From armed conflicts to global pandemics, military strategists and policymakers use gaming to gain insights into some of the most challenging problems they face. Ranging from operational wargames to strategy games, these exercises help develop and test strategies, support effective decision-making, and communicate vital lessons to key stakeholders. The Gaming Lab at CNAS develops, runs, and analyzes games to derive critical insights on a wide array of military, political, and economic challenges, with the aim to make concrete policy-relevant recommendations. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore how the Gaming Lab contributes to the policy debate.
Dangerous Straits: Wargaming a Future Conflict over Taiwan
The Gaming Lab at CNAS, in partnership with NBC’s Meet the Press, conducted a high-level strategic-operational wargame exploring a fictional war over Taiwan, set in 2027. The wargame sought to illuminate the dilemmas that U.S. and Chinese policymakers might face in such a conflict, along with the strategies they might adopt to achieve their overarching objectives. The game was intended to produce insights as to how the United States and its allies and partners could deter the PRC from invading Taiwan and could better position themselves to defend Taiwan and defeat such aggression should deterrence fail.
Containing Crisis: Strategic Concepts for Coercive Economic Statecraft
The United States and its allies are increasingly forced to respond to coercive economic statecraft—i.e., restrictions on trade, investment, and financial transactions intended to impose economic costs on a target in pursuit of strategic objectives—employed by China. At the same time, the United States lacks a broader strategy for the effective use of economic tools to manage and respond to scenarios of geopolitical tension. A recent CNAS report sets a new strategic framework for U.S. coercive economic statecraft toward Beijing through conducting two unique tabletop exercises.
When the Chips Are Down: Gaming the Global Semiconductor Competition
A virtual strategy game conducted by the Center for a New American Security, and detailed in a report by authors Becca Wasser, Martijn Rasser, and Hannah Kelley, produced critical insights into the nature of U.S.-China strategic competition and global competition for semiconductors. Designed and conducted by the CNAS Gaming Lab, the exercise examined how China could influence Taiwan’s semiconductor industry and policy options that the United States and Taiwan could take to counter China’s predatory actions.
It’s Time to Rethink our Wargames
"National security practitioners held several high-profile pandemic wargames and exercises in the years prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Often, these games eerily predicted events in the current pandemic, along with the policy hurdles the government has faced," writes Chris Dougherty in Inkstick. "Instead of serving as a clarion call for preparedness or guiding the response, however, these games have become an ironic historical footnote. What lessons should the wargaming and policy communities take from this experience? Games have a proven record of helping people think through “wicked problems” such as counterinsurgencies, major wars, great-power competition, or pandemics. But this beneficial effect only occurs if policymakers and organizations can access, absorb, and act on the insights and lessons they provide."
A Strategic Response to China’s Economic Coercion
"Using an innovative set of scenario exercises, based on wargaming best practices, the CNAS research team found that the PRC is the most willing to deploy the widest range of economic tools in response to a geopolitical conflict," write Emily Jin, Emily Kilcrease and Rachel Ziemba in The Diplomat. The United States may be hampered in its response, due to divergent economic interests with its closest allies and differing views on the strategic threat to liberal democracies that is posed by China. At the same time, the United States must find a way to leverage its alliances so that the combined economic heft of nations pushing back on China’s economic coercion is persuasive to Beijing."
Simulating War: Three Enduring Lessons from the Louisiana Maneuvers
"Much like the interwar debates on the future of U.S. mechanization and horse cavalry, the United States is at a critical juncture as it reimagines its future force," argues Jennifer McArdle in War on the Rocks. "After the United States invested in a small number of exquisite manned platforms for decades, some defense analysts are now calling for a reconceptualization of America’s military posture, towards one focused on mass, autonomy, survivability, or expendability. Others have characterized the change as an evolution of a hardware-centric military to a software-centric force — a transformation from platforms to kill chains. Such a change will not come easily. Indeed, just as in the interwar years, entrenched interests will favor the status quo. Simulation, whether in the form of wargames or large-scale exercises like those in Louisiana, should provide a way forward, particularly for those thorny challenges that will likely require a fundamental realignment of the future force."
In the News
Featuring commentary from Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Robert Work.
About the Sharper Series
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.
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