say about a potential US-Soviet clash in Asia:

Nearly every analyst during the Cold War agreed that, if Moscow and Washington could keep the nukes from flying, the Central Front in Europe would prove decisive in war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The NATO alliance protected the Western European allies of the United States from Soviet aggression, while the Warsaw Pact provided the USSR with its own buffer against Germany.

But when the Cold War really went hot, the fighting took place in Asia. In Korea and Vietnam, the Soviet Union waged proxy struggles against the United States, and both sides used every tool available to control the destiny of China. However, while few believed that the Pacific theater would determine the victor of World War III, both the United States and Soviet Union needed to prepare for the eventuality of war there.

Scholars have devoted far less attention to the planning of World War III in East Asia than to the European theater. The two classic novels of the Third World War (Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and John Hackett’s The Third World War) rarely touched on developments in Asia. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Naval War College traced the potential course of war in East Asia as part of a series of global war games. These games lend a great deal of insight into the key actors in the conflict, and how the decisive battles of a Second Pacific War might have played out.

Both the Soviets and the Americans had options in Asia. The strategic environment was far more fluid than in Europe, allowing a variety of different choices to disrupt and destabilize the opponent. This made the course of war far less predictable. At its (nonnuclear) worst, war could have raged across Asia on multiple fronts, from Korea to Japan to the Sino-Soviet border. At its best, the combatants might have observed an uneasy quiet, at least until it became necessary to outflank a stalemate in the West. But as was the case in Europe, everyone concerned is fortunate that tensions never led to open combat.

For more on wargaming (or, as they would have it, war gaming) at the US Naval War College, see their website. This includes unclassified reports from some of the more recent Global series games.

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