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Tag Archives: Syria

USIP Syria PeaceGame 2013

20131209-peacegame-event

The United States Institute of Peace will be conducting a “peace game” on the civil war in Syria on 9-10 December 2013:

Governments around the world regularly devote enormous resources to conducting “war games.”  On December 9 and 10, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and The FP Group (FP) will conduct the inaugural PeaceGame, with a focus on “the best possible peace for Syria.” With one game in the U.S. and another in the Middle East, the semi-annual PeaceGames will bring together the leading minds in national security policy, international affairs, academia, business, and media to “game” out how we can achieve peace in Syria. USIP and FP intend for the game to redefine how leaders think about conflict resolution and the possibility of peace.

The game will be webcast live, and can also be followed on Twitter via the hashtag #PeaceGame.

Participants in this inaugural PeaceGame will begin with a discussion of potential scenarios for peace in Syria and the steps and conditions necessary to achieve it.  Players then will assume roles representing different stakeholders in the Syrian war.  They will explore four scenarios representing different phases of a peace process: Achieving a Near-Term Political Solution, Pacification, Transformation and Institutionalization, and Stabilization.  In addition to formulating a prescriptive solution to the situation in Syria, the PeaceGame will illuminate the essentials of peace, what institutions and capabilities we need to achieve it, and how thinking seriously about peace might change how our national and international institutions approach their short and long-term missions.

PeaceGame Participants include: Peter Ackerman, Henri Barkey, Hans Binnendijk, Esther Brimmer, Daniel Brumberg, Ambassador Maura Connelly, PJ Crowley, Paula Dobriansky, Andrew Exum, Nelson Ford, Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Karen House, Lise Howard, Steven Heydemann, Ambassador James Jeffrey, Murhaf Jouejati, Ambassador Ted Kattouf, Mark Katz, Steven Koltai, Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, George Lopez, Kristin Lord, Colum Lynch, Firas Maksad, Robert Malley, Sharon Morris, Robert Mosbacher, Jr., Ambassador George Moose, Mouaz Moustafa, Manal Omar, Carina Perelli, Kenneth Pollack, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, David Rothkopf, Paul Saunders, Mark Schneider, Jeremy Shapiro, Randa Slim, Julianne Smith, Andrew Tabler, Ambassador William B. Taylor, James Traub, Mona Yacoubian, Judith Yaphe, Casimir Yost.

IPSI Syria Simulations Project

IPSI-Syria-Simulations-Project-ReportThe International Peace and Security Institute in Washington DC has designed two three -day simulations on the crisis in Syria, which it will run for interested organizations (presumably for a fee, although this isn’t made explicit anywhere):

As violence continues unabated, Syrians and the international community are seeking greater information on how to resolve the armed conflict and then transition the country from civil war to stability.  To address the question of how the Syrian conflict will end and what a possible transition might look like, the International Peace & Security Institute (IPSI) developed a series of half day-to-three day interactive, flexible multilateral simulations based on the conflict in Syria.

These simulations are important for both the value of the experiential educational process for participants (i.e. the ability to “get into the head” of conflict actors) and for their powerful predictive analysis (i.e. simulation players’ decisions have closely mirrored the future decisions of real-world actors).

Full simulations take three days to facilitate, although specific scenarios/modules from the larger simulations have been designed to run independently and can be tailored to the specific timeframes and learning needs of outside organizations, institutions, and government bodies.

SIMULATION UNIVERSE ONE: Set in a complex universe closely mirroring Syria’s current state, this simulation challenges participants to explore how conflict resolution techniques, including negotiation, facilitation, mediation, military intervention and nonviolent action, might contribute to a resolution.   Participants take on the roles of actors from the Assad regime, the opposition forces, and the international community to test how different actions may affect the conflict.

SIMULATION UNIVERSE TWO: The second simulation universe places many of the same conflict actor roles from Simulation Universe One in a fictionalized, post-conflict Syria. The participants are challenged to structure a holistic transition for the country, taking into account security, governance, development, rule of law with an eye towards restorative and retributive justice mechanisms, and social well-being.

