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RAND: Nuclear weapons and deterring Russian threats to the Baltics

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Last month RAND released a report examining—in part, through wargaming—whether nonstrategic nuclear weapons use might deter a Russian attack against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The study, Exploring the Role Nuclear Weapons Could Play in Deterring Russian Threats to the Baltic Stateswas prepared by Paul Davis, J. Michael Gilmore, David Frelinger, Edward Geist, Christopher Gilmore, Jenny Oberholtzer, and Danielle Tarraf.

Despite its global advantages, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s current deterrent posture in the Baltic states is militarily weak and generally questionable. A Russian invasion there would almost surely capture some or all of those states’ capital cities within a few days, presenting NATO with a fait accompli. The United States is currently considering tailored deterrence strategies, including options to use nuclear weapons to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic states. This report examines what role nonstrategic nuclear weapons could play in deterring such an invasion. As part of that analysis, the authors review relevant deterrence theory and current NATO and Russian nuclear and conventional force postures in Europe. They draw on wargame exercises and qualitative modeling to characterize the potential outcomes if NATO, Russia, or both employ nonstrategic nuclear weapons during a war in the Baltic states. The authors then discuss implications for using such weapons to deter a Russian invasion. The insights derived from the research highlight the reality that, even if NATO makes significant efforts to modernize its nonstrategic nuclear weapons, it would have much stronger military incentives to end a future war than Russia would. That is, Russia would still enjoy escalation dominance.

Readers might also want to review the 2016 report by David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson on Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank.


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RAND: Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps

RAND_RR2227.jpgRAND has published a new study by Yuna Huh Wong, Sebastian Joon Bae, Elizabeth M. Bartels, and Benjamin Smith on Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps: Recommended Courses of Action.

The U.S. Marine Corps has an opportunity not only to adopt wargaming best practices, tools, and approaches from other sources but also to adapt and develop them further to suit its own needs. This report is designed to help the Marine Corps understand the utility of different wargaming tools as the service invests in its wargaming capability and in building its next-generation wargaming concept. The authors have collected information on wargaming processes, facilities, and skill sets through research and interviews at various wargaming centers. They identify tasks by wargaming type in order to provide information on when in the wargaming process certain tools might be useful.

The authors make recommendations for low-, medium-, and high-resourced courses of action (COAs), with the COAs meant to build on each other rather than representing choices between discrete options. The low-resourced COA involves actions that can be implemented with minimal resources and relatively quickly, focusing on improving processes and the wargaming skills of staff already engaged. The medium-resourced COA builds on the previous one, featuring recommendations that require more resources, time, and research and that involve a greater degree of uncertainty, focusing on acquiring additional skill sets, personnel, and equipment. The high-resourced COA builds on the two previous COAs and requires major reorganization or changes in policy or actions of inherent high complexity and financial commitment, focusing on the construction of new and specialized wargaming facilities.

You can read the full report at the link above.

RAND video on (wargaming) Russia and the Baltics

RAND has released a short, glossy video outlining the findings of the many wargames they have run examining a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. You’ll find it on their Facebook page, as well as below.

Their original January 2016 report can be found on the RAND website here.

For the findings of a later CNAS crisis game on Baltic security (and some discussion of the differences between the two game approaches and their respective findings), see the discussion at PAXsims here.

CNAS crisis-games Baltic security

logo_cnas_print.pngA few months ago RAND released a report based on tabletop wargames they had undertaken of a hypothetical Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. This month the Center for a New American Security has released its own report on Baltic security, based on a crisis game they conducted last month:

In an effort to better prepare both sides of the Atlantic to grapple with such challenges, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conducted a tabletop exercise (TTX) in Washington in February 2016. Spanning two days, the TTX, titled Assured Resolve, featured nearly 50 high-level participants from Europe and the United States, enabling current and former officials to identify gaps in strategy, statecraft, and capabilities. The purpose of the exercise was twofold: to explore assumptions about possible national and multinational responses to future Russian provocations and to examine in real time the threshold for action on the part of international organizations such as NATO and national capitals.

