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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Wikistrat

Wikistrat: Turkey’s Intervention in the Syrian Civil War

In April 2016 Wikistrat completed two role-playing simulations that explored the dynamics of Turkish intervention in the Syrian civil war:

140 analysts from Wikistrat’s global community of 2,200 recently wargamed a scenario in which Turkey invades northern Syria to establish a buffer zone in the country’s Kurdish region.

The analysts were divided across two mirrored groups (Alpha and Bravo) which had seven teams of ten analysts each, playing Russia, Assad loyalists in Syria, Turkey, the Kurds, ISIS, anti-Damascus and Western-backed rebels, as well as Iran and its proxies.

The two groups progressed simultaneously from the same starting scenario. But the divergent courses they took revealed key insights into some of the main actors and dynamics in the Syrian Civil War.

Key Findings

  • In the event of a Turkish intervention in Syria, providing Turkish forces stayed within a ten-kilometer buffer zone and avoided direct confrontation with Russia, they would likely not face significant pressure to withdraw — and could even gain international support if they were able to stabilize the border and slow the flow of refugees to Europe.
  • Assad has an interest in encouraging Russian and Kurdish coordination in Kurdish-held areas in order to free resources to fight anti-Assad rebels in the north.
  • Anti-Assad rebels are likely to suffer greatly in the face of escalating tensions, as their backers (e.g., the U.S. and Turkey) will be hesitant to increase the risk of hostilities with Russia by providing them with significant support.
  • The potential for NATO involvement in Syria will likely constrain Turkish, U.S. and European actors far more than Russia.
  • If Russia manages to keep its focus on ISIS while checking Turkey, it could gain significant international public opinion support which could be leveraged on behalf of Assad.
  • ISIS aggression was a major determinant regarding the direction and intensity of both games. However, ISIS aggression was more likely to result in sustained victory if the focus was on insurgent warfare in Syria (e.g., an attack on Russian forces within Syria) rather than terrorist attacks abroad (e.g., an attack against Russia itself).

The findings are interesting to compare with actual developments since the analysis was undertaken, notably the launching of Operation Euphrates Shield in August against ISIS and even more so the PYD/YPG (Syrian Kurds, and their allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces), and recent Russian-Turkish-Iranian cooperation on a ceasefire and proposed Syrian peace negotiations.

You’ll find the full report at the Wikistrat website. For more on their role-play methodologies, see here.

h/t Shay Hershkovitz

Simulation & gaming miscellany, post-PDW edition

PDW

I recently returned from an extremely productive week spent discussing wargaming and analytical methodologies with colleagues from the Defence and Security Analysis Division of the UK Ministry Defence Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at their Portsdown West site. I’ll post a trip report as soon as my comments and the photos are cleared for public release.

In the meantime, PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.

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jdn1_16In May, the Pentagon released Joint Doctrine Note 1-16 on the topic of Command Red Team:

Command red teams help commanders and staffs think critically and creatively; challenge assumptions; mitigate groupthink; reduce risks by serving as a check against complacency and surprise; and increase opportunities by helping the staff see situations, problems, and potential solutions from alternative perspectives.

The distinguishing feature of a command red team from alternative analysis produced by subject matter experts within the intelligence directorate of a joint staff is its relative independence, which isolates it from the organizational influences that can unintentionally shape intelligence analysis, such as the human tendency for analysts to maintain amicable relations with colleagues and supervisors, and the potential for regular coordination processes to normalize divergent assessments. Commanders can seek the perspectives of trusted advisors regarding any issue of concern. A command red team may also address similar issues, but unlike most commander’s advisory/action groups, it supports the commander’s staff throughout the design, planning, execution, and assessment of operations, and during routine problem-solving initiatives throughout the headquarters. Red teams and tiger teams may be ad hoc and address specific issues. In many cases, the only difference between the two may be the participation of a red team member who can advise the group in the use of structured techniques. Alternate modes employ red teaming as a temporary or additional duty or as an ad hoc operation, with teams assembled as needed to address specific issues.

JDN 1-16 goes on to address Red Team organization, challenges, and activities, as well as their contribution to joint planning and joint intelligence. The appendices include a list of common logical fallacies and tips for effective devil’s advocacy.

 

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Wikistrat-A-Chinese-Spring-cover-464x600Shay Hershkovitz, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of the Analytical Community at Wikistrat, has passed on a recent report on how China might deal with future unrest.

