A new CNAS report by Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Chris Dougherty outlines findings from Dangerous Straits, a recent strategic-operational wargame exploring a fictional 2027 war between China and the United States over Taiwan.
The wargame, hosted by the Gaming Lab at CNAS, in partnership with NBC’s Meet the Press, illuminated the dilemmas that U.S. and Chinese policymakers might face if China were to invade Taiwan, along with the strategies they might adopt to achieve their overarching objectives.
The wargame indicated a protracted conflict rather than a short war is likely if China decides to invade Taiwan. Neither side felt as though it had lost, but both had depleted their missile inventories, sustained significant losses, and still needed to resupply and rearm forces under attack. Preventing China from a quick triumph over Taipei did not equate to an American and Taiwanese victory.
Drawing from the findings of the wargame, the authors assert that the United States and its allies and partners must take several steps to change the Indo-Pacific military balance in their favor to deter China from invading Taiwan and prevent war. These steps include the following:
The U.S. Department of Defense should make sustained investments in long-range precision-guided weapons and undersea capabilities, while also enhancing the resiliency of its posture in the Indo-Pacific region and deepening planning with key allies and partners.
The U.S. Department of Defense should plan for a protracted conflict and develop ways to reduce the risks of inadvertent escalation with a nuclear armed China.
The U.S. Congress should enable key improvements in the Indo-Pacific through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and should help shape Taiwan’s military posture.
Taiwan must improve its defensive capabilities by investing in asymmetric, resilient, and attritable capabilities; increasing training for its active and reserve forces; and by stockpiling key weapons and supplies.
In February, the United States Institute of Peace, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, and the Sejong Institute in Seoul conducted a series of three interrelated peace games exploring confidence-building for the Korean Peninsula.
The peace game exercise employed three hypothetical interconnected scenarios that progressively and cumulatively moved toward a final and comprehensive peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula. The overarching purpose was to examine U.S., North Korean, South Korean, and Chinese responses to mostly conciliatory measures from the other sides and, in the process, encourage diplomatic risk-taking and uncover new challenges and opportunities that have been obscured by the current real-world stalemate. The scenarios were prescriptively established to advance exercise objectives, but participants’ agreements and positions from preceding scenarios were incorporated into subsequent ones as much as possible. The participants were provided with each scenario at least 12 hours before the start of that particular phase of the peace game.
Participants included 16 experts on security policy related to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, including former diplomats, policymakers, academics, and think tank analysts. The participants were assigned to play the role of negotiators on four teams: the United States, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea), and China.
Our wargame’s advisors came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including United States military officers, representatives from NATO countries, two experts on internal Russian decision-making, and a retired Ukrainian colonel with experience on the Ukrainian general staff. The second iteration’s most significant change to gameplay was a switch from each turn representing a single day to three-month turns. This was done to allow us to play out a full year of combat operations within the time allotted to complete the wargame. Lengthening the game turn duration required a higher degree of adjudication abstraction than our previous wargame, but it proved essential to enabling players to look at broader operational and strategic considerations over the duration of a protracted conflict.
After applying expected geostrategic and operational developments over the remainder of this year and into the start of 2023, we determined the Russians reached an operational culmination well-short of their maximal objectives. Given the combination of Ukraine’s proven will and its capabilities in a defensive fight, the prospects for Russian forces in heavy urban combat proved daunting. By the end of the summer, Russia no longer possessed the forces to pursue major simultaneous objectives nor the combat power to conquer a major city. All was not rosy for the Ukrainians, who lacked the combat power to go on the offensive and eject Russia from the occupied territories. With neither side able to achieve decisive military effects in the offense, without exception, the combined teams predicted that without a negotiated settlement the war is headed toward an indefinite stalemate.
The ramifications of such an outcome are immense. First, of course, is the toll in human suffering, as losses mount on both sides, and the refugee crisis remains unalleviated for a year or more. For the United States, a stalemate means that the ad-hoc defense-related resupply arrangements require systemization and the establishment of a quasi-permanent logistics infrastructure. Ukraine’s future success also requires the establishment of training centers that can regenerate Ukraine’s frontline combat power and allow these forces to reenter the fight.
As we conducted the wargame, the surprises came fast and furious. The first was we entered the wargame with a flawed assumption about Russia’s prospects. Initially, we assessed that over the next four months the weight of the Russian force would gradually wear down Ukraine’s military and allow for a complete occupation of the country. After conducting open-source analysis to develop a current operating picture and assessing losses since the start of the war, the team agreed to fast forward one month and assume the collapse of Mariupol, Sumy, and Konotop. The wargamers were then tasked to determine the major operational movements for the summer 2022 campaign, using as the key decision how Russia would employ the maneuver forces freed up by these successes and the option to employ forces held in reserve. In weighing and then employing the wargame to test courses of action, it rapidly became clear that Russia lacks the combat power to collapse the Ukrainian military this summer.
Another surprise for the wargame was the validation of how national leaders’ political objectives trounce the best military advice provided by generals. As the summer campaign played out, the “generals” (wargamers) were forced to decide how best to employ military forces, and shift combat resources, including strategic reserves, to accomplish objectives. Political requirements dominated military decision-making, as the expert military advice on future operations was overruled in favor of seizing objectives deemed more politically important. In this case, our Vladimir Putin ordered spectacular victories were necessary to sustain his own power, repeatedly saying that the postwar condition of the army was of small consequence.
In the two weeks prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Marine Corps University ran a four-day wargame to simulate the first several days of just such an invasion. One of us ran the wargame while the others played the Ukrainian and Russian forces. Despite a few stark differences, the current Russian offensive is playing out in ways eerily similar to that simulation.
By the time the wargame ended, the overall situation appeared very much as it does on the ground in Ukraine, with only two major deviations. First, the Russians have pushed harder out of Belarus to the west of the Dneiper — north of Kyiv — to strike the city from the rear. And secondly, the Russian assault in Kherson was temporarily halted, as the axis of advance in the south for a time turned northeast toward Mariupol. Both of these actions were, however, discussed by the players in the wargame.
Another difference was in the impact of the Russian air and missile campaign. In the game, Russian operations began with a series of missile and airstrikes, aimed at eliminating Ukraine’s air force and destroying the country’s integrated air defense system. Thus, the Russian players’ primary focus, during the first few days of the campaign, was aimed at gaining freedom of maneuver in the skies — air dominance — along with destroying Ukraine’s coastal defense systems. So, although the number of actual strikes made by the Russians in the conflict’s first 24-hours tracked almost exactly to what was employed by the Russians in the wargame, the impact was substantially different. In the wargame, every strike was focused on eliminating Ukraine’s air force and air defense network. In real life, the Russian strikes appear to have been more widely spread over a range of targets. Thus, the Russians employed far fewer munitions than required to cripple Ukraine’s air defenses or to significantly degrade their ability to control forces in the field. In short, unlike in the game, the Russian attacks were damaging but insufficient to overwhelm Ukraine’s defenses.
Our Ukraine wargame is part of a series of operational level wargames designed by Marine Corps University to support professional military education and help students develop an understanding of the many operational challenges associated with all domain warfare and Great Power conflict. The hope is that students will develop insights from these wargames that help them better understand joint warfighting. In the case of this particular wargame, its near concurrent use with the actual start of the war presents an opportunity to make constructive comparisons and contrasts. Actual events also highlight the importance of the human domain and how difficult it is to effectively model or assess prior to conflict. While the game does make allowance for aspects of the human domain, it is hard to factor in things like the courageous leadership being demonstrated by Zelenskyy and its impact on the will of the fighting forces and the Ukrainian people.
One must be very careful when using a wargame for predictive purposes. But, on the other hand, no one involved in this wargame has been much surprised by anything unfolding on the ground. Almost all of it took place within the game or was discussed at length among the players. This is in contrast with nearly every expert and pundit on the airwaves, who are expressing astonishment at how this conflict is unfolding. If this wargame had been played at the Pentagon or the White House in the weeks leading up to the war, no strategist or policymaker would be shocked by any event so far seen in the war.
The heroic resistance of the Ukrainians inspires awe and admiration. Still, their forces are greatly outnumbered, particularly in the air. Moreover, Russia’s capacity to concentrate vast ground fires — artillery, rockets, and missiles — still allows the Russian army to overwhelm the Ukrainians at any chosen point. If history provides any glimpse into the future, the Russian army will eventually uncoil, absorb the war’s early lessons, and renew its advance with grim determination. Russia was preparing to do precisely that when the wargame ended. Still, one hopes that Western pressure, and the infliction of unacceptable losses upon Putin’s legions will create an opening for a negotiated peace.
The stand-alone game was held by IWP adjunct professor Aaron Danis, with invaluable assistance from Professor Wayne Hugar, a China military expert and colleague of Prof. Danis at National Intelligence University, where Prof. Danis works in his day job.
Prof. Danis commented: “I use games in my IWP courses, and I have wanted to try this one on the South China Sea (SCS) for a while. It required that the players do some read-ahead and research over the winter break, with unbelievable support and guidance from Wayne who has participated in such games in the Department of Defense and deployed to the SCS during his previous US Navy career.”