The Syria Simulations Project Report briefly sketches the contours of the simulation, although it contains only limited detail or analysis of past simulation runs.

If anyone has taken part in one of these, PAXsims would be interested in hearing your impressions.

Persian Incursion 2013

As I’ve noted in a couple of reviews (here and here), the game/rules engine in Persian Incursion provides a powerful combat model of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear or oil facilities. As a manual, “cardboard” wargame it is also very easy to tweak. With that in mind, I’ll be running a version of the game this Friday at McGill University with some political science graduate students, plus an Iran analyst colleague. Although game-playing is part of the reason for doing so, I also want to use the session to explore some of the issues involved in any possible Iranian military action, and then collect some feedback on how useful participants found the process.

The game will be set in the here and now of 2013. This means that the initial opinion settings will mirror the current diplomatic environment, and the upgrades available to the players will be restricted to those that Israel and Iran might plausibly have obtained by March 2013.

Moreover, as detailed below, the Syrian civil war raises the possibility of an Israeli strike overflying Syrian airspace, rather than having to use the northern (Turkish), central (Jordanian), or southern (Saudi) route. The Syrian route would be risky, exploiting the relative weakness in Syrian SAM defences between Damascus and Homs as well as the severe degradation of Syria’s air force and integrated air defence system caused by two years of civil war. On the other hand, it would not depend on the political acquiescence of the country being overflown, an aspect which otherwise constrains potential Israeli use of other possible routes.

Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple. Source: Sean O'Conner, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link).

Above: Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with long-ranged S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple and the Damascus-Homs gap in medium-range systems readily apparent. Source: Sean O’Connor, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link). Video below: Syrian rebels overrun a S-200 SAM site. Several early-warning sites may also have been destroyed.

Political Opinion

israelunThe following initial political opinion settings are used at the start of the game:

  • Iran -8
  • Israel +10
  • China -6
  • Jordan 0
  • Russia -3
  • Saudi Arabia/GCC 0
  • Turkey -1
  • UN/rest of world -2
  • USA +2

iranunThe “ally actions” listed in the rules (p. 11) include some rather unlikely possibilities. Consequently, they are replaced with the following:

  • China: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase the GPS jammer or laser dazzlers upgrades for its nuclear facilities at a cost of 1 MP. 
  • Russia: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase up to three S-300 batteries at 1 military point (MP) each; R27ER1 AAM upgrade for 1 MP.
  • Jordan: If Israeli ally, Iran suffers -10% penalty to terrorist attacks.
  • Saudi Arabia: If Israeli ally, provides covert support for Israeli strikes. Israel adds 10% to SAM suppression and +1 to CGI fighter rolls when using southern route.
  • UN/rest of world: Use rules as written.
  • US: If Israeli ally and Iran has attempted to close Strait of Hormuz, roll for US airstrike against Iran each turn (p. 11). If Iranian ally, game ends immediately as US diplomatic pressure forces Israel to halt its air campaign.

In the latter case, being an Iranian “ally” doesn’t, of course, mean that the US is actually allied with (or even friendly with) Iran—rather, it just signifies that the US is deeply opposed to Israeli actions.

Most of the “arms sales” rules are not used because, even if China or Russia were to sell Iran additional military hardware, they could not be fielded effectively in the timeframe covered by the game.

Other ally effects listed elsewhere (p. 27) still take effect.

Player Upgrades and Reinforcements

These are set as follows to reflect current real-world conditions, but with some potential for “unknown unknowns”:

  • The Iranian player may purchase any and all air defence systems upgrades, countermeasures/EW defences, additional Tor-M1 batteries, and up to one battalion of Sejil-2 MRBMs. Iran may also purchase EM-55 naval mines, although these do not represent any particular weapons system but rather an increased Iranian investment in combat systems for use in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran may not purchase Pantsyr S1E SAM/AAA batteries, S-300, Buk-M1, or HQ-9 SAM batteries, or any air-to-air missile upgrades.
  • The Israeli player may purchase all upgrades except AIM-120D AMRAAMs.
  • Neither player may gain extra-national reinforcements, although Israel can still benefit from ballistic missile defence assistance from US Aegis class cruisers under appropriate circumstances

