Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

NPR: Girl Security brings war games to a younger generation


Picture credit: @StaciePettyjohn

NPR’s Hannah Allam reports on an innovative project by the non-profit Girl Security to engage teen girls in thinking about national security issues—in this case, through a Korea wargame developed by a team from RAND Center for Gaming.

You can listen to the broadcast here. It sounds like a terrific initiative!

UPDATE: NPR has now posted an article version too.

The RAND game designers said the goal is to urge the teens to find the smartest strategy to guard the interests of their respective sides. But they also wanted the players to think hard about the stakes involved in a game of brinksmanship between two nuclear powers.

As the hours wore on, it became clear to the players how quickly even a measured escalation could spin out of control and expand the conflict. By the end of the game, North Korea had used chemical weapons and deployed a nuclear land mine but lost much of its ground forces. The U.S. and South Korean side also suffered heavy casualties after a chemical attack.

“The situation is not good,” Pettyjohn said, surveying the game board.

Nobody won. Nobody ever wins in this simulation, which is why policymakers complain that their North Korea options range from bad to worse. RAND’s Ellie Bartels told the players that professional military planners struggle with the same frustrations they did.

“One of the things we hope to do with war games is help people plan for wars so we never have to fight them,” Bartels said. “And this is not a pretty war. It’s a war that’s not going to be low-cost, either, in terms of money or lives.”

In the “hot wash,” war game parlance for the dialogue and recap that comes after playing, several teens said they struggled with using unconventional weapons, even if they knew the scenario was fictional. Kelly, the red team member who was amped about chemical weapons, thanked her teammates for tempering some of her trigger-happy impulses.

“It’s really easy to forget the human cost,” she said. “Too easy.”

Before they broke for the day, RAND’s Becca Wasser told the players that this war game was special to her; she called it a highlight of her career to work with smart, young leaders-in-training. She also announced that each player would take home a souvenir — a miniature tank bedazzled with glitter.


Picture credit: NPR.


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