The two-month (four-turn) crisis scenario postulated that China had just moved sand dredgers and coast guard vessels to the contested (with the Philippines) Scarborough Shoal, threatening to turn it into an artificial island or military outpost. “This is a real possibility,” said Prof. Hugar, “as China has had de facto control of the shoal since 2012 and could literally do this at any time.” This threatened act to “change the facts on the ground” forced players into negotiations with allies and adversaries, while maneuvering military and non-military assets in the region. This action occurred against the background of the annual Philippine-U.S.-Australia Balikatan military exercise in Luzon. The Chinese simultaneously threatened Vietnamese fishing fleets using its People’s Maritime Militia and launched a global propaganda offensive.
The virtual nature of the game, brought on by bad weather and COVID restrictions, gave students a feel for the real-world difficulties of coordinating within their assigned country teams, let alone between countries thousands of miles away. The U.S. Army War College gaming center let IWP borrow its virtual version of this game, which would normally be played in person on a board at IWP. The game was originally designed by an active-duty UK Army officer.
As suggested above, the original version of the game was designed by Tom Mouat, and can be found here at PAXsims.
In confronting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Israel has been moderately successful. Cumulative mortality is well below that of most OECD or G20 countries.
This is around the mid-point of those countries in the Middle East and North Africa for which reliable data exists.
Israel was among the earliest vaccinators in the world and among the first to introduce booster shots—although vaccine coverage is still a little lower than many comparable countries (due to hesitancy, not capacity).
But why raise all of this at PAXsims? Because Israel recently conducted an exercise to examine the challenges that would be posed by a “doomsday” variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, one that is more lethal to children yet not affected by current vaccines.
Last week, a national exercise code-named Omega was held, to examine how to cope with a fifth wave that would be caused, hypothetically, by the arrival of a new variant that was immune to vaccination.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took the possibility seriously and spent eight hours straight in the national management center. The exercise was planned by the special methods branch of the Defense Ministry, and it was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Ayash, formerly head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate.
The method of the simulation recalled a military exercise, which takes the scenario to the extreme to examine the true capability of the system to arrive at and implement decisions.
The fifth wave that was posited in the exercise was a doomsday affair: the penetration of a vaccine-immune variant that strikes hard at children and causes large-scale death among children and teenagers. In the past year, and more decisively under the Bennett government, Israeli strategy has relied on vaccination as the chief response to the virus. Here, then, the carpet was pulled from under the feet of the decision-makers and they were compelled to look for other solutions.
One method that is meant to improve the situation is the purchase of a large quantity of medications against COVID-19, which are now in the final stages of approval in the United States. Prior acquisition of such medications, on the assumption that they will prove effective against the next variant, too, could reduce deaths and perhaps allow the continued partial opening of the economy.
he economic damage from one week of closure is estimated at between 2 billion and 4 billion shekels ($650 million-$1.3 billion). No medicines or vaccinations will be anywhere near as costly.
On the other hand, Bennett leans to hermetically closing Ben-Gurion airport to non-Israelis in the event a new variant appears, and to conducting stringent control and quarantine of returning Israelis.
The exercise turned up other points of weakness: the difficulty of the civilian system to move from routine into emergency mode, the feeble ability of the public information system and holes in the coordination between government ministries. (The National Security Council, on which the Netanyahu government pinned its hopes, is not up to the task.)
One of Israel’s problems – again, contrary to the boasts of the former prime minister – is the absence of an orderly mechanism capable of tracking and analyzing the spread of the virus abroad. Thus, the Foreign Ministry is barely mobilized in the national effort, even though it has representatives in almost every country.
Restrictions on gatherings and movement, quarantine policy, lockdowns, curfews and tourism.
Oversight and warnings issued during the development of a new and dangerous variant, testing vaccine protection, epidemiological investigations, hospital capacity and the carrying out of mass-testing and vaccination programmes.
The legality of local or regional lockdowns and curfews, and other restrictions.
Economic support for the population.
Public security in enforcing quarantine, lockdowns and curfews.
Closing schools in outbreak centres, reducing class sizes and remote learning.
Departure and arrival policy at borders including Ben Gurion airport.
Informing the public and responding to “discourse on the internet”.
The Centre for New American Security has just released a new report, which examines what might happen were China to seize outlying Taiwanese islands:
How could Taiwan and the United States respond if China seized one of Taiwan’s outlying islands, such as Pratas/Dongsha (hereafter Dongsha) in the South China Sea? Whereas the U.S. national security community has focused on defending Taiwan against Chinese invasion, China’s recent military activities suggest that this kind of coercion and limited aggression might be an equally urgent question. More worryingly, such a scenario could be a prelude or pathway to war involving China, Taiwan, and the United States.
To explore potential policy and strategy options to prevent such a calamity, the Gaming Lab at CNAS wargamed this scenario with Taiwanese, American, and regional experts. Worryingly, the game found few credible options for pushing China to abandon Dongsha and return to the status quo. However, the game found numerous areas where preparation and multilateral coordination—particularly in concert with Japan—could deter limited Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
During the game, the teams representing the United States and Taiwan struggled to compel a Chinese withdrawal from Dongsha without escalating the crisis. The team representing China avoided further escalation given its first-mover advantage, constrained territorial gains, and geographic proximity. In contrast, the U.S. team had to push its forces far forward in ways that were risky and would be difficult to sustain.1 Punitive non-military options, such as economic sanctions or information campaigns, took too long to produce effects and appeared too weak to compel China to abandon its gains.2 More aggressive military responses risked escalation to war, which both the U.S. and Taiwan teams wished to avoid. With few viable coercive options and the onus of escalation falling on the U.S. and Taiwan teams, the game reaffirmed the difficulty of rolling back territorial aggression of this kind.
Indeed, discouraging China from seizing Taiwanese territory before it happens is the most salient lesson of the game. The United States and Taiwan must begin coordinating today to build a credible deterrent against limited Chinese aggression or coercion toward Taiwan.3Doing so will help identify ways to make a territorial fait accompli by China—such as the seizure of Dongsha—too unpalatable to consider, while also communicating the U.S. commitment to defending Taiwan. This strategy will require advance planning and communication of joint responses and defenses against coercion and territorial aggression. Rather than scrambling to respond to a fait accompli, as occurred in this game, the United States and Taiwan should prepare to implement coordinated, whole-of-government deterrent measures quickly and ensure immediate consequences for Chinese coercion or aggression short of war.
The methodology used for the game is briefly described in the report:
Players consisted of multinational defense and policy experts as well as subject matter experts. These players comprised three teams: the Blue Team, representing the United States; the Green Team, representing Taiwan; and the White Cell/Red Team, which combined China experts, the adjudicators, and other important international actors. The game consisted of three moves over the course of two three-hour sessions. Each move required all teams to take at least one diplomatic, military, information, and economic action. Players were free to take any reasonable action, but they had to explain why they had chosen one specific action over another and what they expected the outcomes of each action to be. Although the teams were given objectives to prioritize, they had freedom to build and determine their actions. The three teams were divided into separate virtual rooms but encouraged to coordinate with one another as desired.
Commenting on the report, the Washington Post writes:
Chris Dougherty, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said U.S. officials have scrutinized what a full Chinese invasion of Taiwan might look like. For this exercise, he and his colleagues wanted to examine a scenario that was on a magnitude similar to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Dougherty, a former Army Ranger who served as a strategic adviser in the Pentagon for four years spanning the Obama and Trump administrations, said that seizing the land — also known as the Dongsha islands — would allow China to gauge the reaction of the international community. China’s status as an economic power, he said, makes it difficult for the United States to sanction Beijing on an open-ended basis.
“You either can play the game of the chicken and you can say, ‘I’m willing to get into a contest of risk-taking with you over Dongsha,’ which — let’s be honest — I don’t know that we are. Or, you can do this pillow-fighting policy, and you’re going to hit them, but not hard enough to deter them from doing what you want them to do,” Dougherty said.
The war game found that the best option was warning the Chinese ahead of time of consequences they would face for moving on the islands, with Japan playing a significant role, the report says.
“The U.S. and Taiwan teams made repeated inquiries about Japan’s position, suggesting that without Japan’s backing, the U.S. and Taiwanese negotiating position was weakened,” the report said. “In a potential conflict, a lack of unambiguous Japanese support for Taiwan in this context would undermine efforts to urge Chinese withdrawal and could set a precedent for future unchecked Chinese aggression in other territorial disputes, including those over Japanese territory, such as the Senkaku Islands.”
The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Elizabeth Thomson, a MLitt candidate at St Andrews. Elizabeth is currently writing her dissertation On the Security Implications of Australia’s Discretionary Power as it Exists Between China and America’s Strategic Competition. She has a background in South-East Asian studies and Political Philosophy.
In the simulation, a shipwreck off the reefs of Pratas Island triggered territorial dispute between the People’ Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (RoC, or Taiwan). Both governments wished to coordinate the search and rescue operations to maintain and assert authority over the territory in question. As the claims on sovereignty could shift Asia-Pacific politics and security the USA was interested in being an arbiter and equalizer to managing PRC and RoC relations.