Wikistrat generally uses online expert crowd-sourcing to explore scenarios and identify drivers and pathways. In this case, the simulation methodology was as follows:

50 analysts were handpicked from Wikistrat’s global community of more than 2,000 to participate in this simulation, including renowned China experts Andrew K.P. Leung, Hong Kong’s former chief representative to the United Kingdom; Professor Yawei Liu, Director of the Carter Center’s China Program; and Hugh Stephens, Executive-in-Residence at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The participants were divided into four mirror-image teams (all playing as the Politburo) to test whether they would manage the crisis differently. The game progressed across four rounds, each representing a week of real time. The teams were given the same scenario at the start, but conditions were adjusted in subsequent rounds to re ect the actions of each team.

Every participant could propose an action by submitting a “move” containing a policy decision (e.g., suppress online discussion of the protests), a desired end-state and a rationale. The rest of the team expressed their approval by “liking” the proposal (or disapproval by taking no action). Whichever proposal received the most likes in a given round was interpreted by Wikistrat as the team’s consensus and informed the next round’s update.

119 moves were proposed by the teams in total. There was often a clear preference for one or two moves per round in each team. In only a few cases did Wikistrat need to consolidate various moves that received an equal number of likes.

A fifth group of experts was engaged as a U.S. observer team to offer insights into how the United States might interpret and respond to China’s actions.

In the end, the four China teams proceeded more or less along the same pathways, seeking to quell the protests by cracking down on ringleaders while offering concessions and conjuring up foreign plots in order to demotivate the masses.

You’ll find a description of each round of the simulation and key take-aways in the full report (link above).

ChineseSpring3

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A modified version of the digital game Civilization V is being developed for use in high school classrooms. According to The Verge:

 Publisher Take-Two Interactive announced that a modified version of the historical strategy game Civilization V is in the works, and is expected to be available for high school classes in North America starting next fall. Called CivilizationEDU, the company says that the education-focused version of the game will “provide students with the opportunity to think critically and create historical events, consider and evaluate the geographical ramifications of their economic and technological decisions, and to engage in systems thinking and experiment with the causal / correlative relationships between military, technology, political, and socioeconomic development.”

While I enjoy Civ V and other 4X (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”) games, I’m a little doubtful that they are the best way of teaching about world history since they tend to be designed to reflect player preferences, expectations, and preconceptions rather than portray accurate historical dynamics.

PAXsims

…and on that subject, it’s about time we offered a shout-out to Play the Past, a website “dedicated to thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined).”

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Brexit.jpg

At the Active Learning in Political Science blog they discuss simulating Brexit:

In the spirit of not wasting a good crisis, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union offers a great way into understanding a number of political dynamics.

Of course, we need to tread a bit carefully here, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a highly fluid situation, so whatever one might plan for the autumn might be completely overtaken by events. Secondly, some of the things that have happened over the past week are so extreme and atypical that while you might reproduce them in a simulation setting, you are almost certainly never going to see them happen again. Thirdly, there’s an awful lot going on, so you need to pick your targets clearly.

With all those caveats in mind, some options still present themselves….

PAXsims

460003main_merraflood93.jpgOn 20-21 October 2016, the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London will be hosting a conference on Simulation and Environments: A Critical Dialogue Between Systems Of Perception And Ecocritical Aesthetics.

Theme #1: Aesthetics and Environmental Simulations

When addressing issues of climate and climate crisis, simulation models and techniques become potent tools for understanding, prediction, and prevention. Yet the epistemological merit of these tools is rarely accompanied with a critical assessment of their aesthetic properties.

Put another way, the history of nature and the environment is, particularly at its interstices with the human and the natural sciences, heavily laden with cultural and even theological ideas about how a nature should look, should make one feel, should be. What guarantee do we have that these ideological preconceptions are not making their way into our simulations and models? If they are being included, how are they influencing our data? Or conversely, should we be including the cultural and affective effects of nature so often associated with the experience of landscape into our computational models precisely because of the way they fold the human into the physical environment?

The aim of this conference stream will be to parse the aesthetic conditions of simulation technologies, assumptions, and ideologies when dealing with the ecosystem. What role can visual or other aesthetics play in the computing of climates and natural phenomena? How does the changing role of the human as geological agent reframe the digital image as an epistemological form?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Geospatial technologies, imaging, & observational data
  • Earth imaging & observation
  • Computational climate models
  • Military vision and targeting technologies
  • GIS technologies
  • Remote sensing
  • New media art

 

Theme #2: Simulation and Systems of Perception

Conceptions of simulation attempt to recreate the environment through computational logics of representation that only ever remain asymptotic to the physical world. Rather than asking whether or not simulation can ever provide homeomorphic images of the physical how can simulation instead be used performatively to rethink ways of perceiving, knowing and doing?

