Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: NATO comprehensive approach

GCAM2.0 “Comprehensive Approach” simulation

Last week, Dr. Anja van der Hulst (TNO and University of Amsterdam) was kind enough to run a game of the (somewhat-awkwardly-named) “Go4it Comprehensive Approach simulation Model” (or GCAM2.0) for 18 student volunteers from my POLI 450 course on peacebuilding. It went very well indeed.

GCAM2.0 was developed in cooperation with the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Centre of Excellence, and is now regularly used in both Dutch and NATO military training. The “comprehensive approach” itself is NATO jargon intended to underscore the need to engage a variety of means and tools and a multiplicity of actors in stabilization operations:

NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, underlines that lessons learned from NATO operations show that effective crisis management calls for a comprehensive approach involving political, civilian and military instruments. Military means, although essential, are not enough on their own to meet the many complex challenges to Euro-Atlantic and international security. Allied leaders agreed at Lisbon to enhance NATO’s contribution to a comprehensive approach to crisis management as part of the international community’s effort and to improve NATO’s ability to contribute to stabilzation and reconstruction.

GCAM2.0 is a card-driven game with computer-assisted adjudication, in which four sets of players—the local government in a fragile and conflict-affected country, a (UN or NATO) foreign task force, NGOs, and opposition forces (OPFOR)—allocate limited resources each turn to a range of possible assessments and interventions.


When the interventions are entered into the computer, it immediately updates a range of political, security, and socio-economic indicators, which are displayed to players as a series of bar graphs. The effectiveness of interventions may be affected by contextual conditions, such as security; by what other cards have or have not yet been played; and by how many teams have allocated resources to support any given initiative.


Teams discuss what actions to take, while the projector indicates the current situation.


Players look at their cards and hence various options.


More discussions and planning.

In our game, OPFOR decided early on to not pick a fight with the Task Force, but rather try to appear cooperative—while at the same time laying the groundwork for its own de facto administration in the conflict area. They did this by supporting their own clinics, schools, and other projects (often securing NGO or Task Force support), while always finding some excuse not to support government initiatives. The Local Government grew ever more frustrated that no one was listening to their legitimate authority.


Players wait to see the results of their latest actions as Anja enters the details into her computer.

As their local popularity grew, so too did OPFOR resources. In the end they even branched out into drug production —and, what’s more, somehow managed to convince the NGO team to fund it under the guise of being “an alternative agricultural project”.


An investment in illegal drug production.


Anja and OPFOR (locally known as “Team Evil”) thank an NGO representative for her unwitting contribution to the local drug trade.

The game lasted about 2 and a half hours, and everyone seemed to both enjoy themselves and learn from the experience —including the importance of not blindly supporting projects suggested by nefarious local rebel factions!

You’ll find a fuller academic paper on GCAM2.0 here.

Stepping up the Game in Raleigh – conclusion report

We had a few beers on the evening before the last day of the course, as simulation leaders and facilitators will do. We were considering how far the syndicates have come and where we wanted them to go. We agreed that the teams were playing it safe and that most of the participants needed more challenge. At the same time, we didn’t want to lose people who were still learning basic concepts of the comprehensive approach. How to push the participants’ game to the next level, late in the game and without losing some of the players, with only two hours left of exercise?

As you’ll recall, though things had been going from horrible to very horrible for a long time in Raleigh, the precipitating event for the scenario was a dirty bomb that exploded on a passenger plane, killing all aboard and many in the terminal. That passenger plane was a national carrier for a major (world?, hegemonic?, super-?) power in the Atlantic, one that had long committed policy to eliminating all WMD threats.

To step up the game, we (coaches, facilitators, senior mentors) decided that a power like that might respond unilaterally, indeed, we figured such a power in our fictional world might have a predilection for going alone. So we introduced a whole new element, including time pressure and some new outputs for the last scenario session:

SOF have been inserted over night, fleets have been mobilized, marines are on the way and will arrive in less than 48 hours. It is a punitive action and will not be pretty, it is not expected to have any permanent, positive effect on development in Raleigh. You, advisors to the NATO SG, must take what you’ve deduced about the the underlying causes of the decline of the country and prepare a short (max four slide, five minute) briefing to the NATO SG on why/how a comprehensive approach should be undertaken – something the SG could use for an informal discussion with the President of the superpower. If convincing it might just avert a further destabilizing invasion or redirect it into something more positive. You have two hours, go and prepare this briefing.

20130714-120616.jpgIt was a bold experiment, I commend Sandy and the other coaches for risk-taking. It could’ve easily been too much to ask and there were times, in my group at least, where the resolve was flagging. They still needed to build a coherent vision for their plan and with this change up we were forcing them to do that and polish it into something short and presentable to senior policymakers, make it catchy and compelling.

It was an unmitigated success. We got all four teams to present extremely high energy, short presentations with lots of clash from our senior advisors acting as SG and military command. I’ll repeat that, we got four high energy, short presentations in which the entire room was interested/engaged on the fourth day of a long and complicated training course – we did not get rambling 20 slide presentations with several asides about the process. No one was checking their blackberry during this final session – it was that good.

And this carried right into the debrief, rather than “another thing we have to do”, Sandy very ably pivoted the discussion right from the substance to the process, because people still wanted to talk and share (and still had their dopamine and adrenaline going). I was delighted to see a simulation deliver like this, using the fictional storytelling to drive participants to really step up their game. Kudos to my NATO hosts for another successful delivery of the CA course.


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