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Lessons from Naval War College war games

By Jim BencivengaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 7, 1988



Designers of naval war games make it clear that the games are never intended to create policy. Just the opposite occurs: Policy drives the game scenario. But the observed behaviors of commanders and policymakers ``on the scene,'' over time and with frequency, may in fact shape policies. Researchers at the Naval War College make the following unclassified deductions from participants' actions: Modern wars are hard to start; you have to jump-start them.

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Once wars start, they are very difficult to stop.

Nuclear war is even harder to start. There is a large body of data showing that folks are not willing to begin a nuclear war. Strategists must take this into account in planning national security, says Robert S. Wood, dean of Naval Warfare Studies at the college. ``Suppose you discover real people in a scenario of simulated conflict postpone, indefinitely, the use of nuclear weapons,'' he says. You would have to factor this into national strategy. War gaming, over time, gives you these insights, he says.

Gaming internationalizes war. Players realize very quickly how interdependent the US and other countries are for resources, finished goods, and weapons.

War gaming provides a setting where a British general can disagree openly with a Dutch admiral in a specific game, whereas in their respective countries such disagreement would go against all protocol, stifling discussion, or learning.

An antiterrorism game that does not factor in ethics does not work, because Americans are an ethical people. ``Put tough talkers in a scenario and they back off as soon as they see how complicated a situation and issues are,'' says Dr. Wood.