Participants were divided into five teams: the U.S. government, NATO, and the Nordics, as well as the fictitious countries of Baltia and Grosland (the aggressor). These two latter teams were intended to reflect the current dynamics between the Baltic states and Russia, respectively. All five teams were presented with three sequential moves designed to climb the escalation ladder during the two days of the exercise.

As the CNAS press release notes, the game was conducted as a three move seminar game:

Move One began with lower-level conflict inside Baltia that featured a Groslandian incitement and strategic communications campaign to test Western responses to the provocative actions. To determine the viability of bilateral Nordic partnerships with the Baltic states and broader regional dynamics, Move Two presented participants with three near-simultaneous incidents: Groslandian threats to cut of energy supplies to Baltia paired with a Groslandian cyber provocation in the face of oil price disputes between the two countries and the unintentional downing of a European commercial airliner (caused by a Groslandian jet that had turned of its transponder on a probing mission). Finally, Move Three introduced a conventional but accidental military conflict after Groslandian troops entered Baltian territory during a training exercise and Baltian troops tried to arrest them. Teams met in two-hour blocks for each move, developing their responses and interacting with one another through face-to-face meetings. At the end of each two-hour block, participants convened as a group to share insights, responses, and challenges with each individual move.

Overall, “the results of this two-day exercise were surprising and highlighted the need for Europe and the United States to revisit core assumptions about European security.”

Assured Resolve identified a number of areas for improvement in terms of NATO’s strategy and cohesiveness in the face of surprise aggression.  Among the key insights, the report touches on future force posture in Central and Eastern Europe, the lack of allied capabilities to counter Russian Anti Access/Area Denial tactics, and the value of relationships with Alliance partners, more specifically, Sweden and Finland. The authors present a series of recommendation, including the need for a new transatlantic strategy resting on the three pillars of unity, deterrence and resilience; an increase in NATO’s exercises; a strengthening of conventional deterrence capabilities; and greater investment in intelligence, space and cyber capabilities. The report also stresses the need for both the EU and NATO to break the longstanding impasse on cooperation in order to focus on resilience.

I’m not sure how “surprising” any of that is for those who have followed discussion of European security in recent years, especially in the wake of Russian actions in Ukraine (and before that, Georgia), annexation of the Crimea, and earlier (2007) cyber attacks on Estonia.

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However in many ways the findings of the CNAS crisis game nicely complement those of the earlier RAND study. Indeed, the two offset each other’s largely unavoidable methodological weaknesses.

The RAND study was a traditional force-on-force wargame that focused terrain, combat assets and capabilities, mobility, air superiority, and out-of-theatre reinforcement. It was criticized for some by limiting the Western response to Russian aggression to the use of military measures in the European context—a somewhat unfair criticism, since the sole purpose of the game was to determine how long Baltic forces could resist and how well the rest of NATO could support them.

In contrast, the CNAS study was a focused on broader crisis response, including diplomatic, economic, and other non-kinetic capabilities. I’m not a fan of seminar games for a number of reasons—in particular, they tend to be less interactive and dynamic than a real-world crisis—and there is usually a stark limit to how much granular insight they can offer into military operations. However they do allow one to look at the complex politics of alliance response across the DIME (diplomatic, information, military, economic) spectrum.

On a somewhat different note, I was bemused to see that the CNAS game semi-disguised the Baltic republics and Russia by naming them Baltia and Grosland in the simulation. Some years ago I was at an unclassified NATO conference in Estonia where we all warned by local security officials that agents of a hostile intelligence agency had been spotted in the conference hotel trying to eavesdrop on conversations. A smiling Estonian intelligence official told us all that while diplomatic sensitivity precluded him from identifying the nationality of these suspicious individuals, “I can tell you that they are from a country that borders both Estonia and Japan.”

h/t David Becker 

Pettyjohn and Shlapak on obstacles to reinvigorating defense wargaming

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War on the Rocks features a piece by Stacie Pettyjohn and David Shlapak (RAND Center for Gaming) on the obstacles confronting current efforts by the US Department of Defence to reinvigorate wargaming:

These are laudable goals. Nevertheless, creating, orchestrating, and observing recent games across the Department of Defense — and conferring with the broader gaming community — has made us aware of a number of potential challenges. These are important to keep in mind for a reinvigorated wargaming enterprise to succeed.

