PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: ICRC

simulations miscellany, 12 November 2013

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Some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that might be of interest to our readers:

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck asks “Should You Be Allowed to Use Chemical Weapons in a Video Game?

Your next Call of Duty game might be a bit less colorful — or less ethically challenged — if the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has its way. 

The ICRC is now asking video game publishers to incorporate the laws of war into their games. The organization makes clear that it is not calling for a ban on violence in video games, nor does it consider — contrary to earlier reports in 2011 — that war crimes in video games equate to real crimes. But it does want games to penalize players for violating the laws of war. “The ICRC is suggesting that as in real life, these games should include virtual consequences for people’s actions and decisions,” notes the Red Cross website. “Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes.”

The ICRC fears that the next generation of soldiers will have their notions of ethical battlefield behavior shaped by video games. “Certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” the organization says. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behavior.” Such virtual behavior includes “the use of torture, particularly in interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of prisoners or the wounded, attacks on medical personnel, facilities, and transport such as ambulances, or that anyone on the battlefield can be killed.”

How widespread the problem is can be seen in an article on game site Gameranx, which identified 10 egregious cases of war crimes in video games, such as executing wounded prisoners in Call of Duty 2, genocide in Gears of War 3, and using torture against captives in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

But the ICRC is not calling for removing war crimes from games, on the grounds that including them is actually educational, allowing players to make the same difficult choices that real combatants face. “We do not suggest that games be sanitized of all illegal acts,” ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett said in an email to Foreign Policy. “Also, games must remain fun and challenging. A boring game is of little interest to the players, to the manufacturers or to us. We would prefer that players not be required to commit illegal acts to move to another level or be rewarded in some other way.”

For previous discussion of this issue at PAXsims, see here and here.

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Can a wargame spark a real war? It has long been known that a 1983 NATO military exercise named “Able Archer” caused some in the Soviet Union to fear an impending surprise attack. An article in The Observer reports on further evidence of how dangerous this all became:

Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.

Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Archer, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.

When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.

The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.

“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.

“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”

The Observer piece doesn’t really add anything we didn’t know, however—indeed, there is even a Wikipedia entry on the exercise. It also doesn’t mention the glitch in the Soviet early warning system that, on 26 September 1983, gave a false warning of a US nuclear missile launch against the USSR. Fortunately the Soviet officer on duty at the time violated protocol and waited for further evidence, rather than immediately passing on the warning to already nervous superiors.

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Wondering how Bayesian inference can help you understand Iranian nuclear negotiations with the P5+1? Harry Hale discusses the issue at Arms Control Wonk:

Life can be modeled as a tree of future events with branches that will be realized with different probabilities.  Each branch can be thought of as forked paths in the forest.  Each branch in the past or the future relates to other branches.

Bayesian inference offers a method to relate the conditional probability of a certain branch to the probabilities of other branches.  This can be a useful tool in improving the odds of achieving a desired result.  I have applied such a tool to the Iranian nuclear negotiating portfolio, looking at the situation from the perspective of the P5+1 negotiation team (a tree created from Iran’s perspective would have different nodes and primary goals).  It is simple in concept, yet surprising in results.  This tool, which I have modeled in Excel spreadsheet form, can help to realize the implications of various decisions on the ultimate outcome: an Iran with or without “the Bomb.”

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In a forthcoming article in International Studies Perspectives, Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç, and Teri Murphy discuss “Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus.”

This article reviews experiences from a large-scale student simulation, which concluded the Istanbul Conference on Mediation: Enhancing Peace through Mediation that took place in February 2012. We share insights on two unique aspects of the simulation. First, the paper examines a rare case where the simulation crossed paths with real life: a number of the impersonated officials (and offices) including the president of the General Assembly of the UN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and the Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs were in the audience and shared their impressions. Second, the setup of the simulation was more complex than its typical in-class counterparts. Our insights from this multi-day, multi-stage, and multi-issue simulation can inform colleagues who plan to run larger scale simulations. Besides sharing experiences on a number of logistical points, we especially draw attention to the constructive role facilitators can play in augmenting the learning benefits accruing to the students from simulations.

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Coming soon to PAXsims: a review of another volume in GMT Games “COIN series,” Cuba Libre.

Should the rules of war be included in computer games?

As the BBC reports, the International Committee of the Red Cross would like video game manufacturers to make their games more compliant with international humanitarian law:

The Red Cross wants to have a greater influence in the virtual world of battlefields.

The aid organisation is arguing that as virtual war games are becoming close to reality, the rules of war should be included.

It claims games such as Medal of Honour, or Call of Duty should make sure that actions which could be war crimes are not rewarded with victory in a virtual battle.

In the report, Bohemia Interactive—maker of the Arma series of realistic first-person shooters—notes that they have already have in-game penalties for inappropriate use of force. (Many of the scenarios in the Arma series also deal with stabilization operations, humanitarian intervention, and similar issues.)

For previous PAXsims coverage of this issue see:

 

 

simulations miscellany, 3 August 2013

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Some recent simulations-related items that may be of interest to our readers.

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AFP recently featured a report on humanitarian training simulations, and the role they can play in preparing humanitarian workers for growing challenges in the field:

Go, go!” shouts a soldier at five Red Cross aid workers crammed into a 4×4 truck speeding into the woods as explosions go off nearby, sending up plumes of white smoke.

