Last week, NBC News Meet the Press reported on a wargame run by the Center for New American Security (CNAS), a D.C.-based think tank, on a 2027 war with China. A description of the game along with an 11-minute version of the broadcast is available here, and a longer 27 minute version is below. Note that the short video is not just a slice of the longer one; both have original content that is worth watching.
To say this was an interesting little show is an understatement; it is rare that we see this much “wargame” in the media. Sure, what we saw is looks more like a BOGSAT* but the various articles do tell us there was some adjudication happening. Here are some observations I have (minor spoilers if you care):
- The lure of the Fait Accompli. Like Russia in the Ukraine, the decision to go to war was based on a “hope” for a quick victory…but when that doesn’t happen it becomes a slog that neither side is ready for.
- Both sides were quick to climb the escalation ladder. I found this a bit interesting because in some of the literature I have read “elite players”—like the Congressional or ex-Executive Branch or retired military types playing here—tend to not escalate like a bunch of high-school kids might.
- The wargame was less about the kinetic war and more about the decisions and implications made during the war. For professional wargamers this is a long-given but it is good to see it come through in this presentation.
- When a wargame focuses on decisions it brings out more useful observations. I think all too often policy makers either don’t want to to are discouraged from playing a “war game” because they don’t see themselves (or are told by others) they don’t have the military expereince to play “war”; but it is their policy insights that are needed to make vital adjustments to the future and we can see that “lightbulb of learning” happening here.
- The nuclear genie is closer to getting loose than one thinks. How casual was the discussion on limited nuclear use even after (conventional) strikes of the U.S. homeland?
- Wargames are models, subject to bias in design and execution. In much the same way this wargame didn’t reach the radar of NBC News by accident; so who is advocating here and for with what agenda?
- A five-hour wargame. This is what happens when you are more focused on decisions and less on force-on-force modeling and simulation.
There are many more games over at The Gaming Lab at CNAS. More than a few have publications or videos behind them. Worth checking out.
*BOGSAT – Bunch of Guys/Gals Sitting Around a Table
Feature image -“The war game adjudication team tracks progress with a map of the Taiwan strait and a mock-up of Chinese and Taiwanese forces, on “Meet the Press Reports” in Washington on April 25. William B. Plowman / NBC “