Bonanza or Bust

A failure to appreciate the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of wargames and wargamers could lead to a situation in which “bad games drive out good ones.” This is not a new concern. As wargaming expert Peter Perla has observed, wargames have often been “oversold” and “abused,” and wargaming as a method has suffered as a result. Given the current zeitgeist, this could become a problem again.

Supply and Demand

The growing demand for wargames also might outstrip the wargaming community’s capacity to successfully execute good games. This mismatch between supply and demand could negatively impact the quality of wargames and contribute to a potential backlash against gaming. The professional wargaming community may have already reached a point where the demand for games is exceeding the current supply of experienced game designers, skilled players, and other subject-matter experts vital to conducting first-rate games. As the number of wargames has swelled, the increased operational tempo also has the potential to stress organizations that are now being asked to run many small games each year instead of one large annual or biannual exercise, taxing short-handed staffs (especially if those small games need to be executed simultaneously or in quick succession).

Failure is an Option

To facilitate the dissemination of information about wargames, the Department of Defense has created a wargaming repository that will house the results of all completed games as well as information about planned exercises. Additionally, a Defense Wargaming Alignment Group is being created to ensure that senior leader priorities shape wargames while the insights from wargames inform senior leaders. These are important initiatives. But like all good initiatives, the Pentagon needs to be mindful of the unintended consequences that could emerge.

One of the main virtues of wargames is that they offer a low-risk and “intellectually liberating” environment. Yet the current effort to catalog, scrutinize, and utilize game results might inadvertently undermine this environment by raising the stakes of each game. This, in turn, could have two effects.

First, players might become more reluctant to criticize current plans, policies, and programs. For wargames to succeed, participants need to set aside parochial interests and try their best to identify, assess, and solve problems, even if their insights challenge the status quo. Increased oversight of the wargaming enterprise — and greater dependence on wargame findings to shape budgets in a time of resource scarcity — could actually make games more conservative when the intent may be exactly the opposite.

Second, organizers might exaggerate their findings to demonstrate that games are indeed the driver of innovation that many assume. Yet not all wargames uncover new insights, no matter how well-designed and well-executed they might be. Thus organizers and their sponsors need to adopt a “venture capital” model and understand that the failure to identify new solutions is not itself a failure of the game.

It’s a terrific piece, and well worth reading.

For more on current efforts to reinvigorate wargaming, see also these PAXsims posts:

Gaming the semi-cooperative

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I’m in and around Washington DC for much of this week, and today had the opportunity to give a talk at the RAND’s Center for Gaming in Alexandria. My topic was “gaming the semi-cooperative,” and it focused on the challenge of designing games that are neither purely adversarial (unlike most kinetic, blue-on-red wargames) nor fully cooperative (unlike say Pandemic, or many emergency preparedness exercises). This sort of challenge comes up often in the sorts of games that I develop and use for both educational and policy/analysis purposes: for example, peace processes and operations where most actors may want peace, but they differ greatly in their approach, interests, and vision of the future; humanitarian interagency games, in which players may share a common overarching goal, but also have institutional interests and standard operating procedures that sometimes put them at loggerheads; or even substantially kinetic campaign games characterized by complex and tenuous multinational coalitions of the not-always-willing.

In the presentation I noted that one can try to generate semi-cooperative behaviour through the explicit rewards, payoffs, and game objectives given to the players. This is what might be termed a game-theoretic approach, since it presumes that players will, in rational pursuit of maximum gains and given a particular payoff matrix, adopt the desired semi-cooperative behaviours. And to some extent they will: AFTERSHOCK, for example, deliberately scores players both on their achievement of collective goals (saving lives, represented in the game by “Relief Points”) and separate individual goals (organizational reputation and political or donor support, represented in the game by “Operations Points”), thereby encouraging general cooperation complicated by occasional friction deriving from divergent interests.