Three teams represented ‘active’ nations throughout the gameplay: PRC, RoC and USA. Each team of four players need to divide their team to fill specific roles (each team had a different number of players assigned each role to reflect the importance or dominance of that aspect within the different states): economic, executive, and military. Subsequently each position had its own debrief sheet of the role. In the RoC team, we distributed roles according to interest and background of the players.
Part II- Bias
In this simulation I played the executive role for Taiwan, my objective was to achieve independence from the PRC.
My team was comprised of individuals from Western (‘Global North’) nations. I believe this impacted our play, as it was more ‘gung-ho’ in policy and policy execution than the current government in Taipei. We were more focused on achieving our objectives than considering long-term diplomatic relations with the PRC. This was possible due to the one-month timeframe of the simulation, and willingness to see ourselves as completely separate to mainland China. This attitude is culturally inaccurate, as PRC and RoC both consider themselves Chinese.
Furthermore, our team had a fair bit of leeway, which from a gaming perspective made the experience much more enjoyable as you will see in the following section. Yet, I wonder if we would have had the same scope of indulgence as a democratic state has. Whilst I know that the securitisation of situations can provide a sort of blank check to the government, I believe that we would have had to ultimately petition to the elected representatives in parliament for certain actions to be approved. I have played simulations where actions were given a probability and Game Control would roll a pair of dice which dictated the success of a move. A third-party factor to influence the game could have curbed some of the more ‘gung-ho’ actions, making the simulation more reflective of the state and its administrative structure.
Part III- Play
What was our policy? Our policy was to secure authority over the Pratas territory by sea, land, and air. What was our aim? Sovereignty. Sovereignty at all costs, for without sovereignty there is no survival.
Throughout the simulation we reacted quickly to updates in order to control the narrative(s). To push back against the PRC’s enthusiastic attempts to collaborate in Search and Rescue missions, the RoC military established a Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ). This was made possible by negotiations with the USA to deploy minimal naval support. RoC and USA agreed that a physical reminder of the RoC-USA friendship was necessary to promote peaceful negotiations between PRC and RoC.
Throughout the simulation the RoC was conscious of USA’s Taiwanese Relations Act 1979 (TRA79) Section 2b.1. We worked within the scope of this Act, negotiating USA military presence in RoC territorial waters to disincentives any PRC trespassing and subsequent occupation of RoC territory.
Additionally, while our military were engaged with securing the area, our economic representative engaged in Track II Diplomacy with the USA. They discussed a potential oil drilling partnership. This included converting some of our PRC imports/exports to the USA. The economic department established a deal where the USA would compensate any loss of PRC. Additionally, the USA would provide infrastructure to drill and as compensation, they had claim to the first ‘x’ amount of dollars in oil, then the profits would be split evenly. In the event of PRC joining the oil deal, the percentages of cost of infrastructure would be reassessed and a deal would reflect individual contribution.
Yet, to avoid sharing profits and being coerced into a diplomatic relationship with the PRC, the RoC’s internal policy was to provoke the PRC into triggering the TRA79. Thus, creating ‘legitimate’ reasons to declare independence.
We [RoC] began by framing the PRC as the rogue government through phrasing such as ‘our mainland provinces…’. We devised initiatives such as a ‘National Democracy Day’ inviting the Dalai Lama as the recognised leader of Tibet to join. To place pressure on PRC resources and distract their concentration we attempted to open a second front. For this we sought a bilateral military training agreement with India to train in the Himalayan Mountains on the Tibetan border.
Finally, Operation Oppenheimer, was crafted but not launched to reopen the nuclear facilities on Taiwan. RoC would have operated under the protection that they aren’t officially recognised by the United Nations. By abusing a grey area concerning nuclear development programs, RoC hoped to initiate UN recognition.
Part IV- Communications
The format of the game benefited not only the pandemic circumstances but contributed to the overall feel of the simulation. Owing to the high-level security nature of the simulation it felt realistic to separate into our teams and negotiate strategy among members which could be communicated to the control in a ‘real time’, which is how governments would operate.
Additionally, the freedom to negotiate between teams (sans The Control) allowed the players to benefit from track II diplomacy. This was beneficial as The Control, could exacerbate announcements much like the media discourses. Having another avenue to discuss hypotheticals and discuss terms made our progress towards a peaceful resolution possible.
Part V- Replay?
From an economic point of view, it could have been more challenging to face budgetary realities, such as a cap on the military spending on operations. The budget of each state could reflect the extent of the grey zone commitment each state was willing to be bound by. Additionally, it could have made the diplomacy much more creative within and between the teams. As the PRC objective to not fall into conflict meant that they chose to remain silent and ignored our (RoC) taunts which blatantly undermined the CCP. I am quite sure that Chairman Xi would have been more proactive towards our strategies. In addition to incorporating a dimension of chance, I believe that game would gain depth that could provoke the creative solutions to the regional context.
Nevertheless, I would recommend the simulation as it provides an effective learning tool of the regional dynamic of the Asia-Pacific.
References  Hayton, B. 2020.Chapter 7, Territory, (in) The Invention of China. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv17z8490.1
This article was written for PAXsims by Felipe Cruvinel, a PhD candidate at St Andrews. He is currently writing a thesis on applying data analysis to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. He designs and produces wargames and simulations for the school and undertakes tabletop design and hobby gaming in his own time. Find Felipe on Twitter at @FCruvi
Building on the work already carried out on a simulation in early 2020 (previously described at PAXsims by John Hart), a further simulation, to build on the lessons learned from the first was carried out in February of this year. While seeking to provide students with a practical, engaging, and immersive experience, the reality of the substantial changes that have taken place in the year since due to the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated additional redesign work to carry out the simulation in an entirely online environment.
While remaining within the geographic Eastern Hemisphere, the new scenario was centred on China-Taiwan-US dynamics rather than on the multipolar tensions of the South China Sea. The reduced number of groups and players was leveraged by a new design structure, whereby each Country Team is divided into three distinct “Departments”: Executive, Defence, and Economic (thereby applying a finding of the previous multiweek simulation and the previous one day event). These three distinct inter-team groups provided not only a distinction between responsibilities and capabilities, but further provided a real source of inter-team friction through the use of public and secret objectives.
Each department is thus provided with a public and open objective which they may share openly, whether with other members of their team or with other participants within the game. These are meant to reflect real-world stances and policies which states publicly acknowledge and advocate for. Defence and economic departments, however, were also provided with secret objectives. These consistent of considerations and concerns which when addressed, are likely to come in conflict with their own public objective, or with that of the Executive department. The Executive department was not provided with such a secret objective in order to serve as the centre of gravity and pivot point for the team to focus on. Their objective is the state’s objective, and they must rally their teammates in order to effectively accomplish their objective and prevent them from letting their secret objectives endanger more important goals.
Design Aims and Structure
The primary objective for this simulation was to gather insight on intra and inter-team friction in an international crisis setting. Fundamentally, this iteration on our previous simulation was meant to assess whether the added inter-team friction made conflict and resolution more or less likely. Understanding the processes and challenges of negotiations between disparate group of actors while subjecting them to internal pressures covers the majority of the secondary aims guiding our design choices. Given such constraints and objectives, three country teams were settled on rather than the previous four, in order to avoid stalemates through static alliances or overwhelming advantages.
The task of maintaining a dynamic environment is rendered much simpler in a three country scenario given that only likely outcome #1 has to be avoided. Secret objectives conflicting with one’s own public and state level ones were meant to induce internal drift and tension which would make any stable alliance and bloc harder to maintain. Beyond this, the design of the objectives themselves, both public and secret, also made sure to highlight and stress the differences in strategic and political outlook between Taiwan and the United States.
For the purposes of running and conducting the Simulation itself, MS Teams was used as both a meeting point for general weekly meetings and intra-country meetings, and as a repository and delivery channel for intelligence reports, breaking news, and any additional information or noise to be conveyed by the control team. While we initially began with 12 participants, external factors reduced the total participant count to 10 over the course of the four weeks during which the simulation was carried out. A two-hour bloc from 4pm to 6pm on Wednesday afternoons was settled on as the general meeting time for every week, during which teams were provided with new information and opportunities to communicate in official or unofficial settings within the scenario. Participants were still allowed to carry out actions and communications outside of the general meeting time, and information was received and provided on a 24/7 basis for the first week of the simulation. This information took the form of reports from civilian and state agencies, communications from other states, fabricated news articles and fabricated breaking news videos. A curfew on information provision and new developments was implemented from week 2 onwards to reduce workload on participants.
The central challenge that emerged was that the ongoing process of engaging with and between participants throughout a timeframe of several weeks increases the commitment requirements of both those participating and members of the control team. There is certainly greater realism in such a 24/7 approach, but its demands in terms of time commitment can quickly grow to become unsustainable for both participants and the control cell. As a solution to this particular issue, proper expectation setting is of the utmost importance. Participants must be made fully aware of the time and involvement demands to be expected, and when or how such commitments might change.
