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What Does War Gaming for Peace Look Like?

What Does War Gaming for Peace Look Like?

In policy planning, there’s a lot of effort involved when planning for conflict. Research papers and briefings, certainly, but also "war games" — simulations of conflicts with experts on the various parties to the conflict acting out their roles. If Group A invades and takes this military base, how does Group B respond (or Group C, D, or E)? What if policymakers put as much thought into thinking through diplomatic scenarios as they do war scenarios? 

That was the question posed by PeaceGame, a simulation of diplomatic efforts around the Syrian civil war organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace and Foreign Policy Monday. The discussion brought together 45 experts, including former ambassadors and State Department officials, academics, and Arab activists, all together representing 19 groups influencing the war. It’s the first of what is planned as a series of similar events. The next one is scheduled for Spring 2014 in the United Arab Emirates.

If you’re trying to envision what it was like, imagine a high-level roleplaying game — something akin to Model United Nations or Dungeons & Dragons (with FP CEO David Rothkopf as dungeonmaster). But the level of expertise was something else entirely. Former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley and Casimir Yost, recently returned from the National Intelligence Council, represented the United States. 

PeaceGame sought to highlight the interests and roles of groups whose voices are frequently lost in often insular Washington policy discussions. Though they won’t be in Geneva, Salafi militants, represented at today’s event by Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor at the Stimson Center, did everything could to derail an agreement to end the war. USIP Associate Vice President Manal Omar spoke for Syrian civil society, and though they may not be at the negotiating table, Omar gamed out how they might implement — or not — a potential peace deal.

And how far does Bashar al-Assad think he can push his luck? Will he compromise if Russia drops its support? Former Ambassador Ted Kattouf and Syrian National Council member Murhaf Jouejati, who represented the Assad regime, didn’t think so. He’ll hold out until his support from Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria’s domestic Alawite community starts to slip, they suggested. But, they added, others in his government may push him out as a means to save their own skin before that happens. Then there’s the long-term: Former Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer noted that an agreement is one thing, but for peace to be sustainable, it will require a generation of multinational oversight and, she stressed, funding. 

Plans for an even more in-depth conversation were cut short by the threat of a snowstorm in Washington Tuesday, curtailing a conversation on potential spoilers to an agreement.

For more on Monday’s event, you can see check USIP and Foreign Policy’s updates from throughout the day on Twitter. USIP will soon be posting video from the event here.