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The core of my argument, however, is that structuring rewards and explicit objectives is not enough.  Robust evidence from behavioural economics and experimental psychology shows that not all players respond in similar ways to game payoffs: norms, attitudes, and socialization makes a difference. How one frames a game to players has also been shown to have dramatic effect on the proportion of cooperative and non-cooperative actions. From a learning perspective, extrinsic incentives and rewards (scoring points, meeting defined objectives) may be less effective in educational games than intrinsic rewards—the emotional satisfaction—from playing a game well. Role identity and immersion in the game narrative can have powerful effects on game play dynamics. So too do player gaming styles and role assignment importance.

Given all this, I discussed several techniques I have used to manipulate player psychology and narrative engagement so as to foster semi-cooperation:

  • The use of limited or manipulated player information to generate friction, rivalry, suspicion, or sense of injustice.
  • Time pressures to spur both bonding and friction.
  • Manipulation of the physical environment (such as room assignments or game layout) to foster or hamper cooperation.
  • Social engineering of participant assignments, using known players in key roles to increase cooperation or tension.
  • Recognizing the importance of “fluff and chrome”—that is, the backstory, setting, and supplementary materials of the scenario—in generating a sense of immersion and role identity.

The slides for the talk can be found here (pdf) and here (powerpoint).

RAND: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics

RANDbalticscoverDavid A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson of RAND have just released a report entitled Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. The study is based on a series of wargames conducted between summer 2014 and spring 2015 that examined a possible near-term Russian attack on the Baltic states:

The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but predictably disastrous consequences for the Alliance and, not incidentally, the people of the Baltics.

Fortunately, avoiding such a swift and catastrophic failure does not appear to require a Herculean effort. Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states. While not sufficient to mount a sustained defense of the region or to achieve NATO’s ultimate end state of restoring its members’ territorial integrity, such a posture would fundamentally change the strategic picture as seen from Moscow. Instead of being able to confront NATO with a stunning coup de main that cornered it as described above, an attack on the Baltics would instead trigger a prolonged and serious war between Russia and a materially far wealthier and more powerful coalition, a war Moscow must fear it would be likely to lose.

Crafting this deterrent posture would not be inexpensive in absolute terms, with annual costs perhaps running on the order of $2.7 billion. That is not a small number, but seen in the context of an Alliance with an aggregate gross domestic product in excess of $35 trillion and combined yearly defense spending of more than $1 trillion, it hardly appears unaffordable, especially in comparison with the potential costs of failing to defend NATO’s most exposed and vulnerable allies—that is, of potentially inviting a devastating war, rather than deterring it.

The games indicated that lighter and foot-mobile forces could not be expected to substantially slow Russian heavy armour—and that NATO, as currently deployed, has no heavy armour positioned  in the Baltics or able to reach them quickly. NATO airmobile forces can mount a stiff defence in major urban areas, but likely at the cost of high collateral damage. While NATO airpower could inflict substantial damage on Russian forces, it would not be able to do enough damage to slow their advance, not would it be able to establish sufficient air superiority prevent the Russian air force from mounting substantial localized air operations against NATO reinforcements (especially given weaknesses in the organic air defence of US formations).

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The game itself was conducted as follows:

The general game design was similar to that of traditional board wargames, with a hex grid governing movement superimposed on a map. Tactical Pilotage Charts (1:500,000 scale) were used, overlaid with 10-km hexes, as seen in Figure A.1 [below]. Land forces were represented at the battalion level and air units as squadrons; movement and combat were governed and adjudicated using rules and combat-result tables that incorporated both traditional gaming principles (e.g., Lanchester exchange rates) and the results of offline modeling. We also developed offline spreadsheet models to handle both inter- and intratheater mobility. All these were subject to continual refinement as we repeatedly played the game, although the basic structure and content of the platform proved sound.

