Monday, December 31, 2007

End-State Wargaming? - value of military history, and of war games

Pictured: Victory Games, Pacific War

LEADING OFF THIS issue, Congressman Ike Skelton advocates studying history to better prepare for the reality of the future. Complementing this theme, Matt Caffrey provides an interesting perspective with his piece on the history of wargaming. Just as we should not limit our study of military history to certain conflicts, in the mix of wargaming and history, so should we be careful not to wargame just the wars we would prefer to fight--rather than the ones we get. Effective military leaders will be students of both military history and wargaming.

Military history is full of painful insight about the end states of war. For example, due in part to the Versailles Diktat following World War I, that conflict certainly was not the "war to end all wars." The aftermath of World War II was also enigmatic, leading to the cold war and Korea, among other problems. The Korean conflict clearly has not yet left us. The denouement of Vietnam was hardly spectacular. We are still heavily engaged with no-fly zones in Southwest Asia--as Maj Brent Talbot and Lt Jeffrey Hicks remind us in their article. And Europe is still haunted by the Balkans nightmare, despite world wars and air campaigns like the recent one over Kosovo--analyzed in Lt Col Paul Strickland's piece on Operation Allied Force. Military leaders are well aware of war's end-state dilemmas; yet, despite much focus on desired end states, historical reality reflects many undesired outcomes.

Wargames might also provide insight about ending war, but usually they do not. Why? The answer is that wargames support their intended objectives, and although many of them focus on desired end states of war, they are not specifically designed to do that--thus, in practice, they don't. Typically, an educational wargame begins with growing political, economic, and social unrest in one or more conceptual theaters. Then the scenario builds, with increasing problems leading to open hostilities and consequent decisions to engage militarily. In this process, wargaming students concentrate on the difficult challenges of deploying, employing, and sustaining military forces-and hopefully learn something in the process. Unfortunately, however, learning often stops there and does not include grappling with issues about the desired end states after the termination of shooting.

By the time most educational wargames reach the end state of war, students are exhausted and eager to finish (as are combatants in real war). Hence, wargames often terminate in a fizzle because students' minds are elsewhere, preparing to "go home."

What we need is specifically designed end-state wargaming, but one has to look far and wide to find it. We should begin conceptually with the war(s) already long into the fight and the major focus of the wargame on the end--and beyond. This would provide the time and focused mental effort necessary to really work through the complex end state of war fighting, involving the myriad military, political, economic, and social ramifications.

As students of military history, how might we see better end states from war? Because wargaming can, indeed, influence reality, end-state wargaming needs to be a reality.

(*.) Wargame, used as a single word, runs contrary to current English lexicographical practice. But with an eye toward the German rendering of the concept in the single word Kriegsspiel, for purposes of simplicity in this issue of APJ, we spell the term--and its variants--as one word.

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