This might entail a theorisation of vision – or visioning – in the broader sense of not just perceiving with sight, but also insight, as well as the projection of images of elsewheres and otherwises, futures and fantasies. How would such a repositioning affect the potential instrumentalisation of simulation for political imaginaries and art practices?

The aim of this conference stream will be to invite discussion on the ontological and epistemological implications of simulated modes of perception. How can perception be understood in relation to computational aesthetics and logics?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Computational modelling systems
  • Mathematics and culture
  • Planning technologies and the imaginary
  • Artificial visioning systems
  • Geopositioning and robotics
  • Cognitive simulations

Those interested in participating should  submit paper abstracts of 500 words to environmentalsims@gmail.com by 1 August 2016. (Please designate theme of interest).

simulations miscellany, 8 December 2012

We’re pleased to present the latest news on conflict simulation and serious gaming, gathered by our world-wide PAXsims network of reporters (that is, the two of us). Suggestions for other items to include in the future are always welcome!

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guns_dice_butter_small_logoThe latest edition of the excellent gaming podcast Gun, Dice and Butter features a panel discussion on gaming insurgencies with some of the biggest names in the field:

Welcome to Episode X of Guns, Dice, Butter.

0:01 Intro

0:06 Conversation with Mercury Games: Richard Diosi (Doc Stryder) and Kevin Nesbitt

0:32 Panel discussion with Mark Herman, Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke regarding insurgencies and wargames: Wide ranging discussion examining wargames that model insurgencies (see website for link to games on insurgencies and national/strategic will games), political dynamics of insurgencies and insurgency games in the pipeline from this group of designers (A Distant Plan {Afghanistan}, Fire on the Lake {Vietnam}, etc).

2:18 Wrap up

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Defense News reports that an old boardgame is making a new comeback:

ORLANDO — In the midst of a flashy I/ITSEC floor full of simulators running high-definition visuals, one product hearkened back to a simpler era of wargaming.

“Ranger,” a 30-year-old solitaire board game based on the tactics and techniques used by the Army’s elite soldiers, is being turned into a computer game for laptops and tablets.

The game’s inventor, Bill Gibbs, is working with the Orlando-based company Engineering and Computer Simulations on the application, which is slated to be available by download in early 2013.

The original “Ranger — Modern Patrolling Operations: Swamp Terrain” included two maps, 24 missions, and, for those who haven’t attended Ranger training, a booklet on tactics and procedures.

Gibbs said he has extensively researched and revamped the tactics to reflect changing times, and the gear now matches contemporary loadouts. But he said he was surprised to find few other necessary changes.

“The actual concepts and doctrine and principles were all still the same,” Gibbs said.

The digital version will let users control and plan for a mission, including squad reconnaissance, platoon ambushes or raid patrols. While a player might flip through pages of the play booklet in the board game, the digital version pops the information up on the screen.

Other features will include a patrol record log, tactical and map views, and a way to freeze the patrol during the mission.

Future editions of the game will include a downed-pilot mission and gameplay set in different terrains such as mountains and deserts.

Gibbs is also working with ECS to change the interface and adapt the game for the iPhone; that version should be available in April.

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Red Team Journal has started to compile a somewhat tongue-in cheek (but oh-so-true) list of the “Laws of Red Teaming.” They’ll all be very familiar to professional pol-mil gamers.

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According to the Washington Post, the US and Chinese militaries held a tabletop exercise on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief last month.

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The blog War Studies Publications recently featured an interview with Prof. Philip Sabin (King’s College London) on “conflict simulations, ancient warfare, and airpower. You’ll find it here.

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The folks at Wikistrat have posted to their website a summary of their latest “Wikistrat crowdsourced simulation” on “Pakistani Nukes Go Loose.” Despite the name, there really isn’t much simulation here—rather, it is simply an analytical summary of crowd-sourced discussion and scenario-generation on the topic, all wrapped up with some flashy jargon and graphics. Analytically, that might well be a very good way of generating some interesting thinking. However, it also highlights the use of the term “simulation” itself as a marketing tool, something we’ve commented on before here and here.

 

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