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Orders of battle and tables of organization and equipment were developed using unclassiffed sources. Ground unit combat strengths were based on a systematic scoring of individual weapons, from tanks and artillery down to light machine guns, which were then aggregated according to the tables of organization and equipment for the various classes of NATO and Russian units. Overall unit scores were adjusted to account for dfferences in training, sustainment, and other factors not otherwise captured. Air unit combat strengths were derived from the results of offline engagement, mission, and campaign-level modeling.

They also note that “full documentation of the gaming platform will be forth- coming in a subsequent report.” We’ll look forward to reading more.

FP: Stumbling into (simulated) war with China

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With the assistance of David Shlapak of RAND’s Center for Gaming, Dan De Luce and Keith Johnson of Foreign Policy magazine recently tried their hand at descalating a simulated Sino-Japanese naval confrontation over the Senkaku Islands. It didn’t go very well:

We entered into the scenario looking for offramps. We went out of our way to choose the least aggressive options and to try to exercise restraint — even when we played the part of China as well as the United States at different stages of the game. But just as Shlapak warned us, events quickly got out of hand, and we found ourselves in a nightmarish escalatory cycle of war fueled by nationalist sentiment in both Japan and China. And the scenario depicted here is not far-fetched fiction. Just this week there was more brinkmanship, as Tokyo warned Beijing that if its naval ships sailed near the islands and lingered, Japan would send in patrol vessels to see them off. China responded with a stern warning of its own, saying that if Japan takes provocative actions, it “will have to accept responsibility for everything that happens.”

All of that is in the real world. In the artificial one constructed by Shlapak, those rhetorical volleys were replaced by open combat. This is the story of what happened next: a war we didn’t seek, didn’t want to fight — and that ended very badly…

You can read the rest at Foreign Policy.

AAR from RAND’s Gaming Center Open House

logo-1200Last month, RAND’s new Gaming Methods Center hosted an open house for gamers in the DC area. The event provided an opportunity for an exchange on the current state of gaming. Highlights of the discussion are summarized below. The event was a great chance to see what different folks in the community are thinking about, and I hope that similar events will occur regularly in the future!

The Gaming Methods Center is one of six new internal organizations, intended to “facilitate the development and dissemination of analytic tools and methodologies as well as employ existing ones in a collaborative and synergistic fashion across the entire RAND research and policy domain landscape.” The center’s immediate objectives include:

  • Encourage the development of innovative new tools and techniques and encourage the evolution of existing forms and methods
  • Encourage the use of these methods across the entire RAND research portfolio (cross-disciplinary)
  • Encourage interdisciplinary cooperation on methods

The open house featured presentations from long-time RAND gamers who highlighted the history of gaming at RAND, the important role gaming can play in confronting current security challenges, and current RAND methods for both seminar style and board game/table top design games. A few highlights include:

  • A discussion of past RAND gamers work, which highlighted a favorite RAND paper of mine, Crisis Games 27 Years Later
  • A discussion of the evolution of the “Day After” method for seminar gaming, which I’ve used to good effect in some of my educational games

In the course of the event, there was lively debate from both RAND staff and outside participants about how gaming can best be employed to support national security decision makers. Highlights include:

Benefits of Gaming. Over the course of the day, participants offered a range of thoughts about the benefits gaming offers to the national security community. One participant describe three criteria for problems that are tractable to gaming:

  • Blue or red operational concepts are not decided or not good
  • Human agency is a major determinant of outcomes (adversary behavior in particular)
  • Designer needs to convey a future people haven’t yet experienced

Other participants linked the practice of national security gaming to research on the power of the “urge to play” as a means of education and discovery. Still others noted that games tap into human’s need for narrative by providing an opportunity to build our own narratives in a setting that’s shaped by designers to further the right narrative.

Finally, participants highlighted the benefits that gaming offers to analysts. One individual commented on the tendency of analyst to waste too much time “worshiping the model.” Gaming encourages analyst to get to insights more quickly by forcing the analyst to work in broad strokes and model the truly important without getting tied up by the minutia. Games are also helpful when they disrupt assumptions that are built into the model. By watching what assumptions break down during the game, analysts can then go back to develop a better model.

