Policy ForumINTERNATIONAL SECURITY

Next-generation wargames

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Science  21 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6421, pp. 1362-1364
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2135

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  • RE: Wargaming and Game Theory

    "Next-Generation Wargames" (21 December) indicates the field to be "theory rich, data poor." I disagree. The simulations, including those that are computer-based, are generally not tied to the mathematical theory of games—not mentioned in this article—which since the mid-20th century has been the most compelling theory to explain strategic choices in many fields, including political-military decisions about national and international security. By contrast, wargaming is very much an ad hoc enterprise, untied to rigorous game-theoretic models that have been developed to explain crisis escalation, nuclear deterrence, arms races, terrorism, and the like.

    Absent theory, wargaming purports to predict what might happen in realistic situations involving multiple actors and and a variety of forces, but the complexity of the scenarios and the number of players (sometimes millions) often overwhelm the ability to identify the key factors that determine outcomes. It is not enough to propose scenarios, however plausible, and give players different roles if the conditions that give rise to events are not well understood and, as a consequence, leave unclear what actions to take in response.

    The authors conclude by discussing "methodological challenges," but the real challenge is to develop theories that guide strategic decision making. Game-theoretic models, grounded in fundamental assumptions about the bases of conflict and cooperation...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.