Additional observations were made throughout the course of this simulation will certainly inform future iterations. Behind the scenes negotiations for instance, took place far more frequently than in our previous simulation. It is unclear if this was a consequence of the ease of secret and informal communication in an online environment versus in-person, or because the division of responsibilities, means, and objectives in our structure also incentivizes individual team members to explore options away from their country team.
The added friction from team divisions and separate objectives was also seen to have an effect on the control team’s role, necessitating far more engagement in order to keep track of various lines of argument and both public and underhanded agendas. It further increases the “black box” of inter-participant discussion which sits outside the control team’s vision, as it is virtually impossible to control every exchange between participants in an informal setting, and it may in any case be undesirable. Establishing that such behind the scenes conversations are indeed acceptable within the simulation boundaries may be a useful preparatory step in the future.
The final conclusion to be carried forward was that competitive interaction between and within teams improved engagement and participant experience while providing learning motivation. Participants appeared highly receptive to new information and often made their own independent plans for action in both cooperative and competitive methods, while taking the opportunity during debriefing to express their interest in future simulations.
The following piece has been contributed to PAXsims by John Hart.
John is part-time PhD candidate at the University whose research is titled ‘What Band of Brothers? An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis into the Meaning of Individual Motivation and Group Cohesion in Non-flying Royal Air Force Personnel.’ He previously served had a 25 year career in the British Army and Royal Air Force during which his role required his participation in both the management of, or participation in, many military exercises and simulation events.
Crisis simulations have been run in recent years in the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, one form was based on an exercise model that has been run previously in the United States. This took a scenario based on a contemporary international issue – the proliferation of WMD – and allowed the teams, representing 3 major countries, to seek resolution to this crisis through internal decision making as well as interactions with other teams. This simulation was a one-day event with each of the 3 country teams themselves subdivided into leadership, diplomatic and military sub-teams. Supervision of teams was undertaken by staff mentors and outside subject matter experts, whilst the exercise play, including intelligence feeds and scenario development, was managed by a PhD candidate-led simulation Control Cell.
Since this one-day event, the team developed a different format in running a game. Instead of an intensive one day the event was split over four weeks and combined in-person and online (remote) engagement. It is the design, outcomes and challenges that I reflect on here.
Background: Design Aims
The South China Sea Crisis simulation was held in early 2019 with the scenario being a fishing vessel disappearing in mysterious circumstances in the region. This crisis simulation was an evolution from the previous simulation, but differed from the one-day events in 4 key respects:
it was held largely remotely;
played over a longer period (4 weeks);
more state teams (4 countries: Vietnam, Philippines, China, the US) and,
no division into internal sub-teams (diplomatic, military or executive).
The design aim of the simulation was largely identical to that previously, with the overarching objective being to expose the teams to the complex environment of international crises. This included their use of intelligence and media sources of information, managing risk, negotiation and decision making. In addition to the simulated interactions of competition and/or cooperation with other states, the simulation also replicated the internal challenges of managing internal decision making within states. However, the four key differences in structure of the game meant slightly different objectives/skill could be sought. The remote/in-person structure, meant that managing information, arranging meetings and overall team management was largely down to the teams’ own control. The absence of rigid internal divisions in the cells (between diplomatic, military and the executive) meant that the teams didn’t generated the same in-group frictions.
A key feature of the simulated crisis was the use of uncertainty. The use of multiple teams, and other 3rd party states, provided each other with opportunities or limitations to achieve their aims via negotiation. Also, multiple information/intelligence sources were used to inject a degree of complexity into the simulation.
Structure and Game Mechanics
The simulation was largely run remotely, with a single in-person session per week. The Control Cell consisted of 2 staff and 2 PhD-candidates overseeing 15 players. Gmail accounts were set up for each team and Control to facilitate group communications. This ensured that there were clearly understood mechanisms of communication to facilitate intelligence/information feed to teams. The design also included specified forms and processes for teams to request information or communicate actions to the Control Cell.
With an outline of the crisis scenario was agreed within the Control Cell, this permitted generation of supporting simulated intelligence, diplomatic reporting or media stories on the crisis to teams. This feed included added ‘public’ noise – e.g., information provided that may have been, true and relevant; relevant possibly not true; not relevant. This was to allow participants to distil the relevant and true information from the stream of incoming material. Notably, the Control Cell capitalised on contemporary social media feeds – with Trump then in power – using his Tweets.
It was entirely left up to the players to self-organised internal or bilateral meetings. Once a week, however, a Control Cell-organised session was conducted to wrap-up the week’s round of play. This was held under the auspices of a meeting of an international organisation e.g., UN or ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). This weekly session was often enhanced by simulated 3rd party nations, using pre-briefed additional participants.
The teams’ internal dynamics were inherently more difficult to monitor during this simulation than the previous one-day, on-site exercise. The remoteness of the simulation gave more autonomy for organisation and internal decision making to team members, but this also gave the Control Cell fewer insights into the internal dynamics. Anecdotally, there were fewer intra-team interactions, but the Control Cell did facilitate an opportunity during the weekly meeting. The Control Cell did possess, however, a good sense of inter-team dynamics and discussions due to access to teams’ email accounts.
A key difference (that may be considered a challenge) was that in the remote setting teams preferred to seek to defuse tension through accommodation and negotiation. One possible explanation is the time pressures of the single simulation induced greater tension and uncertainty into play. Another explanation is that the participants in the multi-week simulations were composed of teams that were naturally more risk adverse.
Future Design Considerations
A future consideration is to re-establish the internal elements within each country team. In the remote simulation, each team acted as a unitary actor, setting collective objectives and a common strategy negotiated between the players. However, this does not make it possible to understand the friction between various groups internal to states. This reduced the agency of individual players replicating the internal ‘friction’ of domestic policy formulation and decision making. Separate sub-teams should induce greater internal ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations.
The use of pre-briefed contributors/participants/third parties to multilateral meetings – e.g., UN meetings, was a good enhancement. It injected another dynamic into the 3-country game and permitted the Control Cell another lever to obtain responses from teams, or to test their policy decisions. The weekly UN/ARF meeting was also a good forum to resolve a week’s play, create a realistic ‘arena’ for disputes and permitted insight for the Control Cell to prepare the following week’s development.
 Hunzeker, Michael A., and Kristen A. Harkness. “The Strategy Project: Teaching Strategic Thinking through Crisis Simulation.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47, no. 2 (2014): 513-517.
 Such was the internal friction during a previous, in-person exercise that the on military team conducted a ‘coup d’état’ against its own executive.
In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation, Kyle Christensen and Peter Dobias of Defence Research and Development Canada discuss wargaming the use of intermediate (nonlethal) force capabilities in the “gray zone.”
Military operations in the gray zone (defined here as the space between peace and war where states are currently involved in a competition continuum) present a unique challenge for military planners. Often tactical actions can have significant operational, and even strategic implications. This makes traditional modeling approaches, such as wargames, of somewhat limited applicability. This limitation can be further exacerbated if the modeled systems are intended to address specific adversarial actions within the gray zone continuum across tactical and operational levels. A specific example of such a problem is modeling military capabilities at the force continuum between inaction and employment of lethal force. Whereas the tactical effectiveness of such systems may be lower than the effectiveness of lethal systems (e.g., if there is a requirement to stop an incoming threat, the use of lethal force is often more effi- cient than the use of acoustic or optical warning devices), the operational and strategic effectiveness of their use would likely be better.
In the summer of 2020, the NATO’s Science & Technology Organization, System Analysis and Studies- 151 (SAS-151) research group conducted a series of test wargames to evaluate whether intermediate force capabil- ities (IFCs) can make a difference to mission success in the gray zone. As described in the following, IFCs offer a class of response between doing nothing and using lethal force in a situation that would be politically unpalatable. This article reviews NATO SAS-151’s development and tests of an IFC concept development wargame aimed at examining a maritime task force’s ability to counter hybrid threats in the gray zone. It covers the strategic context and background of hybrid threats in the gray zone; the conceptual background and development of non-lethal weapons (NLW) through to IFCs; the design and development of the hybrid wargame methodology; and the implementation and execution of the test IFC wargame(s), with initial observations where applicable.
This wargame series was particularly important for two reasons. First, it explored an operational challenge facing many Western militaries in the current strategic environment where opponents and adversaries are using hybrid threats (i.e., tactics and techniques) to deny traditional Western military freedom of action. However, rather than challenge Western militaries in head-to-head confrontations, these tactics aim to remain below the threshold of open conflict, and create strategic, operational, and/or tactical dilemmas for decision-makers. They blur the line between strategic, operational, and tactical, and exploit situations where tactical decisions/actions have strategic impacts.
Second, it used traditional game mechanics in a unique and innovative way to evaluate and assess IFCs. While the concept of using kriegsspiel and/or matrix wargames by themselves to develop and test concepts, inform decision-making, and validate capability requirements are not new, combining both into a single hybrid wargame is new. The approach described in this article was to execute a modified strategic matrix wargame to assess the outcome of an initial tactical level free kriegsspiel engagement game. Although the key components of a kriegsspiel and matrix game are retained, how they are set up, and how they are used together to approach the problem of assessing IFCs in the gray zone is a unique adaptation of these traditional games.