Is gaming a scientific method or not. The art vs. science debate is an old standard in the field. In addition to a discussion of Peter Perla’s concept of games as part of the cycle of research, highlights of the discussion include the analogy of gaming methods to method acting, discussion of “the cult of spurious precision” that falsely seeks precise quantification rather than broader insight, and the importance of good design.

While this debate was interesting, I found myself agreeing with a participant who said that he was tired of hearing the same debate on the topic over the last several years. He urged the community to move forward to determine the implications of this debate for gaming practice. More work that lays out how the practical process of design and assessment would differ base on this theoretical debate seems more likely to move the field forward.

Game design standards. Some interesting commonalities in the participants’ standards for game design emerged during the discussion. Participants stressed that good game design, like good analysis of any kind, is primarily about caveating the limitations of analysis. However, right now there are not consistent standards about how such caveats are documented and communicated to fellow analysts and sponsors. Instead, there is currently a lot of responsibility on the principle investigator to communicate limitations. Some participants stated that this is best done by telling stories about “dynamics of the campaign” to senior leaders.

Relationship between gaming and other common types of modeling. Participants stressed the differences between gaming and other common types of modeling such as campaign planning. Gaming isn’t a cheap or fast way to do campaign planning and assessment, and should not be used in its place. As a result, it is critical that gamers know other methods well enough to direct sponsors to other methods that are more appropriate to answer the questions at hand.

At the same time, participants also stressed that gaming and modeling can and should work in tandem, not in oppositions. For example, games can be used as a screening tool, in order to determine what topics are worth spending the time to create in-depth, higher-resolution model. Games can also be used to test assumption that will be used to build models to minimize the risks of a faulty foundation to analysis.

Finally, participants stressed that gaming is a broad field that likely includes many related techniques. Being more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of different techniques can make us better able to pick the correct technique for the problems we are asked to analyze.

Challenges of communicating the potential and limitations of games to sponsors. Discussion highlighted the necessity of educating sponsors about what games can and cannot achieve. Many in the group stressed that right now sponsors who are new to gaming don’t understand what types of questions are appropriate to game. Furthermore, because gaming has become the main tool in the box for a number of current issues, the professional community needs to set ground rules and expectations (a point I’ve discussed at length here). Right now, there is not enough guidance available outside of the expertise of senior practitioners to help identify good games and bad games. If the field cannot develop alternative ways to ensure the quality of games, there is a real concern that “bad money will drive out good.” Participants agreed that there is a need to make sure that the interest in gaming doesn’t drive us into bad practices, not only for our own careers, but also for national security.

Additionally, unlike many other approaches to analysis, gaming is an event and a process rather than a group of methods for data analysis. Issues like the inability to replicate games, the need for space and in-person interaction, and other related challenges are hard to communicate to sponsors. In particular, stressing organizations through gaming often stresses process and procedures—space requirements, security, etc. all become major challenge.

Shortcomings of the traditional guide-style gaming education system. The current system for educating new gamers has been challenged by the noticeable generational gap in the field, where an established core of senior gamers is supported by staffs of entry-level folks (of whom there were a number in attendance, a nice change of pace from the more senior crowd that attends many gaming events). Discussion highlighted how the field’s traditional reliance on commercial board wargames may limit mentorship. The group also discussed the ways in which limited formal methods for game design make entering the field challenging.

Balancing the convenience of digital with impact of in-person events. There was a sustained discussion of whether games can be done remotely, using technology to bridge distances and allow for asynchronous games. The hope is not only will this make games cheaper, but also allow more, and more diverse player perspectives. However, the utility of such “virtual” games was contested. In general folk felt that the usefulness of virtual games depends on the purpose of the game, what types of findings are you looking for, what type of events you want to simulate, the audience, and what kind of time and interaction are available. One comment that particularly resonated with me is that games give a simulated experience that can shape behavior in the real world, so they require “intellectual if not physical proximity.” If analysts can created the intellectual proximity required in a virtual environment than these games can be successful, but often interpersonal interaction is still required.