Central Route

In the Persian Incursion rules, Jordan is assumed to be unwilling to intercept any IAF strike transiting its airspace. Instead, the US attitude is what counts—especially given (then) US control of Iraqi airspace.

jordanprotestsBy 2013, things have changed. The US no longer controls Iraqi airspace, and Iraq itself lacks the capability to effectively control or even monitor it. On the other hand, the “Arab Spring” has rendered the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan more sensitive to public criticism. Repeated Israeli overflights of Jordan could create serious domestic political problems for the regime. Israeli destabilization of Jordan, in turn, wouldn’t go over very well in Washington.

Indeed, under some extreme circumstances one can even imagine some limited Jordanian military response to Israeli actions. (If this seems farfetched, consider how Jordan entered the 1967 Arab-Israeli war—a war it knew it would lose—when it became clear that failure to do so would severely undermine the monarchy’s political position.)

Consequently, the following modified rule will be used:

Israel may overfly Jordan at any time if political opinion there is 0 (neutral) or better. However, whenever it does, Iran rolls 3 dice on the Jordanian opinion track, and one on the US track.

Syria Route Special Rules

Syrian rebel fighters pose on a destroyed tankUse the following procedure should the IAF choose to use the Syrian route, reflecting the need to deal with whatever functioning Syrian air defences are encountered en route.

The Syria route counts the same as the Central route for the purposes of tanker support and targets that can be struck.

  1. First, Israel may conduct a Suter EW/cyber attack against Syrian air defences.
  2. Next, roll a D100 for each of the five Syrian SA-200 long-range SAM batteries that cover the Israeli route. These have a 33% chance of being able engage in-bound Israeli aircraft, and 66% chance of engage out-bound (return) aircraft. A failure to obtain a sufficient result indicates that these batteries have been overrun by Syrian opposition forces, redeployed to other areas or duties, or are otherwise incapable of responding.
  3. The IAF may conduct SAM suppression missions as usual, or target them with airstrikes.
  4. Surviving Syrian SAM batteries may then engage Israeli aircraft.
  5. After this, dice on the GCI Fighter Table to see whether any Syrian aircraft are able to intercept, subtracting 3 from the result. The IAF may conduct fighter suppression missions. The Iranian player may not spend MP to augment Syrian air defences. The Israeli player gains +1 for every one (not two) MP spent on suppression of Syrian air defences.
  6. Roll D100 to determine the type of intercepting aircraft: 01-50 MiG 23MLD, 51-85 MiG-29, 86-100 MiG 25. The Iranian MiG 29 aircraft data card is also used for Syrian MiG 29s. (Jeff Dougherty kindly generated Syrian MiG 23 and MiG 25 weapons data for the scenario, which I’ve incorporated into these modified aircraft cards at right—click the image to download).

Persian Incursion Syrian MiGsUse of the Syrian route by the IAF would likely give Iran around 60-90 minutes of advance warning of the inbound strike packages. Subtract 5% from the effectiveness of IAF SAM suppression missions in Iran, and add 1 to the GCI Fighter Table when determining Iranian fighter interceptions.

Each time the Syrian route is used the Iranian player may roll 1 die against either the Russian, Chinese, or UN/rest of world opinion tracks.

One small (but non-zero) risk of using the Syrian route is that Damascus might launch its own retaliation against Israel, and that the situation could then escalate out of control.

If at any time the Israeli players rolls a natural 12 while conducting a SAM suppression, SAM strike, fighter suppression, or air-to-air engagement, Syria responds. Roll a d6:

  1. Syria vociferously condemns Israeli actions. Iran gains 1 PP (political point).
  2. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 MP (military point).
  3. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 IP (intelligence point).
  4. Syria organizes hasty terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 50% chance of success.
  5. Syria organizes major terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 80% chance of success.
  6. Syria launches limited missile strike next turn (treat as 6 ballistic missiles). If any of these hit with a die roll of natural 12, further escalation takes place. The game ends immediately as the IAF is retasked with striking Syrian chemical weapon facilities.

