PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Brynen: #Wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)

SB2.pngAs part of a week of articles on wargaming, the Strategy Bridge today features a piece by me on “#Wargaming Unpredictable Adversaries (and Unreliable Allies).”

One challenge in wargaming, and especially political-military (POL-MIL) games, is how to best model the behavior of unpredictable, even apparently irrational, foes. Is the mercurial behavior of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, or Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army truly irrational, or is it a simply the product of a very different set of interests and objectives sustained by a very different world-view? To what extent do seemingly erratic aspects of their strategic behavior derive instead from factors we don’t understand well, such as internal politics or decision-making process? It has been well established since the POL-MIL wargaming of the 1950s and 1960s that actions that one actor believes to be rational signals of intent or deterrence are often entirely misunderstood by their intended recipient, in large part because they are deeply shaped by internal decision making processes that opponents fail to appreciate or understand.[i] How do we incorporate this into wargames when, almost by definition, we do not fully understand what is going on?

This ongoing methodological challenge has acquired greater significance in the context of recent political changes in the United States. Leaving issues of political partisanship aside, it is clear that many US allies find the new Administration of President Donald Trump to be unpredictable—to the point of posing a potential threat to their countries’ core national interests.[ii] Harsh campaign rhetoric, a seemingly chaotic foreign policy making process, mixed signals, and the propensity of the President to express his thoughts in provocative tweets have left many allied policymakers scrambling to develop contingency plans in case long-established US positions or commitments are no longer credible.[iii] Indeed, even those members of the US State Department charged with reassuring nervous US partners express frustration that they are often unclear as to what American policy is on any given day.[iv] The result has been an increasing interest in some allied countries in gaming the US as a potentially unreliable military-diplomatic ally, or even—on some non-military issues, like trade or climate change—as a political adversary….

Comments are welcomed.

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