Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Congress should be wargaming (but not Battle Force 2045)

The following piece was submitted to PAXsims by an anonymous contributor.

Rep Mike Gallagher claims in a recent War on the Rocks piece (with commentary by Rex Brynen and others here), that the US Congress needs to take a trip to the Naval War College to participate in a wargame showcasing Battle Force 2045, the Department of Defense’s recently announced plan for a 500 ship Navy. In order for “Naval advocates in the executive branch … to sell a simplified vision of integrated American seapower to the legislative branch”, he claims, they should participate in a wargame to understand the “assumptions, vulnerabilities, unknowns, and risks being assumed in the absence of change.” But selling concepts is a dangerous place for wargames to tread.

Rep Gallagher acknowledges this, saying that “wargames could be rigged to put a positive outcome in front of lawmakers.” He’s very right. A skilled interpretation of wargames takes experience and understanding its craft. You don’t need to have been in the Wargaming profession very long to see, or at the very least hear, a story of DoD leaders misinterpreting or over-interpreting the results of a wargame in support of their preferred concept or program. But wargames provide valuable insights for those willing to put in the effort. Congress should be wargaming – but at the strategic level, and with representatives from the entire interagency, to understand how best they can legislate, provide oversight, declare war, and wield the power of the purse for the benefit of our nation and its citizens.

Battle Force 2045, like all military plans, concepts, or proposed force structures, should be wargamed (and I’m sure it has been). Wargames, together with the rest of the cycle of research, give the planners, concept builders, and force structure assessors the information that they need to build a better plan, concept, or force structure. But that’s the job of the Department of Defense, not Congress.

Congress needs to be informed about the threats, the risks, and the opportunities afforded by everything that they legislate. When it comes to the military, it’s the DoD’s job to provide them with a clear and accurate articulation of the problem. When I brief the results of a wargame to leaders in the military, I don’t run a wargame for them. I use the insights that we learned in the wargame to provide actionable information relevant to the decisions that those leaders need to make. I don’t run a wargame for them to watch; I run a wargame to help me (and my analysis team) understand the problem, which helps me articulate the situation to those decision makers. If the DoD cannot articulate the situation to Congress and the White House, then the perhaps it is they who need to go back to the wargaming table (and the analytic reports, and the exercise schedule). 

What are the problems that Congress needs to understand?

Rep Gallagher and the bipartisan colleagues he references are right in saying that Congress should spend some time wargaming. There are many problems that wargames can and should help understand, not the least of which is the U.S.’s current relationship with China. But my experience via many wargames in recent years, from tactical to operational to strategic, have made one thing very clear: competition and conflict with China will rely on much more than Battle Force 2045 or any other force structure that the U.S. military will propose.

International conflict with peer competitors like China will require a robust response from all the pieces of the federal government. The Department of Defense must clearly be ready to deter, and if necessary defeat, aggression against the US or its interests abroad. The Department of State must be able to negotiate with China and come to a clear understanding about red lines, interests, national objectives, and international relationships. State must also be engaged with our allies and partners, exploring not only issues of access, basing, and overflight for our military, but also economic, social, and (dis)information issues that are critical to the US building a coalition of like-minded nations. The Department of Treasury must be engaged with our allies and partners to ensure our and their domestic security and quality of life, which is critical to supporting national will during a contest with one of our major trading partners. The Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Education, and even Transportation have an opportunity to be engaged in the escalating tensions with other global superpowers.

The DoD spends a good deal of money, and quite a lot of time, Wargaming a conflict with competitors across the globe. But rarely do those wargames include representatives from the interagency for a very good reason: that’s not the DoD’s job. Congress, on the other hand, has the ability to legislate issues surrounding all of these Departments. However, a myopic exploration of any one is likely to give a skewed perception of the importance of that line of effort when. If Congress were to declare war against a global superpower, then they must have a holistic view of the interagency problem and understand the broad ramifications – or at least that there are broad ramifications – of that act. Wargaming is a very effective way to do that.

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