The following item was written for PAXsims by Darren Green. After a career as a project manager at IBM and Toshiba Labs in the UK, Darren changed track to focus on using games for corporate team-building and more recently, in education. He runs training and educational sessions in the UK through his own business, Crisis Games (http://crisis-games.co.uk/) and is currently hosting an academic project to investigate how well games can communicate issues in climate change.
Why are nation-states finding it so difficult to keep the commitments they signed up to in the Paris Agreement in 2015? What can games/simulations tell us about these difficulties? The problem of climate change has been framed as an example the tragedy of the commons which is made all the more difficult because it has a time horizon that does not fit easily with electoral cycles. It is a problem that involves complex social payoffs situated decades into the future. A large-scale role-play simulation looks like it would be a good tool to provide at least some insight into this.
Watch the Skies is a popular megagame that examines how the geo-politics of the modern world are transformed by the arrival of aliens. As a first approach it might be a good basis for looking at how nations (fail to) address climate change. I tried unplugging the aliens from Watch the Skies and plugging in a climate model (I used the C-Roads model from Climate Interactive’s World Climate Simulation, which is freely available and has been designed as a learning resource for use in role play activities).
The next issue that emerged was that the game needed a sufficiently detailed model of economic activity and CO2 emissions to interface with the parameters of the climate model. At this point it became clear that designing a complete new rule set (rather than adapting Watch the Skies) would be the easiest route. This conclusion was further reinforced by the goal of building a game that could be used in a public engagement setting. Megagames generally require 30 or more players attending the game for 6-7 hours – requirements that don’t mesh well with public engagement opportunities. A game that was playable in around 3 hours and accommodates 10-30 players would be suitable as a side-event at conferences, or in public spaces such as libraries or as an activity to be held in schools or colleges.
After running a few promising play test sessions in 2019, the next year was spent converting the game to online play as pandemic restrictions took hold. While there were many difficulties in making this transition, an online version of the game had some clear advantages. Firstly, it presented an opportunity to run follow-on sessions. It is much easier to start a session where the previous session ended – the game state is maintained digitally, because you don’t need to take down and pack away the game. Playing a follow-on session is a nice way of simulating a change in government administrations. If the players return to take on the same roles in that they held in the previous session then they represent an administration that has held on to power through re-election. If new players take over the roles then that simulates a change of administration.
Secondly, the game left a digital ‘paper trail’ so that the turns could be reconstructed. I have been fascinated with the narrative that tabletop or role-play simulations (wargames and megagames) generate. I have often scribbled copious notes while playing a game (this was before cameras were ubiquitous). However, even with a good set of notes or plentiful photos of counters on hex maps, the full story of the game often proves elusive, and with megagames there are so many different narratives and interactions happening that it is impossible for one person to follow everything. With online versions, reconstructing the narrative becomes much easier; with spreadsheets used to conduct resource allocation, (providing a record of where resources went and their effects) and a record of communication between players left by text messaging it was possible to put together a fairly detailed narrative of the game.
ABOVE: An example of text messaging in the game using a Discord server.
So, I present below a ‘future history’ of the world from 2024 to 2030 based on two game sessions played in November 2020. If you are expecting a dry discussion of various environmental targets then you’ll have to look elsewhere. The game treated the nations in the game as fully-realised states that were able to pursue political agendas through economic or military means and the players took full advantage of this!
Some of the events may seem extraordinary (but I hope, still within the realms of believability); players were briefed with a short summary of national doctrine and key agendas, but they were given some leeway to break from this if they wished to. Also, in common with Matrix games and the megagame format, players were allowed to respond to situations with improvised plans if the rules did not address a strategy or tactic they wanted to employ. Facilitators carefully adjudicated these plans to determine a realistic outcome – a task which the facilitators in the game (Stefan Salva Cruz, Patrick Rose and Glenn Russell) performed outstandingly.
So, we begin the game with the climate change model predicting a mean annual global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. Six nations were played in the game: USA, EU, Russia, China, India and Brazil. There were also three global corporations played (Trans Global, Interprime and Neotech) and a team of players took on the role of the United Nations. If a detailed game write-up is not for you, skip to the end where there is a brief summary of outcomes and concluding remarks.
ABOVE: The climate model at the start of the game
US companies responded enthusiastically to US government tax incentives encouraging investment in Mexico, Venezuela and Columbia.
Brazilian oil companies finalised a deal to exploit oil and gas reserves in and around the Black Sea.
Trans Global corporation rolled out the first of its next-generation solar arrays to be built just outside the Russian city of Sochi. Forecasts suggest that when fully operational it will supply over 80% of the city’s power requirements.
The world’s largest commercial carbon capture plant started operation outside Detroit. The plant is run by an industry consortium backed by the US government.
Paramilitary terrorist attacks against US military bases and corporate buildings across Japan left hundreds dead and many more injured. The US government withdrew all non-essential staff from Japan and advised US citizens to leave. The attacks were conducted by a Japanese nationalist group known as Rising Sun. This group was previously little known to authorities. It is thought to have links with North Korea and credible reports state that the military hardware used in the attacks came from Brazil. The Japanese Prime Minister called a state of emergency and ordered Japanese Defence Force units to patrol the streets.
The forest fire season in California was one of the worst on record. The President ordered federal authorities to address the situation early and provided federal funding. FEMA was able to co-ordinate local, state and federal resources to minimise risks to citizens and property damage.
Wild fires in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy plagued the EU throughout the summer. Local authorities were able to keep on top of the situation through the use of specialised drones which mapped the progress of the fires in real time.
Interprime announced a contract with the Russian government to establish a smart power grid which will intelligently route power to where it is needed. This is predicted to provide 10-20% efficiency savings. Construction of the grid will start near Moscow’s northern suburbs, where Trans Global plan to install another of their advanced solar arrays.
The Brazilian economy suffered severe setbacks. Credit agencies rated Brazilian government and commercial debt as sub-prime. After weeks of riots on the streets of Brazilian cities and unable to attract international investment, the Brazilian President was forced to declare a state of emergency.
The US President announced that Congress had approved funding for two further carbon reduction schemes. Firstly, the nation’s aging nuclear power stations would be upgraded to use next-generation reactors provided by Trans Global. Secondly, after the success of the carbon capture plant at Detroit, new plants would be opening outside Atlanta, Portland and Sacramento.
The French President and German Chancellor announced a programme of EU-sponsored joint stock ventures with firms in North and South Korea. The scheme is intended to encourage further progress on Korean re-unification, applying the experience gained from the successful re-unification of Germany in the 1990s.
Pakistan revealed the deployment of an armoured brigade fielding Neotech’s autonomous combat vehicles. These vehicles can be driven remotely and can also switch to a fully autonomous mode in which the onboard computer will make kill decisions without human intervention. The vehicles were manufactured at the Neotech plant outside Sao Paulo in Brazil and were supplied on the basis of ongoing Brazilian defence contracts.
The Indian Prime Minister reacted to Pakistan’s military deployment by declaring a state of emergency and ordering an the Parachute Regiment and Gurkha Rifles to the border. The UN reminded the world of the dangers of conflict between these two nuclear-armed nations and called for de-escalation. When asked for comment, the Brazilian President’s Office said that they expected to receive a large order for Neotech’s autonomous combat vehicles from India shortly.
Japan was devastated by the worst typhoons in living memory. Aid was swiftly provided by the international community under leadership of the US. The death toll was finally tallied at several thousand.
A series of international climate summits hosted by China ended with world leaders announcing a world-wide tax on the use of fossil fuels burned for vehicle fuel or commercial power generation. The stock of major petrochemical companies dropped sharply.
China stunned the global community by bringing in emergency laws to restrict all commercial activities linked with foreign exports or investments. Veteran China-watchers had warned about this as internal divisions in the Chinese Communist Party had emerged at the last Party Congress. It appears the hard-line nationalist stance advocated by the Premier with the backing of the General Secretary has won the day. Chinese companies with export contracts or linked with significant foreign investment have been told they will need to apply for special licenses in order to continue their business.
Japanese companies with links to China were in desperate efforts to try and reposition themselves. China’s new stance on exports, combined with the domestic Japanese terror threat and higher than expected typhoon damage claims has meant that analysts regard the huge Japanese government debt as no-longer sustainable.
Markets turned favourably towards Russia’s economy, which appears to have successfully pivoted away from dependence on gas and oil exports towards a high-tech, green future.
The Saudi air force conducted air strikes on Yemen’s coastal cities. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran very quickly ramped up and small scale border conflicts threatened to break out across the region. Violent unrest was reported in cities throughout the Middle East.
Social media was flooded with memes drawn from the 1980s film ‘Robocop’ as Brazilian military officials and Neotech executives showed off the paramilitary version of the autonomous combat vehicles that have been deployed in India and Pakistan. Neotech announced that orders for these vehicles have already been received from South African police departments and Chinese government security forces.
