Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 37 futures. What is most interesting about the wargaming discourse, however, is the comparatively minor presence of arguments for incorporating wargaming into the education of civilian foreign policy and national security practitioners. This is especially confounding when one considers that it is civilians who occupy the chief roles in defining the political ends, directing the strategic ways, and approving the military means of national security policies. The education of upcoming foreign policy practitioners and national security strategists is a subject of great interest, importance, and debate. Overwhelmingly, it occurs in the political science and international relations faculties of civilian universities. For students, what an undergraduate foreign or national security policy education looks like is largely an amalgamation of abstract theories, primarily those of the international relations field; historical case studies, mostly cherrypicked from the last two centuries of European history; the strategic canon of Clausewitz and Machiavelli, among others; perhaps a foreign language; and, for some, statistical trend analysis. This is a rather problematic way of educating some of the most important practitioners within their fields, producing graduates of disparate quality in strategic thinking capacity; an issue which has been brought up repeatedly throughout the years across a variety of disciplines in what might be considered a wider debate over the atrophy of degree programs in practicality and critical thinking development.[ii] The question of what an undergraduate education, in this case international relations and affiliated programs, truly equips students to do is one of growing significance yet remains somewhat elusive. While the application of strategic concepts and international relations theory in an academic setting likely helps to develop one’s general analytical skills, its ability to truly instill an understanding of the practice of statecraft, much less the utility of military operations and the practice of war more broadly, is rather questionable. Enter the tabletop. That tabletop games can be effectively used to enhance learning in a variety of disciplines is a wellunderstood and empirically founded concept.[iii] Perhaps more intriguingly, however, is the fact that board games have long played a role in crafting the strategic mindsets of statesmen, from the Mesopotamian Royal Game of Ur (created ca. 2600-2400 BC) to classical China’s Go (possibly created ca. 2300 BC, but first referenced ca. 550 BC).[iv] And yet, despite the contemporary world’s near-unparalleled access to such board games, their usage in the education of the ever-increasing bureaucracy of statesmen and ostensibly “strategic” thinkers is underwhelming. For their part, many national security practitioners are likely aware of the long history and current usage of wargaming in simulating conflict and geopolitical risk, from Prussia’s nineteenth century Kriegspiel to that of the United States Naval War College. What is both fascinating and baffling, however, is the scant presence of gamebased simulation in national security or foreign policy education at the university level despite its prevalence in the professional world as both formal tools of analysis and informal enhancers of relevant skills. While some civilian graduate programs offer wargaming extracurriculars and classes, such as those at Georgetown University and King’s College London, it is seldom a core component of the aspiring statesmen’s education. There are many reasons for this conspicuous absence, varying from the increasing over-emphasis on quantitative methods over the qualitative development of the mind in the social sciences, the resistance of some administrators and academics to a historically stigmatized hobby as well as the more concrete concerns for implementers of access and time requirements. Operationalizing the Term “Wargame” It is worthwhile to distinguish what is and is not a wargame. This is, of course, a contentious subject and increasingly so, as simulations passed off as wargaming and its associated concepts, such as red teaming, have proliferated to fields outside of the defense sector. This article’s usage of the term wargame aligns with that of Dr. Peter Perla’s, doyen of the American professional wargaming community. As Perla has long argued, broad definitions of what wargames are undermines the efficacy of their application and understanding of how they ought to be used.[v] At their core, wargames are simply that, games that simulate an aspect of war. Wargames themselves are not yet another analytical method to produce quantitative results that can be extrapolated into trends. Wargames are not real, and as such, they should not attempt to rigorously reproduce the realities of combat, logistics, and other factors integral to the actual experience of war. In this way, professional “wargaming” by modeling and simulation methods is more akin to veneered operations research and systems engineering than wargaming. Rather, true qualitative wargaming provides a contextualized, albeit abstracted, and often competitive environment that forces human players to make decisions. The value of such a wargame, especially for civilians, is in its role as a human-centric social activity that requires critical thinking and specialized skills in which players show their knowledge by doing, making the kinds of choices that they seldom would have the opportunity to do elsewhere. Thus, in the context of civilian education, likely the most valuable wargames are those that emphasize the strategic level of war and international relations with secondary interest in operations and tactics. Diplomacy, the Quintessential IR Game Some institutions have already begun experimenting with tabletop games as supplements to their international relations and security education curricula.[vi] This is Towards Better Civilian Strategic Education: A Case for Tabletop Wargames Benjamin E. Mainardi