The scene feels menacing and real. But it is in fact taking place far from an actual battlefield and just a stone’s throw from a city renowned for its international peace efforts, in one of the safest countries on the planet.

Welcome to Alpesia, an imaginary land created by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 15 years ago in the woods of Geneva. Here the Sequane Liberation Front rebels are facing off against the authorities in a “conflict” tailored to teach new aid workers how to face the increasingly dangerous world they will soon be ushered into.

Nearly 200 participants, who have to be between 25 and 35 years old, pass the simulation test each year before joining a profession where armed attacks, kidnappings and hospital bombings are becoming ever more prevalent.

In the Swiss woods, they get a taste for what life could be like on mission: military checkpoints, visits to destroyed hospitals and a refugee camp — all within eight days of practical and theoretical training.

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The New York Times (2 August 2013) has a long report on “The Dog-Eat-Dog World of Model UN.”

 This is not F.D.R.’s Model United Nations, that rigid simulation of General Assembly protocol and decorum. Conferences like this one in Philadelphia, hosted by the club at Penn, have turned MUN, as it’s called, into a full-fledged sport, with all the competitiveness and rowdiness that suggests. Today, there are official sponsors, a ranking of schools and, much to the chagrin of traditionalists, non-U.N. role play.

MUN’s roots are older than the United Nations itself. In 1927, Harvard invited nine colleges to a simulation of the League of Nations, nearly a decade after that body’s creation in the wake of the First World War. Today, anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 high school and college students in this country attend Model U.N. each year, according to the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

In classic MUN, students represent the positions and values of assigned countries, adhering to official protocols when speaking, negotiating and drafting resolutions. Consensus is important, and the process of arriving at innovative solutions to global problems the goal. That is still the prevailing model. But a new breed of Model U.N., popular among student-run clubs at elite universities, has a distinctly different philosophy. Their “crisis committees” focus on a single historical event (the 1929 Atlantic City conference of crime bosses, for example) and fantasy recreations (“Star Wars,” “Harry Potter”). Participants battle it out in four-day conferences in hopes of winning a coveted gavel, awarded to the strongest member on each committee, and schools with the most “best delegates” top the new rankings.

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HGWellsThe BBC (2 August 2013) offers a look at “Little Wars: How HG Wells created hobby war gaming,”

It is a century since HG Wells published the first proper set of rules for hobby war games. There’s a hardcore of gamers who are still playing by his code.

Pine tips are stuck in the grass to represent trees. Roads are laid out with trails of compost.

This is the Battle of Gettysburg, with Union soldiers on one side and Confederates on the other. But the soldiers of this new Gettysburg are 54mm (2in) tall and mostly made of plastic.

The battle is taking place between a group of enthusiasts in a garden at Sandhurst military academy under the rules of Little Wars, devised by HG Wells in 1913.

War was then looming in Europe and Little Wars was both an expression of Wells’s passion for toy soldiers and to his fears over the coming slaughter. The science fiction author even believed that war games could change attitudes.

“You only have to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be,” wrote Wells.

But this is looked on with disapproval by some modern war gamers, who prefer theoretical bombardments worked out with distance tables.

Phil Barker, a celebrated deviser of modern games, acknowledges Wells’s role in “showing it could be done – and giving grown men an excuse to play with toy soldiers”.

But he adds: “Combat was based on shooting solid projectiles at the figures. Today, this would be discouraged because of the risk of someone getting a projectile in the eye, but it was the chance of damage to the finish of lovingly home-painted figures that led to the switch to less lethal dice.”

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Given both  continued Sino-Japanese suspicions stretching back to before WWII and continued territorial disputes between the two countries over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands/Tiaoyutai/Pinnacle islands—what you call them depends on which claim you are advancing—it is hardly surprising that they have become the subject of a video game. According to The Diplomat (2 August 2013):

 Chinese video game, designed in part by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and originally intended as a training tool for soldiers, allows gamers to engage in all-out war against foreign enemies. An early version of Glorious Mission generated a fair share of controversy when it appeared to pit virtual soldiers against the U.S. military.

Today, a more recent version of theCall of Duty clone received an update, containing a new mission – a siege of the contested Diaoyu Islands – a move that embodies China’s shifting of aggression from America to its Asian neighbor and past colonizer, Japan.

Disputed islands between China and Japan have become the centerpiece of diplomatic tension in Asia. Called the Diaoyu Islands by China and the Senkaku Islands by Japan, bitter territorial disputes over ownership of the rocky outcroppings have sparked mass protests in both countries. Chinese nationalists went as far as burning and looting Japanese-owned businesses in China last year, following a Japanese government announcement that it would purchase and nationalize the uninhabited islets.

Glorious Mission Online’s latest downloadable content (DLC) gives Chinese gamers a chance to virtually evict Japanese “invaders” by force – aided by China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and an arsenal of military weaponry.

“Players entering the game will fight alongside Chinese armed forces and use their weapons to tell the Japanese that ‘Japan must return our stolen territory!’” read a press release on the game’s website,according to the South China Morning Post.

The video trailer for the scenario can be found here:

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MST_magazine_2013_lrWith regard to professional military training and simulation, the latest issue (3-4/2013) of Military Simulation & Training can be found here.

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