Hizbullah

While Persian Incursion includes rules for Iranian-backed terrorism against Israel, this seems to represent small-scale bombings, infiltrations, international terrorism, or perhaps Palestinian Islamic Jihad being encouraged to fire a few rockets from Gaza. It certainly doesn’t address Hizbullah’s potential involvement in the conflict, with its arsenal of an estimated 30,000 rockets.

hizbullahI don’t think it is inevitable, or even particularly likely, that Hizbullah would become overtly involved  is Israeli-Iranian hostilities through large-scale attacks from Lebanon—doing so would be deeply unpopular in Lebanon, even among its Shiite constituency, and also leave the organization open to a major Israeli riposte. The slow collapse of the Asad regime in Syria has likely rendered Hizbullah even more risk-averse. However, if the Iranian regime were feeling especially vulnerable it could pressure Hizbullah to act, especially in the context of an extended Israeli military campaign.

Modelling this in the game is tricky, because a major Israeli-Hizbullah war would, in many ways, be an even bigger military operation than an Israeli attack on Iran.

If the Iranian political opinion track is at 7 or higher, or Israel has attacked this turn for a third or subsequent time during the game, Tehran may spend 2 PP and press Hizbullah to attack Israel in a substantial and direct way. The base chance of success of convincing Hizbullah is 50%, plus  10% for each additional 1 PP spent.

Once Hizbullah has entered the war, a “Lebanon War Phase” is added after the Strategic Events Phase in each morning turn for the duration of the game. Israel must commit at least 1 MP and 1 aircraft squadron to the war effort. It may allocate additional MP/IP and additional aircraft squadrons. After it has done so, roll 2D6.

  • Add 1 to the total for every 2 MP/IP allocated to the Lebanon campaign.
  • Add 1 each additional aircraft squadron.
  • Add 1 if Israel purchased an expanded Iron Dome system.

Because of the Syrian civil war Iran has little capability to assist or resupply Hizbullah during the fighting.

Consult the following table to ascertain the effects of the war that day:

  • 2: Hizbullah rockets rain down on northern Israel and points further south. Iran gains 3 PP, and may roll 4 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 3-4: Iran gains 2 PP, and may roll 3 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 5-6: Iran gains 1PP, and may roll 2 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 7-10: Iran may roll 1 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 9-10: The war generates greater Western support for Israel. Israel may roll one die on the US or UN/rest of world opinion track.
  • 11-12: Hizbullah casualties mount. Israel gains +1 to all future rolls on this table (this effect is cumulative).
  • 13+ : Hizbullah suffers severe damage. Iran loses 2 points (PP, MP, and/or IP—Iranian player’s choice), and Israel may roll 1 die on the Iranian opinion track.

Israeli aircraft allocated to Lebanon are assumed to be engaging in airstrikes during the morning and afternoon phases, and test for breakdowns at the end of the latter.

Other Rule Modifications

In general, we’ll be using the full rule set. However, use of  simplified target profiles makes mission planning much quicker, and also allows more effective use of the quick strike chart that the game designers have made available. Resolving aircraft breakdowns/repairs will speeded by using the additional charts for this developed for this.

Rather than treating SAM suppression missions from planned airstrikes at SAM sites as different things, any suppression mission that exceeds its necessary roll by 30% or more is assumed to have permanently destroyed the battery (in the case of older SAMs relying on a single radar system) or half the battery (with more modern SAMs with multiple radars). Players may still attack airfields.

Syrian rebels sand-table their assault plans

SA2Syria

Sand tables (whether purpose-built, or hurriedly scrawled in the dirt) have long been used within the military to provide a graphic representation of enemy positions and demonstrate an intended attack plans to troops—even, it seems, in Syria.

