Designing a War Game in Space
Big, worldwide problems like pandemics, wars, and diplomatic solutions are too complicated to solve on paper alone. There are too many variables to account for, and humans are not always predictable. Strategic simulations are one way to easily recreate the chaos of real-world situations, without actual political ramifications. In fact, South Korea’s original response to the COVID-19 outbreak was so effective because infectious disease specialists had run a simulation exercise on a hypothetical Chinese-origin virus just weeks before the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded. This project was meant to give future politicians and policymakers a glimpse into how difficult political consensus is, especially on the international scale.
The audience of this exercise were professionals in the field of international politics and law. Many of the participants either had a background in government or were planning future careers in the governmental field. Experience levels ranged from former interns for Congress to military commanders, to current Japanese government officials. All participants had at least a bachelor's degree and were in the process of a Masters's degree. Age, race, origin language, nationality, and gender were diverse.
Roles and Responsibilities
I, along with another researcher, were assisting Emilie Hafner-Burton in the creation of the war game. We choose the topic, the modern space race, and spent 3 months investigating current policy around the subject. We then analyzed all parties involved in international policy and decided on the revision of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) agreements and Space 2030 plans. We created personas for 3-4 characters per country, totaling 43 active players by the end of the simulation. We then instructed players in their characters, gave them guiding documents, and facilitated discussions between parties. At the end of the simulation, we facilitated a vote on 5 separate guiding documents to decide the "success" or "failure" of negotiations.
Scope and Constraints
The simulation was limited to three months as that was the length of the class. Both my colleague and I researched for 3 months prior to holding the simulation, totaling 6 months of work. The simulation also took place during the pandemic, so what would normally be an in-person event was held online. Participants used zoom calls in place of in-person meetings and utilized a pre-made discord server to privately chat and negotiate.
Process and What I Did
My colleague and I did copious research into all potential treaties made by the UN, private companies, and environmental activists that involved space. We decided to focus on COPUOS (specifically The "Outer Space Treaty", and The "Liability Convention") and Space 2030 agenda as they were the broadest documents, but participants were allowed to make side agreements for their own character's gain.
In an agreement with high obligation, specific terms ensure parties involved will do the actions they agree to. This can be enforced in several ways, such as economic sanctions, military threats, or diplomatic consequences. Low obligation is a situation where parties are not concretely bound to the terms of the contract and do not have strong incentives to hold up their side of the bargain.
In an agreement with high precision, the policy will be very specific on details such as materials or years the policy is in effect. For example, a policy may state that WMDs are not allowed in space, but other rockets are fine. Low precision, in contrast, is where terms are vague and do not give specific details.
In an agreement with high delegation, there are specific terms detailing who is responsible for what action and when. For example, there could be an agreement where only the US and Canada are expected to participate in official pollution clean-up, but all parties are required to meet every five years to evaluate the effectiveness of their policy. Low delegation would be where no specific parties are named in an agreement, and there is no precise outline of when the terms need to be met
The most effective space agreement would be one with high obligation, high precision, and high delegation. High OPD would mean a document that has specific terms to ensure actions will happen, precise definitions of what those actions will be, and a clear delegation of who is in charge of what part of that action. Although that kind of agreement would be ideal, it is almost impossible to find a consensus when negotiating between eleven different countries and their individual agendas. As such, my co-lead and I engineered the simulation to have some of the most contentious characters included at the forefront of the discussion.
The predicted agreement structure can be seen below.
The simulation officially began on May 1st, 2020. The first reports were due May 7th, and the first in-person formal negotiations took place on May 8th. The second report was due May 19th with the second round of formal talks on the 20th. Final drafts for agreements were due May 26th. All votes were then ratified on the 29th of May.
Without telling participants the game was set up to fail, we gave them the goal of creating a high OPD agreement that covered all the above issues and would be ratified by all member states. As predicted, the players were not able to come to a single concluding document that covered all issues, but several side agreements were made that did deal with some of the dangers in space policy that need to be addressed.
Voting will take place on all Multilateral agreements negotiated among the full or partial set of states. ONLY interest groups may vote. Heads of State MUST simply record the vote of the majority of their interest groups (with one exception listed below).
Democratic Heads of state must vote to represent the majority view of their country’s interest groups; they do not get an independent say.
Autocratic Heads of state may vote to overturn the majority view of their country’s interest groups in their own favor; however, they do so at some (unknown) risk of losing power.
Side Deals, including unilateral declarations and bilateral agreements:
The majority of interest groups within each state must formally sign the side agreement for it to take effect. No multilateral voting is required.