Converting individual discoveries in the game to institutional insights. Participants discussed the necessity, and the challenges, of converting the individual experience of game designers and participants into organizational change.

Participants noted that often the group that learns the most from games in the design team, who may not be in the best position to advocate for change after the game is compete. Participants stressed the importance of game designs building up the ability to communicate game results in compelling (often narrate based) ways.

Likewise individual player experiences during games can be profound, but missed by game designs that focus on documenting group discussion and decision making.   Participants suggested interviews with individual players focused on how individuals framed problems can be helpful. Likewise, focusing on understanding the thinking of individuals who deviate from the group’s “mean” opinion can be particularly valuable. To capture these perspectives, ensuring that research questions and data capture plans include a focus on individuals and small groups as well as the group as a whole is critical.

RAND: Using a tabletop exercise to help bridge the military-academic divide

At Defense One, Paula Stanton of RAND describes a recent tabletop exercise intended to help bridge the divide between military officers and academics:

If senior officers and academics find themselves divided, is there a way to build respect and trust earlier in their careers, when less is at stake and time a bit more abundant? With support from the Stanton Foundation, RANDrecently explored one modest possibility: a tabletop exercise that brought future leaders together.

The exercise presented a contemporary geopolitical problem that might require a military solution. It brought together an accomplished group of field grade military officers (lieutenant colonels, colonels and Navy captains) and emerging academic and policy experts at the assistant professor or postdoctoral levels. The scenario, designed to require both civilian and military expertise, ensured that neither group had all the answers.

As the scenario unfolded over two days, it revealed something very human: before the civilian-military divide can be bridged, personal doubts need to be quieted.

Civilian academics confessed to being unsettled at times by those in uniform. To them, military members might have remarkable life experiences; they wear medals and colored ribbons; and they appear aloof, even intimidating, in their uniforms.

But their military counterparts were no less unsettled by the academics, who  possessed prestigious advanced degrees, had been awarded impressive fellowships, and had notable connections in the national defense policy circles. Indeed, some had had worked closely with icons of the national security world whom the military members knew only by reputation.

When the group was assembled and asked to address a geopolitical problem, the academic and military players quickly realized they needed each other. The military brought the ability to disaggregate a big problem into manageable pieces; look at different options to address them; and dive into the details of implementing one of the options. This greatly impressed the academics. Moreover, the civilians learned about the personnel and logistics limitations of pursuing various military options.

Similarly, civilian insights proved equally invaluable. The military participants realized the limitations of their understanding of the best way to think about critical concepts such as deterrence, escalation and crisis management and how best to use military resources to prevent a conflict….

The exercise highlighted the use of games, simulations, and exercises as methods for promoting networking and interaction across institutional and (professional) subcultural divides:

In fact, this tabletop exercise suggested that the best way to bridge the civilian-military divide, especially at the senior levels of government, is not via large conferences or formal papers. Instead, it can be done by building trust, one person at a time, over time.

This exercise suggests, first, the importance of building personal relationships earlier in a career. If this is left until they are full professors, general officers or assistant secretaries of defense, it is too late; they will have less time to learn and will tend to be more certain in their views. Second, it highlighted the importance of a safe learning environment where ignorance can be disclosed, questions asked and mistakes made. This can be done intensely through an immersion process over the course of a few days, but it requires personal, professional and intellectual commitment. And third, it revealed the importance of informal conversations based on mutual respect during the inevitable down times of a tabletop exercise. Trust and reliance seemed to follow in short order.

The limitations to this approach are important to note. It is built around small groups; it is labor intensive; and it requires civilian and military participants to devote some of their valuable professional time to it. But even with these limitations the effort is worthwhile. National defense is a team endeavor; it requires the trust, devotion, and expertise of military and civilian leaders at many levels to make it work.

Stanton is not the first analyst at RAND to note this. In 1964 RAND consultant (and later Nobel Prize winner) Thomas Schelling circulated an internal memo entitled “An Uninhibited Pitch for Crisis Games” in which he noted precisely this effect:

Schelling memo excerpt

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