The US President announced that he had signed an order to decommission 25% of US coal and gas-fired power stations. These power stations, situated mainly along the east coast of the USA are some of the oldest plants and significantly contribute to the USA’s carbon emissions.
China maintained a nationwide state of emergency. The government announced that emergency measures were needed to deal with the series of storms which were predicted to hit China this year. Analysts suggested that emergency measures were more likely being kept in place to handle potential civil unrest as the Chinese economy endures a huge downturn due to plummeting exports.
The Russian President opened a section of smart highway running parallel to the M11 from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Neotech robotic vehicles will run along the roads, powered by electricity provided by Trans Global arrays and intelligently channelled by Interprime power networking to where it is needed.
Trans Global corporation announced that on the back of its successful re-commissioning of US reactors, it has been invited by the Russian government to conduct a feasibility study to assess whether reactors used in its submarine and icebreaker fleets can be re-purposed for domestic power generation.
The Chinese Premier opened a Trans Global solar array outside of Shanghai. Trans Global shares surged on the news that its solar arrays had been successfully deployed in a second nation.
The Brazilian President once again declared a state of emergency after a series of riots in Brazilian cities. Police and military units were seen patrolling the streets along with Neotech’s autonomous vehicles. A film crew claimed to have recorded the first purposeful killing of a human by artificial intelligence.
The Russian President said that trials of its new space plane (built by Trans Global) were successful and would allow it to take cargo to low earth orbit at a fraction of the cost of traditional rocket delivery. The President announced that in partnership with Trans Global, Russia would focus on landing cosmonauts on the moon as the first step to establishing a base there. Trans Global shares were down 30% at one point as investors dumped the stock, worried about the corporation being involved in such a risky and expensive venture.
The United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment peacekeeping forces along various contested border regions in the Middle-east. The US would provide the majority of the forces but France, Germany and Russia would provide contingents for deployment in areas which were too sensitive for the deployment of US personnel.
The IPCC released a report showing average global temperature rise by 2100 is predicted to be 2.6 degrees. While progress in addressing climate change was praised, it was pointed out that a temperature rise of 2.6 degrees would lead to a 90cm sea level rise by 2100. This would threaten the existence of low lying cities such as New York and London, as well as entire nations such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh.
Australia endured one of the worst droughts on record as it entered the height of the summer.
In response to Russia’s announcement of a space programme to land a cosmonaut on the moon, the US President announced that the Artemis mission to return US astronauts to the moon would be restarted. Artemis was originally scheduled for blast off in 2024, but had been postponed and eventually put on hold due to funding difficulties.
UN aid camps were set up in Oman to take in refugees from Yemen, where the short war has left widespread property destruction and displaced thousands.
A new government was elected in India on a platform of combating corruption.
A new Chinese Premier and General Secretary of the Communist Party were appointed, suggesting the isolationist stance of China may be softening.
The outgoing UN Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General received the Nobel Peace Prize for their extremely quick reaction to tensions in the Middle East. The prize committee suggested that their action prevented further widespread conflagrations in the area.
Trans Global landed a survey rover on the moon to gather geological data with a view to assessing the location as a site for a manned base.
A UN sponsored peace conference between Pakistan and India continued throughout the year. One of the reasons for the talks taking so long was that the Indian representatives were plagued by accusations of corruption in the Indian press and were continually being replaced by the Prime Minister due to his zero-tolerance policy on corruption.
Trans Global announced that it would be making a revolutionary solar-powered stove available in India. It would be cheap enough for villagers to afford and supply eco-friendly heating in areas where power is unreliable.
Interprime announced plans for smart power grids in Brazil, Poland, Hungary, north-eastern USA and northern India. Construction work had already begun in Brazil and India and was scheduled to begin next year in the other locations.
Trans Global’s line of solar powered jewelry has become the sensation of fashion shows around the globe. The corporation reported that budget versions of the jewelry would be available for consumers later this year. Trans Global’s shares reached an all-time high.
A Category 5 storm hit the Philippines. The USA, China and India all pledged aid, but it was slow to arrive and was too little to address the effects of the widespread destruction in the wake of the storm. Analysts predicted that the Philippines’ fragile economy will be severely challenged due to the level of destruction.
China’s credit rating was upgraded to AA as it emerged from a state of emergency. Its economy recovered from the huge drop in exports to the west and benefitted from a revitalised domestic and regional economy. The Chinese government has also signed into law requirements on business to use of low-carbon power sources.
NASA announced that the launch of the Artemis manned mission to the moon would be pushed back to 2032 due to funding being held back by Congress. There was no mention of the Russian plan to land a cosmonaut on the moon and experts predicted that any such mission is at least a decade away.
UN peacekeepers supplied by the USA took up position on the Indian-Pakistan border.
The Russian President announced the opening of the city of Neo Kaliningrad. Although only a small portion of the city centre has been constructed, the ‘smart city’ will interface directly with the technologies supplied by Trans Global, Neotech and Interprime to reduce the environmental footprint of its inhabitants.
Russia announced the establishment of a second smart city: Neo Novosibirsk. The President explained in a long and detailed press session that the city would welcome climate refugees. There were rumours that the Russian General Staff had attempted to persuade the President against any invitation of refugees to Russia, warning that it would be difficult to maintain the integrity of the Russian huge land border. Shortly after the President’s speech, some of the General Staff were reported to be on secondment at remote military bases in Siberia.
Neotech assisted India in setting up a network of drones to monitor flooding risks and anti-flood measures in anticipation of a heavy monsoon season.
China allowed its currency to float freely and the markets took to it enthusiastically. Many institutions holding dollars reduced their exposure to the US currency and bought the Yuan. The US economy faltered as the dollar collapsed and a huge inflationary shock hit home. Credit rating agencies upgraded China to AAA, and downgraded the US to AA.
There was a military coup in Latvia as senior army generals took control of the civilian government, accusing it of losing sight of the ‘Russian threat’. Latvian citizens were called up and there were reports of tanks and artillery heading to the Russian border.
China announced that all of its coal-fired power plants would be closed down in the next two decades and no new permits for coal-fired power plants would be issued. China is now widely seen as the global leader in decarbonising its economy.
War broke out after a decade of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia appeared to be using Brazilian-made weapons and armoured vehicles.
The US President declared a state of emergency as rioting broke out in cities along the East coast and in the Mid-west. Falling living standards were seen to be the main driver of the unrest with US inflation running at more than 10%. Order gradually returned after several weeks of the National Guard patrolling the streets of major cities.
ABOVE: The climate model at the end of the game
While the game broadly accomplished its goals, there are a couple of areas of the design that need reviewing. Firstly, player feedback indicated that the briefing materials and mechanics should focus more on addressing climate change. While players appreciated the broad scope of actions available to them and the realistic pressure of balancing economics and political agendas against climate change mitigation, they felt that the climate challenges needed to be presented to players much more clearly to facilitate negotiations about them.
Secondly, while the C-ROADS climate model is scientifically based and peer reviewed, the interface between the model and the game is arbitrary. The amount of resources that a nation must spend to achieve a certain change in the model parameters has been adjusted over a number of play tests to broadly reflect expected real-world effects. The same is true of the effects of various sustainable technologies that the corporations in the game can roll out. This is very much more an exercise in empirical testing and game design rather than a scientific exercise and the numbers and game mechanics used must be reviewed to ensure that they broadly match what is observed in the real world.
I believe the game narrative presents a credible version of future events. The predicted global temperature rise remaining stubbornly above 2 degrees for the duration of the 2020s is sadly all too believable. Although there were many economic and political distractions for the players, it should still be noted that reducing the predicted temperature rise by 0.5 degrees in 7 years is no mean feat!
One pattern that emerged was that the nations in general focussed on how they could reduce their own carbon emissions rather than looking at the big picture. This resulted in China and Russia making huge progress in switching to sustainable power but their CO2 emissions were then ‘exported’ to other regions of the world (South-east Asia, Korea and Eastern Europe) where cheaper (fossil fuelled) power was still available. So while China and Russia’s reduction of CO2 emissions in the game look praiseworthy if viewed in isolation, overall global emissions remained stubbornly high.
Special mentions should be given to the USA team which took a globalist perspective and was instrumental in solving many of the issues that cropped up, only be crushed in the final turns by China’s push for economic dominance; to the EU team, who realised that using their economic power to support other developed and developing nations to transition to sustainable power generated much bigger reductions of CO2 emissions than if they devoted all of their resources to their own carbon-reduction schemes; to the India team who put India on a firm footing to sustainable development and were winning their war on corruption; and to Brazil team who explored many interesting (and somewhat disruptive) ways to extract themselves from Brazil’s many difficulties.
With grateful thanks to all the players and facilitators.