The still picture above (taken from the video below) shows members of the rebel Kita’ib Ahrar al-Sham (“Free Men of Syria Battalions”) planning a successful attack upon a Syrian government S-75 (SA-2) surface-to-air missile battery near Aleppo using a sand table, blocks, toy vehicles, and identifying labels to depict the SAM garrison.


h/t @LizSly and  @CrispinBurke

Iranian student simulation of the Syrian crisis

As of late PAXsims has featured a great many US (or Israeli) simulations of Israel (and/or the US) attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, or US simulations of the Syrian crisis. This time, however, we bring you an Iranian simulation of a United Nations Security Council debate on the Syrian crisis.

The “Model UN”-type exercise was organized by the International Studies Journal  in cooperation with the United Nations Information Centre in Tehran on 20 September 2012. It involved some 36 graduate students from various universities across Iran.

The clip above (the third in a series of nine) is the only one to feature a student speech in English (starting at 1:37)—the rest of proceedings, obviously, were in Farsi. You’ll find the full set of videos on the UNIC Tehran YouTube page.

Syria, intervention, and the limits of wargaming

Today’s PAXsims post is something that I’ve been meaning to write about in a general way for a while, but is triggered this week by the confluence of several events. The first was a question raised by Michael Peck on the milgames email list, in which he asked how policy planners might usefully wargame the current civil war in Syria and the political and military complexities of possible external intervention. The second was a presentation by Stephen Downes-Martin at the recent Connections conference which focused, in part, on the ethics of wargame design, coupled with a follow-up point that he made in a comment on the Wargaming Connection blog about knowing the limits of our craft. Third, the Saban Center at Brookings has just released a report on a recent policy game they conducted on Syria, entitled “Unravelling the Syria Mess: A Crisis Simulation of Spillover from the Syrian Civil War.” Finally, I’ve been spending much of the week working on Syria-related research.

My answer to Michael’s question about wargaming Syria was fairly straightforward: while I felt that gaming could offer insight into the military challenges of intervention in Syria, I didn’t think it had much to offer in exploring the possible first, second, and third order political effects of intervention in such a complex and dynamic environment—especially given how many “known and unknown unknowns” lurk in the situation there. On the contrary, if I wanted to illuminate the Syria question I would prefer to do it through a workshop or well-run BOGSAT  (“bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table”) discussion, with a team of participants and moderators who knew how to move the discussion along in interesting and thought-provoking ways.

The advantages of this are two-fold, I think. First, a wargame usually (although not always) embeds a single model of a situation, and unless there are opportunities for multiple plays (a rarity in policy games) there is little  scope to explore a variety of possible relationships between key elements of the scenario. A workshop or BOGSAT discussion, on the other hand, allows you to unpack critical assumptions, debate them, consider alternatives, and talk through the policy implications of all that. This is especially important in a case where there is genuine disagreement about the causal processes and relationships at work. Such a discussion can also be very agile, allowing you to rapidly explore new directions when interesting ideas are put forward. That can be much more difficult to do in a wargame, especially the heavily-scripted three-move seminar games of the sort that often predominate in policy settings.

The report of the Syria wargame undertaken at Brookings, unfortunately, rather illustrates my point. The report itself is rather badly done: it isn’t at all clear how large the teams were, how they were formed, how much experience and expertise they had, what range of policy options they considered (or were allowed to considered), or how the white cell and game adjudication operated. The write-up itself is also extraordinarily vague in recounting who actually did what, when, and with what effects. Even the initial scenario is poorly described, as are any injects that might have been introduced during the game. Only three actors were represented by active players in the crisis game: the US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. The Syrian government wasn’t represented, nor were the many Syrian opposition actors. With no Syrian actors represented, it isn’t clear that any creative countermoves were taken by Damascus to deter or offset the creeping  intervention that took place in the game, nor that the locals could act to manipulate foreign engagement to their own local advantage. Many of the games findings seem to be self-evident, and hardly needed multiple players to give up a day to identify. The game report notes, for example, that Turkey is important in what happens in Syria—a fact that ought to be evident to anyone who has read the news, or who can even read a map.

