Strong opinions, weakly held

Wargaming Iran

Today I’m reading about a completely fascinating wargame that was set up at Harvard to explore which strategies might work with regard to Iran and its weapons programs. Experienced foreign policy professionals were brought in to play the United States, Israel, the Iranian government, and others. Columbia University professor Gary Sick played Iran, and writes about the game on his blog. The details of the game’s outcome (Iran wins easily) are interesting, but I also love the idea of wargaming to explore possibilities and wonder how it could be incorporated more into business planning.

A few years ago I read Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France by Ernest R May (my review is here) and was impressed at how effectively the Germans employed wargaming. Hitler announced his intention to invade France, and the German generals used wargaming to test various plans until they came up with the one that had the best chance of working. In going back and reading the review, I see that when I wrote it (November, 2004), I was optimistic about the future of Afghanistan. How times change.

1 Comment

  1. The key quote: “The U.S. is moving away from preventing a nuclear Iran to containing a nuclear Iran — with deterrence based on the Cold War experience. That became clear in the simulation. Israel, in contrast, still believes a nuclear Iran must be prevented.”

    At this point I would rate an Israeli strike on the known Iranian nuclear facilities as the most likely outcome. Which I also think would be disastrous for the Middle East and probably for Israel. I think a safer course is containment and deterrence, which might require Israel to publicly declare or even demonstrate its nuclear weapons & survivable delivery systems, but which would still be safer than outright warfare that is likely to end with both parties armed with nuclear weapons anyway and – because of the open hostility – much more likely to use them.

    I dunno though. The problem that North Korea & Pakistan have shown is that small nuclear states have much more incentive to trade weapons secrets with other small states not involved in their local conflicts in order to share development costs. Large states are not a proliferation risk in the same way because they can individually absorb the cost of weapons development.

    The big overarching problem is the lack of anything like a plan for general disarmament (which has to include conventional weapons and a peaceful conflict-resolution mechanism as well as reducing nuclear weapons). We’re headed towards a world in 2100 with dozens of nuclear-armed states, and that’s a recipe for nuclear terrorism or use-it-or-lose-it scenarios for small states. No, I don’t have suggestions for what such a plan would look like.

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