Darren Green, Crisis Games
[I am currently working on a new version of the game that addresses much of the player feedback from the game described above and preparing it for face-to-face play when that becomes possible. If you would like to be involved in testing/playing the new version please email me at: email@example.com]
 In fact, I first ran a version of Watch the Skies where the aliens were intent on persuading nations to adapt to sustainable technology and cleaning up excess CO2. Of course, it was extremely difficult for the nations to figure out whether the alien technology was helping with climate change or terraforming the Earth ready for alien overlords to take residence. It was entertaining, but probably had too many complicating factors to try and realistically examine the geo-politics of climate change.
The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Hubert Brychczyński, Łukasz Jarząbek, Nicole Arbour, and Brendan James Frank.More on the Arctic Future simulation can be found at their website.
Let us travel to 2035. According to scientists, the Arctic is going to become ice-free by the end of the decade. Vessels will soon start rushing there, enticed by the promise of year-round sailing opportunities. An international organization, called the Arctic League, safeguards the region’s future development while balancing economic, societal, and environmental considerations… This is the premise to the Arctic Future simulation, which was presented during the Canadian Science Policy Conference in 2020. Coincidentally, 2020 was also the second hottest year in recorded history. With global ice reserves melting at a record rate of 1.2 trillion tons per year, we can see how the trends that inspired the simulation play out before our eyes.
Science-policy simulations are a type of social simulations. The easiest way of thinking about the social simulation is to picture it as an interactive, multiplayer role-playing game. Run either offline or online, it recreates – or simulates – the dynamics of a complex, real-world system by using game elements, such as problem cards, pictures, tokens, boards, etc. Social simulations focus on the social aspect – the freedom of each individual to make their own decisions and explore possible options in interaction with other players and within the simulated reality.
Social simulations belong to a broader category of tools that use mechanisms known from games for purposes other than entertainment. The oldest kind of such tools are strategy games used for military purposes. In the 20th century, wargaming techniques became more and more often applied to non-military contexts. The beginnings of this change can be traced back to World War II, when the approach to wargaming shifted from “rehearsing for war” to “simulation gaming as a (…) method for military policy and planning” (Mayer, 2009, p. 827). It was in that time that applied mathematics and engineering started to inform military strategy development more prominently. This led to the establishment of operations research, a discipline used for military planning in the US, which laid the foundation for the emergence of systems analysis and policy analysis. Called “decision sciences”, the two disciplines started to apply various kinds of gaming methods to non-military contexts, for example to urban and social planning, health care, economy, and more. As a result, such methods as policy gaming, simulation games, planning games, policy exercises, serious games and others were developed to address challenges in different fields.
Social simulation approach was heavily influenced by the abovementioned traditions, combining them with a strong role-playing and performative aspect. It puts emphasis on combining learning through direct experience (Kolb, 2015) with social learning – “a process of iterative reflection that occurs when we share our experiences, ideas and environments with others” (Keen et al., 2005, p. 9). This process of learning is possible because social simulations involve participants with different experiences, types of expertise, and worldviews, who impersonate different roles within the simulation – for example ones in research, administration, business, and NGOs. Within the safe confines of the simulation, they can jointly discuss problems, devise strategies, propose solutions, and diffuse tensions through negotiating and debating. They can also implement the potential solutions and see them play out right away in the condensed environment of the simulation.
Science-policy simulations build on social simulation approach, adding to it an extended narrative layer. The participants take on the roles of different policy makers, scientists, activists, and business people. They face a series of dramatic events. While this storyline unfolds, the participants work in different thematic groups to respond to the changing situation. The storyline is presented using a series of professionally-made videos, news articles, social media accounts, and other materials, such as maps or infographics. The storyline is always created based on available scientific data on the subject matter and consulted with experts from the field. Such crafted simulation allows the participants to gaze into the future and explore how to use the available scientific knowledge to craft better policies to address upcoming problems – and how to conduct research to produce results that will be actionable to support such policies.
The Arctic Future Policy Simulation
The Arctic Future Simulation was prepared for the Canadian Science Policy Conference 2020 in collaboration between Centre for Systems Solutions, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa. It was created based upon the Cascading Climate Impacts simulation that was developed within the CASCADES project.
Building on the premise of a future ice-free Arctic, the simulation explores possible challenges and tensions anticipated to arise in the region with regards to international trade routes and security. Participants, assuming the roles of high officials from Arctic countries, negotiate and vote on a treaty that regulates economic, social, and environmental issues in the region. The debate, revolving around trade routes, extra fees, and marine environment, is interrupted by a series of unexpected, narrative interludes – like news about the blockade of Suez and Panama canal.
The design process of such simulation requires close collaboration between a core team of game designers, researchers, writers, filmmakers, and graphic designers, and external subject matter experts. The first step is to prepare a plausible scenario of chains of events based on available literature and expert knowledge. After a few iterations and consultations, we turned it then into a draft storyline. In parallel, we selected the organizations to be included in the simulation (national ministries, business organizations, Indigenous People’s organizations, NGOs, citizen initiatives) – and then created a detailed matrix of negotiation positions for each role, with an emphasis on conflicting values and interests. Iterating the whole process allowed us to reach the desired interplay between the gameplay and narrative layer.
Striking the right balance between the exploratory function and narrative immersion was the biggest challenge in making the simulation. After all, the purpose of social simulations is to imitate a system as closely as possible and offer the participants a testing ground for problem-solving. On the other hand, the storyline had to be attractive and well-paced to keep the participants curious about what will happen next. This meant that we had to make the narrative as dramatic as possible while staying true to the scientific background it was based upon. We found this tension between the need for representing real-world systems plausibly and for incorporating fictional elements both challenging and fascinating.
Ultimately, the simulation was successful. In after-game surveys, the participants not only reported the representation of reality as plausible but the experience as immersive and engaging thanks to the surprising narrative elements. What’s more, they felt like actual diplomats, learning about difficult diplomacy concepts in the heat of the moment.
In our increasingly interconnected world, the need for close collaboration between science, policy, and society is only expected to grow. Science-policy simulations are a promising tool for mediating this collaboration. They offer stakeholders a safe and life-like testing ground for exploring difficult issues before facing them in reality. Moreover, such simulations are highly adaptable and applicable in many diverse contexts and environments, both offline and online. So far, the Arctic Future simulation alone has been successfully deployed two times already. Cascading Climate Impacts – the simulation it was based upon – was also used two times, with more workshops to come in 2021. Needless to say, we plan to continue delivering such narrative science-policy simulations in the future.
Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.
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Duke, R. D., & Geurts, J. L. (2004). Policy Games for Strategic Management: Pathways to the Unknown West Lafayette, IN.
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Susi, T., Johannesson, M., & Backlund, P. (2007). Serious games: An overview.
Caffrey, M. B. (2019). On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Vol. 43). Naval War College Press.
Wilkinson, P. (2016). A brief history of serious games. Entertainment computing and serious games, 17-41.
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About the Authors
Hubert Brychczyński is a Content Writer at the Centre for Systems Solutions. By night, he doubles as an English teacher and translator – the latter with a focus on visual arts, such as graphic novels and films. A graduate of The School of English at Adam Mickiewicz University, he loves the written word, storytelling, and science communication.
Łukasz Jarząbek is a Senior Game Designer at the Centre for Systems Solutions. He worked on social simulations and serious games in different fields, including disaster risk management, resilience, cultural and natural heritage, climate change, cultural theory, and business sustainability. He is interested in using experiential methods such as games and simulations to aid co-production of knowledge and bridging scientists and stakeholders.
Dr. Nicole Arbour is the External Relations Manager at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), where she plays an active role in building and maintaining relationships with IIASAs national member organisations (NMOs). She is passionate about the science-to-policy interface, evidence-based decision making, and science diplomacy. She holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Ottawa.
Brendan Frank is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) at the University of Ottawa, currently serving as Interim Research Director. He hosts the ISSP’s new podcast, Disruption Discovered. His training is in science (Bachelor’s in Environmental Science, Queen’s University) and public policy (Master’s in Public Policy, University of Calgary), and he possesses strong research and knowledge mobilisation experience in the public, private and civic sectors
At the start of the wargame, the students received an order with three mandates. First, they were tasked to secure the town as quickly as possible. Second, U.S. and coalition casualties were to be kept to a minimum. Third, students had to comply with strict rules of engagement, including stringent limitations on civilian casualties. None of these demands were surprising, at least initially. Political pressure to achieve military objectives rapidly and with minimal casualties is hardly new. Minimizing civilian suffering maintains coalitions, undergirds military ethics and the profession of arms, and is central to the just war idea. To accomplish the mission, students were provided a variety of military forces and weapons, ranging from special forces to cruise missiles.
Through a series of injects, students faced immediate operational dilemmas that raised legal questions and, in due time, presented challenges to the legitimacy of U.S. and coalition actions. Students quickly ascertained that, as several put it, “I can get you two, ma’am, but not all three mandates.” Students were required to assess the legal, operational, and policy issues and brief the joint force commander accordingly. To be clear, none of the options were close to ideal. Each time the coalition attacked a target, the results were immediately captured on video and broadcast to the world. For example, when the game started, students learned that the Islamic State was operating its main command and control node deep inside the city’s only hospital. As designed, the students wrestled with whether and how attacking the hospital would be legal once the Islamic State was using it for military purposes, as well as the accompanying moral and operational considerations. To start, the target could be destroyed with minimal coalition casualties with a large air-delivered ordnance. However, this decision would increase the prospect of civilian deaths. Alternatively, the students could recommend a ground assault on the hospital to neutralize the command and control node, limiting civilian casualties but increasing the risk to coalition forces. Most students asked for more time and intelligence reports, but the joint force commander reminded them of the time pressure imposed by Washington. Students would have to make a timely decision, as they would in the real world, in the absence of complete information….