Even more serious than this, however, is the extent to which many of the “findings” of the game seem to be as much presuppositions of the game model as they are actual findings. For example, the report notes:

Nevertheless, despite Turkey’s significance, American power still went a long way. For instance, the Saudi team evinced interest in the battles for the arms‐ supply routes through Lebanon which the scenario depicted as escalating—and in the deteriorating situation in Lebanon more generally. But the Saudi team again found itself relatively unable to explore options there without support from the U.S. team. The Saudi team also considered working with Jordan as an alternative (or supplement) to Turkey, but the other teams (principally the U.S. team) showed little interest in pursuing the feasibility of that option.

The paragraph, and the game, presumes that there are “battles for the arms supply routes in Lebanon.” It isn’t clear what exactly that means, nor does it sound especially realistic to me. The report also suggests the game was configured in such a way that the Saudis couldn’t influence events in Lebanon without US assistance—which I also think is fundamentally wrong.

To take another example:

…the Saudi team found that Saudi Arabia had only a modest impact on events in Syria itself, and made little headway with either the American or Turkish teams until the Americans and Turks had decided on their own—and for reasons having nothing to do with Saudi efforts—to intervene in Syria. At that point, Saudi/Arab help became extremely useful, but even then it was not decisive: the American and Turkish teams had made up their minds to do so based on their own interests, and would have intervened (and felt they could have intervened) with or without Arab support, although the Arab support was certainly welcome.

Potentially, Saudi and Gulf influence on events in Syria is (I would argue) much greater than the report, and the crisis game model, seem to suggest—especially regarding financial and material support to the Syrian opposition.

Overall, one gets the sense that the game was rigged to tilt the process towards certain policy conclusions, either because of the policy preferences of the game sponsors and designers or because of the particular worldview that it was built on.

In his comments at Wargaming Connection, Stephen warns of the dangers of “trying to sell war gaming as a solution when other solutions might be better.”  He’s right, of course. It is often the case that a wargame or policy game is not the best way of exploring an issue; indeed, I would argue that it is very often not the best way of exploring complex political issues.

On the other hand, if (say) you’re a think tank in Washington and you want to (say) influence policy on Syria, running a game and putting “crisis simulation” in the title of your report is one way of making it seem somehow more weighty and special. It is, after all a crisis—you know, important and urgent—and a simulation—which, of course, must mean that it bears some relationship to reality. Which means it’s got to be correct, right?

 

simulations miscellany: 10 January 2012

Some recent simulation and gaming items of interest:

* * *

In his regular gaming column at Foreign Policy Magazine this week, Michael Peck invades Syria. Milgeek note to Michael: the Turks have several hundred Leopard 1s and 2A4s, so perhaps using a modern German Army wasn’t entirely unrealistic after all.

* * *

At the Smart War Blog, a graduate student discusses his ongoing work on developing an insurgency/counter-insurgency simulation of the 2007 Baghdad Security Plan for his class assignment  in Professor Philip Sabin’s well-known course on conflict simulation at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London:

Free tip from PAXsims: black counters with white printing might work nicely for the Sadrists’ “Mahdi Army,” given their usual parade uniform. Also, while periodic PAXsims contributor Brian Train is rightly considered the reigning king of small-box insurgency simulations, judging from your draft map you may already have him beaten on the graphic arts front. Watch out, Brian!

* * *

As for Professor Sabin, this seems a good time to mention that his forthcoming book Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games (Continuum Press) will be published shortly. It seems destined to join Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming (1990) as an instant classic in the field.

Simulating War explores the theory and practice of conflict simulation, as applied in the many thousands of wargames published over the past 50 years. It discusses the utility of this form of conflict simulation by setting it in its proper context alongside military and professional wargaming, as well as more academically familiar techniques such as game theory and operational analysis. The book explains in detail the analytical and modelling techniques involved, and provides complete illustrative simulations of three specific historical conflicts, as used in Professor Sabin’s own courses on the wars concerned. It gives readers all the intellectual skills they need to use published wargames and to design their own simulations of conflicts of their choice, whether for interest or as a vehicle for teaching or research.

You can preorder it via Amazon.com and elsewhere.

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