The following report has been prepared for PAXsims by Nadya Hajj, Associate Professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Wellesley College. She has a new book, Networked Refugees: Palestinian Reciprocity and Remittances in the Digital Age (University of California Press) coming out in Fall 2021.
In the Fall 2020 academic semester I launched into teaching a remote digital course, Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at Wellesley College. The course explores critical issues in the politics of the MENA and draws from the literature in Peace and Justice studies to consider practical strategies for transforming political conflict in different state systems and among different groups across the region.
Specifically, the class is tasked with exploring a variety of violent (terrorism/coups/violent protest) and non-violent strategies (political humor, peaceful protest, civil society groups) vis a vis Curle and Dugan’s (1982) classic model of conflict transformation. The Curle and Dugan model is concerned with how to transform unpeaceful relations into peaceful ones. Unpeaceful relations are ones in which either or both parties are damaged possibly through physical violence but also economic or psychological ones. Like Galtung (1969) suggests, unpeaceful conditions are marked by structural violence, where one’s potential is curtailed due to broader socio-economic forces. In contrast, peaceful spaces are collaborative spaces where people, with the help of others, realize their own potential. When there is a high level of awareness and parity among the suffering and those that might help then you are likely to find peaceful spaces (Dugan and Curle 1982).Awareness refers not only to whether the parties involved know of the suffering of the aggrieved, but also the degree to which parties are aware of its sources and the possibilities for addressing the situation. Parity considers the balance of power among those that are suffering and those that might help. In latent conflict, the suffering of others, their needs, and potential pathways for remedying them are “hidden” usually because there is a low level of awareness and a great disparity between those suffering and those with control or access to valuable resources (Curle and Dugan 1982). Understanding and deploying strategies that enhance parity and awareness are key learning objectives in my classroom.
Of course, through readings and class Zoom discussions we evaluated the costs and benefits of different strategies. One thing that I noticed is that many people, not just passionate young college students, often argue that bolder (and sometimes) violent strategies are more effective than subtler forms of resistance because they are, theoretically, more likely to raise awareness and tip the balance of power such that communities can transform structural conditions of repression that underpin the suffering of many. Certainly, these bold strategies may bring about dramatic shifts in political systems if they are successful. However, the cost in terms of human suffering when they fail or only partially succeed is often difficult for students to comprehend in the safety of our anodyne classroom setting. I encourage students to consider the human implications when such movements fail and share digital talks, for example, from the few Syrian dissidents that survived prisons in Syria like those of Omar Alshogre. Still, it is hard to teach this perspective shift of theoretical versus human implications of particular strategies through traditional readings and lectures.
Simulations offer a chance to shift perspective and prompt students to learn through experience. It has been found that simulations and game-based learning promote skill acquisition, knowledge retention, attitudinal change, support the understanding of new concepts and ideas, shape behavior, and improve context-based problem solving (Klabber, 2003; Mateas 2003; Prensky 2001; Ricci, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 1996). In particular, Stevens and Fisher (2020) find that, “serious games have the capacity to help humanitarian students more deeply understand and critically engage with important issues. Experiential Learning Theory and Situated Learning Theory help explain why this is the case. According to Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), individuals learn most from direct experience, active participation, and visible feedback on the consequences of their actions. Situated Learning Theory (SLT) likewise suggests that people learn better when placed in authentic contexts to perform actions that parallel real world tasks, interacting with others and applying knowledge.”
In my classroom, I wanted students to experience a shift in perspective that simulations could offer so that they might consider the true costs and benefits of particular conflict transformation strategies in the Middle East. The catastrophic Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020 provided a current and critical real-world case for student learning to do just that. Students were “dropped into” Lebanon just moments after the explosion. The simulation was introduced with a description of what the explosion felt like for residents in Beirut. Borrowing from Jaddaliya’s excellent reporting, I shared:
The date is August 4, 2020 and the time is 6:05pm. The place is Beirut, Lebanon. In the midst of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 pandemic, the Lebanese economy is weakened by a financial meltdown that has wiped out life savings and reduced the purchasing power of most segments of society to mere survival, threatened by the scarcity of food items, and frightened by rising levels of poverty now estimated at fifty percent by the World Bank. Just moments ago an explosion rocked the port of Beirut.
Sisters Yasmine and Rhola Khayat described the moment of the blast in their Beirut family apartment, “Still gripping my mobile, I felt the floor become jelly as I watched my cat dash maniacally into the furthest corner underneath my bed, not to emerge for a full twenty-four hours. Rola burst into the hallway screaming, “Did you feel the earthquake?” Then the entire house shook, our window screens, false ceilings, and door hinges blowing out. Even the laptop went sailing through the air as plumes of fluorescent pink nitric acid blanketed the sky (Khayat and Khayat 2020).”
Furthermore they shared, “reports began to trickle in that it was the result of sheer negligence—2,750 explosive tons of negligence, epitomizing the abyss that catalyzed the peoples’ collective rage against rampant corruption last October—and all that remains of that chapter. An accidental spark caused by fireworks, they say, catalyzed the ammonium nitrate dumped for years in the port, into an indescribable fireworks display. “Fireworks,” Theodor Adorno writes, ‘are apparitions par excellence.’ The humanitarian crime of neglecting 2,750 tons of explosive materials for six years in the heart of Beirut criminalizes the ineptitude of the government that cost people’s lives, livelihoods, and sense of being, to go up into apparitional smoke (Khayat and Khayat 2020).”
Students were pre assigned groups (4 groups of roughly 5 students each) and instructed with the following tasks:
Your team constitutes a Lebanese civil society group that just experienced the explosion and your members are knowledgeable of the unfolding crises that precipitated this cataclysmic event. You have also trained in conflict transformation strategies. You are tasked with developing a strategy that transforms this catastrophic moment of suffering into a path forward that realizes greater justice and peace for Lebanon. You must use your skill set and share your strategy (an executive summary and a power point presentation) with other groups. Your plan will be assessed by other civil society groups (i.e. classmates) and tough to please outside experts (i.e. Prof. Hajj and several Wellesley alumnae currently working in the policy, humanitarian, and think tank sphere in America and the Middle East).
Students were incredibly creative in crafting civil society group names, logos, and even websites. They did extensive research on community needs and existing resources available to communities in Beirut. They were conscientious of the need to develop horizontal and lateral relationships among sectarian groups, cognizant of deep histories of mistrust rooted in the decades long civil war. One group contacted a startup tech company that provides mobile WiFi units in disaster zones (the company has already piloted projects in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria) to assess the possibility of adapting technologies to various neighborhoods in Beirut. They crafted superb power points and generated well-argued and clearly stated executive summaries. Students spoke of their strategies with professionalism and compassion. They were self-aware about the potential limits and pitfalls of their plans. I was truly astounded at their teamwork and commitment in the midst of a difficult remote semester during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Upon reflection, I believe the simulation went well for three main reasons:
I led the class through a variety of readings and lectures in the weeks prior to the simulation that provided a strong base of book knowledge about Lebanon’s political history and the theoretical arguments for how and why social capitol and civil society groups work to transform communities toward more peaceful situations. Students had a solid foundation from which they could iterate and create.
Prior to the simulation, students interacted with a Wellesley alumna from Lebanon that is pursuing her PhD in advanced spatial mapping and recently co-founded a civil society organization called “OpenMapLebanon.” She gave insight into what it was like in Lebanon during and after the explosion- from sweeping broken shards of glass to using her anger to mobilize others for justice. She spent almost two hours of class time providing real time knowledge of what is happening in Lebanon and fielded questions. Her presence and participation created a more authentic context for the simulation to unfold.
Finally, students were given tough but constructive feedback from Wellesley alumnae working in related policy and think tank fields in America and the Middle East.
Students left the simulation feeling like they had a firm grasp of Lebanese politics, knowledge of specific historic events, and most critically, a sobering view of the “real world” benefits and drawbacks of using civil society groups to transform conflict and injustice. In a final project evaluation, one student shared: “Working with my teammates in a safe but high stress time limited situation forced me to really consider efficient, resilient, and realistic solutions to an emergency crisis. It was fun to work creatively with others and to stress test all these theories we encountered in readings. Having tough outside feedback from alumnae working in the real world made me feel like it was a realistic assessment of our projects. I don’t think I will ever forget the assignment.” Though the preparation and run time of the simulation meant students did not get to all the topics one could study about the MENA region, I firmly believe the students left with a renewed perspective and lifelong learning experience that will inform their knowledge of the Middle East and conflict transformation strategies for many years to come.